Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Long Has it Been Since You Were in a High School?

With all the evidences of under preparation and negative attitudes towards learning that we see in some of our students, it sure is handy to have the public schools to blame! Where would we be without them (in more ways than one)? This observation reminds me of a professional student affairs officer (Mark Shanley, now of Miami University of Ohio and once of my beloved original USC) who opined to me: “John, it is a lot easier to just sit back and be critical of the abuses of fraternities, than it is to do something constructive.” By “constructive” he meant serving as a faculty advisor to a fraternity. So he conned me into doing that—for 16 years. That’s another story. But what about doing something “positive” with our colleagues who are preparing to send us our new students?

Last night I did such a thing. I did a presentation (be glad to send you a copy) for 9th graders and their parents at the local high school in the community where I live. I so enjoyed these families, their optimism, concerns, and appreciation for how important they know college is to their futures as families.

The fact that I could be there at all still amazed me. I say this because back around 1994 I decided that it was high time I offered to do some “volunteer community service” in the small South Carolina city where I was living, Lexington. I thought, well what could I do? What skills and knowledge do I have that might have any socially redeeming value in my community? My answer was to go out to the local high school, meet with the director of guidance, and offer to do a pro bono workshop for college-bound seniors. She was stunned that I would make such an offer and said that she would not be empowered to make such a decision and that I had to see the principal. So I did. And he sat stone faced, arms crossed on his chest, appraising me as some commie, pinko, liberal educator wanting to come in and contaminate his kids, whose job his was to protect. So he declined my offer.

Never taking “no” for an answer very well, I thought about how could I get my knowledge in that school. Then I had an inspiration: put it on video and sell it to the school. And, that’s what I did, thanks to USC and the wonderful talents of South Carolina Educational Television. They produced a video “Your College Experience” which was sold all over the country, generating high six figure revenues, and hopefully helping some college bound students.

This time in Brevard, North Carolina, there were no such roadblocks. And this has become a significant form of community service for me. I have met with college bound seniors and parents, rising juniors and parents about college choice, and ninth grade students and parents about why go to college and how to prepare for that over the high school years.

Any of my readers could do this too. And/or you could do other things to bring your expertise and good will to our partners in the secondary schools. I hope you will consider doing so. It takes a whole village to raise a successful college student.

-John N. Gardner

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