One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I briefly tutored a ninth-grader a few years ago at an urban high school whose web site prominently displayed the tag line, “Where Every Student is College Bound.” On a tour of the school, the principal took our new group of tutors into a classroom and asked the students, “How many of you are planning to go to college?” The principal pointed to the one student who hadn’t raised his hand and asked, “What about you?” When he said, “I want to go to barber school,” the principal replied, “Well, good for you! Okay.”

So I’m thinking, “I’m confused. In practice it’s okay for a student to have plans other than college, but the school feels compelled to proclaim that everyone there has the same plan. Which is it?” I think you can guess that I agree with the former and disagree with the latter.

Isn’t this type of posturing a contributor to our lack of rational policy discussion in many areas? Have buzz words and catch phrases completely overwhelmed our ability to recognize the need for nuance? As the Wizard of Oz said in the musical Wicked, “There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”

BTW, the last time I looked, the high school in the anecdote had removed the tag line above from the masthead of their web site, but they were still conflicted about the point. The school’s mission statement said, “The staff will empower students to graduate in four years and successfully pursue college, armed forces, or employment training to become productive citizens of a global society.” But under the heading, “What We Expect,” it still said, “At ______ High School, every student is college bound.”

Overstating your point–even if it’s a good one–only serves to undermine it.


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