By John Ciccarelli, AVID Staff
Rob Gira, Executive Vice President here at AVID Center recently brought to my attention an interview with Mike Rose, a professor of education at UCLA. Scott Simon of National Public Radio interviewed Rose to discuss the main ideas presented within his book, “Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us.” At the heart of this discussion was the debate over the merits of attending college, rather than foregoing education to directly enter the workforce. (The interview in its entirety can be heard here.)
As I listened to Rose, I couldn’t help but think about my own college experience. Having recently completed four years of undergraduate study, followed by two years of graduate work, I felt the relevance of each point Rose was making. On the one hand, the student loans that would pile up at a rate that could best be described as daunting say one thing; on the flipside, the real-world tools and wherewithal that I received over 21 straight years of education say something completely different. In the aforementioned interview, Rose was speaking to the future wave of potential scholars, but he was speaking for those individuals at a similar place in their lives as I currently am here at AVID. Those individuals with school completed a degree being put to use in the real world, and the satisfaction of knowing that education, especially postsecondary education, played a large part in preparing them for the challenges of an increasingly complex global society.
The real meat of Rose’s remarks comes in the form of several proposed justifications for pursuing higher education. Among those justifications are civil and moral purpose, intellectual growth, and social benefits. It’s these last two ideas that particularly struck a chord with me. Rose identifies intellectual growth as, “Not just learning things to make a living, but also learning things to enable you to do things with your life (and) enable you to find interests and pursuits that in some way or another maybe expand the way you see things.” It’s here where the ability of college to present individuals with triumphs outside of the classroom, to prepare them to navigate bumps down the road, and to expose them to collective experiences where the end result has them coming out mentally and socially stronger on the other side, is paramount.
Rose goes on to talk about the social and communal aspect of college, saying, “There’s a social benefit to it…learning to think together, learning to attack problems together, learning how to disagree, being exposed to other points of view.” He further emphasizes collaboration as part of a college-going atmosphere with remarks like, “…You’re almost forced to have to deal with and encounter people who see the world in a very different way from your own, ways that you maybe never even thought of.” He really couldn’t be more right about this notion; I say that from my personal collegiate experience, but more relevant to the present discussion, I say it from seeing AVID’s college readiness efforts alive and in action each and every day. These social benefits that Rose so adamantly defends are embedded within AVID’s core of college preparedness, nowhere more apparent than in the classroom itself, where activities such as Socratic Seminar, Philosophical Chairs, and tutorials thrive.
The education versus workforce debate is a pressing question at its core, one which David Conley has explored deeply. However, for me personally, it was on my first visit to an AVID demonstration site, Jean Farb Middle School in San Diego, that I discovered AVID’s collaborative structures. And it was there where I witnessed firsthand AVID coming to life.
At Farb Middle School, I saw a Socratic Seminar in action for the first time. As a direct result, I witnessed students partaking in deep discussions about a text, increasing their self-assurance, actively participating and engaging with their peers, and expanding vital critical thinking skills, all from one activity in the structured security of the classroom. Then I sat in on a Philosophical Chairs session, where I witnessed the minds of students being challenged, students being encouraged to take a stance on a relevant real-world topic, and a room setup that was tailor-made for a thought-provoking, collaborative activity, as all students individually were one part of the larger collective circle. At its core, Philosophical Chairs is an activity which encourages strong reactions, and from those reactions, a wealth of diverse viewpoints emerge, ultimately supporting the exact atmosphere that Rose promotes for college above: one where students are allowed to “encounter people who see the world in a very different way from (their) own.” Both of these activities undeniably prepare students for college, with Philosophical Chairs exposing them to an environment of debate, and Socratic Seminar boosting their confidence with informed discussion.
These activities, in connection with the AVID system as a whole, strive to help students discover their voice, to be comfortable defending their views, to speak with self-confidence and purpose, and to be mindful of, and receptive to, the conflicting views of others. The classroom setting, all the way from elementary school to postsecondary study, provides growing individuals with an environment where they can broaden their socio-emotional horizons, where they can learn to dedicate every fiber of their being to seeing a project all the way through, and where they can realize that it’s okay to fail if you strive for excellence and remain committed to growth. That ability to be initially unsuccessful, but to never lose the encouragement of the system around you if you yourself remain committed, is the kind of persistence necessary in any experience, whether we are talking about college or the workforce. That never-give-up attitude and endless support permeated every classroom of Farb Middle School on my site visit, and it’s firmly woven into AVID’s fabric. AVID provides the safe and sturdy framework for construction; college study efficiently builds upon it.
At the core of the debate between college attendance and workforce entry, individuals are debating opportunities, and whether embracing the idea of college would offer an individual more desired opportunities than veering off the educational pathway prior to postsecondary education. In a previous interview with Rose, the notion of opportunity comes up: not so much the word itself, but rather, the experience that it encompasses. As Rose puts it, “…I don’t think we should forget that there are strong feelings that attend the sense or feeling of opportunity. And those feelings can be hugely motivating.” That, unquestionably, is an idea that has never been lost on AVID. Those intrinsic feelings and motivations within our students have always been, and will always be, at the forefront of AVID’s devoted mission. The desire of opportunity within each AVID student will always guide our own desire to close the achievement gap, all the while nurturing our students’ motivations of being ready and eager to attend college, ready for sustained high achievement once there, and ready to subsequently apply that success towards making a positive lasting impact on our global society.