May 1 is National College Signing Day

First Lady Michelle Obama is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her Reach Higher initiative, encouraging students to complete their education beyond high school. People across the country helped mark the launch last year by wearing their college gear and sharing the importance of higher education on social media.

Squirrels are friendly here. Can you name the university? (Pete LaMotte via Flickr)

Ms Obama said she hopes the US has the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.

To mark the anniversary, she has issued a press release to promote a social media event: she wants people to wear their college gear all day to support National College Signing Day, May 1. Then, she would appreciate it if they post photos of themselves, their friends, their schools, and everything else college-related to a social network with the hashtag #ReachHigher.

Use these accounts to post the photos:

  • Twitter: @FLOTUS and @ReachHigher
  • Instagram: @MichelleObama and @ReachHigher2020

But instead of focusing on getting a higher proportion of high school students ready for college, the focus might be better placed elsewhere. On his blog today, Josh Stumpenhorst, Illinois’s 2012 Teacher of the Year and a middle school teacher in Naperville, says the “something higher” students should reach for—and schools should prepare them for—is a life of joy and happiness:

When my youngest entered first grade, his teacher asked what our goals for him were for the school year. My wife wanted to put something down about improving his reading and math skills. I convinced her to write on that sheet that our goal for our son was that he left first grade as happy and as excited about school as he was when he entered it. A teacher or a school should never extinguish kids’ joy and happiness about learning and life. Lighting and protecting that spark of joy and happiness should be every teacher’s goal for every student. …

For more kids than we willingly admit, school is the best part of their life. There is often little joy and happiness in their home lives. Yet, while they are with us at school, we can do everything in our power to ensure it is a positive and joyful experience.

Let’s not forget this important truth: For some kids, college will bring joy and happiness. For others, it wouldn’t, and hopefully our teachers and counselors can tell the difference between those two types of students, regardless of what the first lady might set as a goal. While I support her goal of bringing college to every kid who wants it, we have to keep the big prize in sight. And that’s definitely not always going to be preparation for college.

Many students and parents today believe results on standardized tests give kids a ticket to college, and so they put pressure on our schools and teachers to prepare for those tests. Teaching only what’s on tests is not good teaching. (Period.) All that involves is mastering content in school subjects, and that won’t bring joy and happiness, which is probably higher on every parent’s list of goals for their children than knowledge of math, reading, social studies, science, and so on.

Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met knew a lot about “history, biology, algebra,” and some of the happiest knew very little about subject content. Content knowledge is important, but as Mr Stumpenhorst writes in his new book, The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners, content “is not king. In fact, it is not even heir to the throne.” And, he suggests we not focus so hard on preparing students for what we may want their next level to be, for “some future system they may or may not be a part of.

“Instead I am helping them navigate the real world they already live in. Maybe we need to do a little less preparing in schools and more learning and living in the precious moments we have together,” he writes.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.