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Elementary Education Contributions of Career Education

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To teach academic skills in a career awareness setting may involve innovations in the way teachers teach, but not in the way students learn. Each youth learns far more before he enters school and in his daily contacts outside school (after he has reached school age) than he learns during school hours in the classroom. How did he learn before entering the discipline of the classroom? His body-and what he did with it-was his identity. Most of what he did and felt depended upon his ability to interpret or express the relationships of other bodies to his own. The processing of these human encounters occurred with relatively few obstructions during that period educators describe as preschool, yet the breadth and variety of these child-to-people contacts are later discounted by school-based personnel as insignificant or inappropriate modeling experiences.

By the time a child enters kindergarten, this broad acquisition of specific and human reference points (in effect, his placement of himself in the scheme of things) undergoes a radical transformation. In exchange for this membership in a knowledge-seeking corporate body, he must learn to live with less privacy, more insulation from unplanned encounters, and with a bewildering array of unfamiliar objects. His energies are diverted from processing people to processing ideas. Language, once perceived as solely a means of human communication, soon becomes a mediator and regulator of behavior as well. The language of education not only controls and instructs, it also monopolizes the greater part of a school day. Consequently, the child adjusts by reducing his total response pattern to those terse replies which give him access to the next educational task. Learning now proceeds vicariously, through the economy of the textbook, combined with the synthesizing skills of his teacher. Teachers and students view academic achievement as exclusive to an educational progression where competency in one setting ensures transition to the next. "To get through" becomes the major goal of the child, while "to get him through" becomes the unspoken objective of his teacher.

The elementary school teacher is the first and possibly the last of the panoply of educational personnel given the opportunity to view and treat the child as an entire human entity. Other specialists in the school community tend to address their skills to that portion of each child determined as within their domains. While recent trends in counselor education reflect concerns for the learning process through the vehicle of behavior modification, personal and social development are historically defined as the only purview of the counselor. Basic psychomotor skills are concurrently developed by the physical education teacher, and exposure to the realm of esthetics becomes the responsibility of the art and music teachers. It is not surprising that the child views himself as a fragmented entity upon which specialists operate ... for those specialists rarely remain on the scene long enough to establish with each other the health of the total organism that is the child. It is doubly tragic if the elementary teacher also sees that child as a vessel into which to pour some subject matter content so as to move him on to the next teacher "processor."

Because most children would rather please than displease the adults who are perceived as in authority, they appear to accept the digested experience relayed to them by teachers. Yet for a time, their out-of-school behaviors continue to be in direct contrast to the highly structured classroom they have just entered. Great joy and release are observed in the play of primary school youngsters, who cling to the exercise of options in adult modeling they had enjoyed in preschool years.

The performance of a task in silence does not preclude the presence of an internal dialogue the child is having with himself. That this dialogue takes as long as two to four years to erupt in either challenge or conformity is a tribute to his faith that the adults who surround him will let him show them who he is and what he can do. Certainly they will reveal a master plan which responds to a multitude of questions about himself: What am I like? How am I changing? What will I be like? Are there others in the world like me ... and what do they do when they grow up? What do I need to know to do what I think I want to do? What does school have to do with anything but more school?

Because these questions are tentative and diffuse in the child's pre-conscious, they are rarely asked. For most children, it is easier to agree with the proposition that an accumulation of facts will, in themselves, provide the answers. For others, whose rejection of school mores has been earlier identified by the teacher as either emotional immaturity or under achievement, the emergence of aggressive or withdrawn behavior is one of the first of many symptoms of alienation.

What promise does career education hold as an approach to teaching basic skills? And can it begin, as its proponents believe, to answer those unspoken questions every young child asks himself?

Career education is not just a device for using the classroom to attain knowledge and skills useful in the workplace, nor the means to develop the attitude of a productive and obedient worker. It has a reciprocal contribution to make to the objectives and content of academic education. Career education is not a subject matter to be added to the curriculum. It is best defined as a teaching methodology which, as it departs from the single criterion of content mastery, provides a new motivation for learning. It is an approach which extends and returns the abstract to the concrete through a cyclical engagement immediately applying and testing needed skills in a practicable and worldly context. At the same time, it provides the child a vastly peopled landscape from which to draw a multitude of mirror images of himself as he might someday be.

Ironically, traditional education is more correctly described as an imposition of occupational choice than is career education. What could be more specific than the presentation of only two alternatives for a child's future identity? He must choose, at that moment when these alternatives are offered in the primary grades, to be like-or different from-the educated professionals around him. In effect, he elects to be either a professional or a second-class citizen ... and this election can and does deeply influence the rest of his life.

As a humanistic approach, career education challenges the reduction of a child's early models to a handful of educators. It states that the function of the elementary school should not be to mold children into replicas of its own personnel. On the contrary, that function should be to broaden their contact with people in the world-to actually delay fixation upon a single future identity until all possible future roles have been investigated. Since it is inconceivable that any child will remain mute in the face of his current and consuming desires and interests, his tentative career choices must be heard, encouraged, and fostered through curriculum designed to explore them. The philosophy is clear and attractive. The problem is getting from here to there.

Decisions as to how to relate academic areas to future applications in the world of work will probably be made through extensive testing of the efficacy of all these approaches on a broad enough sample of elementary school children to warrant conclusions supporting action at local agency levels. Elementary school teachers who are known practitioners of career awareness approaches within their own classrooms must immediately be tapped and recognized as models for each investigation. If enthusiasm and creativity are to be maintained within these individual teachers, district and state education department leadership and coordination should be evident in both the experimental and implementation stages of career education.

Many states have effectively recognized and pinpointed exemplary teaching practices through state or regional conferences with a career education theme.  In this way, individual schools, personnel, and districts have been able to share their ideas with their professional colleagues. The germ of in-service growth and development proceeds from these and other ways of bringing the educational community together under one roof; but continuing societal support for educational programs can only come through the school-community linkage.
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