Your children are sprinting through primary and secondary education to get the right answer, but do they know why, and is the system that’s in place pointing them in the right direction?

“When I asked them, ‘do any of you truly care about what you’re learning?’ every head around the table went down,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella says he meets with students in the system on a monthly basis and recently asked them what motivates them to go to school on a daily basis. The answers were always: ‘to get good grades so I can go to college and get a job’. “One girl picked up her head and said, ‘but we wish we did.”

East Chapel Hill High School counselor Kristin Hiemstra says students have learned which path will get them the best grades, but that’s not necessarily making them think about the solution.

“They’re just not necessarily prepared to be able to say, ‘wow, now I’m in charge, and I’m ready to take the reins,’” Hiemstra says. “It’s kind of like, ‘well now what do I need to do; how do I get an A now?’ And it’s like, ‘well you can’t get an A that way.’”

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) and college courses in high school sends the students into college with credits already earned.

UNC Parr Center for Ethics Director and Faculty Chair Jan Boxill says the model that tells the students to do so isn’t teaching them the tools that prepare them, especially for critical thinking.

“They think they should major in business, or they think in high school they need 30 hours to come into UNC,” Boxill says. “We have found, and I have found personally, anecdotally, that sometimes students who come in with too many hours really are not ready for college, surprisingly. And the one area that they’re the worst at is writing.”

Hiemstra says, at least at UNC, admissions standards are changing.

“We have seen and heard from Dr. Farmer, that they’re really doing—and we’ve seen it in our admissions—this really cool, kind of wholistic evaluation of a student that is not necessarily fully academic-based, which doesn’t mean you’re getting lesser students,” Hiemstra says. “It just means that they’re not looking at the intensity of, ‘did you have 12 APs? Wow, maybe you took eight, but you did all this other really cool stuff, and they seem to be really looking to bring in diversified students.”

Dr. Stephen Farmer is the director of undergraduate admissions at UNC.

Penny Gluck is the Executive Dean of Orange County Operations for Durham Technical Community College. She  says technology has greatly changed the landscape of education.

“I teach critical thinking every semester, and that’s one of the continual struggles the entire semester,” Gluck says. “‘Okay, you’ve read this, you’ve read this, but tell me what you think about that and what’s significant, what’s important—being able to take all sides.”

Boxill says the art of communicating has been lost. She says students are coming to her without basic writing and creative thinking skills.

“This is why I fear online education,” Boxill says. “You don’t have the interaction. Engaging, talking, having to critically think about things together, not individually always, but together. I think that’s what high schools can do best. Granted, there’s a whole lot of things that prevent that, because there’s so many things you have to teach; there’s only so many hours in the day.”

With the release of Common Core Standards, parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to help their children with their work because it’s not the way they were taught. Boxill says that may be to the students advantage if the parents work with them.

“You know how they help their kids?” Boxill asks. “Talking, actually reflecting. So it might have some accidental (affect). But I do think that that would be a plus for universities and colleges to have students who have gone through the Common Core as a process, not as a curriculum.”

Educators are in agreement that students strive to learn and that pushing them to learn can only do good.

Boxill says, in the end, the educators have to be trusted to do their very best with the students.

“I think we’ve lost a lot of respect for teachers, both college and high school, and respect for those who are training our future leaders,” Boxill says. “We’ve got to give people the respect to be able to do what they do best.”

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