In this blog post at edweek.org, Illina Garon discusses how her many of her 10th grade students don’t believe they will need math or English for their future jobs.

I was incredulous. “You want to be astronauts, and you think you’re not going to need math?” I turned to the actress. “Or English?”

 

No, they told me. They were certain that most of what they were learning in high school was totally irrelevant to their future career choices. Except for a few kids who muttered “Yo, these naive people are making me tight!” and rolled their eyes, my 10th graders seemed confident in their position.

I was asked many times while teaching Algebra I when this would used in the ‘real world’.  While I wished I had researched more about what certain careers require to give them more reasons, I used the argument that I didn’t want to limit them in whatever they wanted to do.  Mastering Algebra I would open up many more opportunities.  It is difficult to know what you want to do at age 15.  How much harder and longer is the road to become an engineer with a weak math background?  I believe it can still be done, but many would be discouraged and go down a different, easier path.  Engineering is not better than the career not needing math, but I don’t want it blocked off to those would want it due to lack of foresight.

Beyond the inherent frustration, this conversation showed me something I hadn’t realized before. I’ve long advocated for alternatives to the traditional “college for all” academic path, such as trade and career-tech programs (welding, auto mechanics, carpentry, cosmetics, etc.) But I’ve realized the students also need a crash course in career awareness–specifically, letting them know what careers are even out there (many careers such as IT, accounting, engineering, or hospitality management, because of their lack of intrinsic visibility in the kids’ daily lives or in TV, are often off their radar), and what these careers require, both in skills and in day-to-day activities. The fact that my 10th graders do not realize that being an astronaut requires math is, I think, almost as serious a problem as whatever deficits they may have in the subject to begin with.

Read the rest of this blog post here.