by Marcia Kramer, MA, IECA Member (NJ)
Recently on a tour of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas I had to back up at the entrance to the library to let a group of about 25 children pass out the front doors. These children, probably 3rd or 4th graders, all wore the same red t-shirt with the logo of their school and their school’s mascot. I assumed they were doing some sort of project (like the way I used to take art classes at our local college when I was in third grade). On our way to the dorms, the same 25 children came pouring out of a room (yes 25 children in a single dorm room—but they were little). Their guide, clearly a Trinity student, urged them to stay together and hurry up. I turned to her and asked, “What are they doing?” She knew what I meant. These children, no more than eight or nine years old were clearly not on the college tour circuit. “It’s never too young to start looking,” she said in a perky voice.
So it was with sad recognition that I opened the Education Life section of the New York Times (February 4, 2015) to see an article on ABC, Already Bound For College, as the cover story. Here, first grade teachers have their students choose their favorite mascots and talk about what college they want to go to and how it will help them reach their career goals. I had thought the sight on the Trinity campus was an anomaly, but I was clearly wrong. It’s happening all over: UC Santa Cruz, University of Maryland (who can’t find enough time slots for all the requests from elementary schools for tours), and Rice University—to name a few.
I’ll get right to the point: the idea we have to prepare seven year olds is lunacy. Children, whether in first grade or third or fifth, need to be doing age appropriate activities: playing on the play ground, working in small groups to learn collaboration, developing reading and math skills (of which our country does a pretty poor job for a developed nation—and if our children can’t read and add, they certainly can’t go to college).
So why does our culture feel it’s necessary to take seven year olds to see a college? How can an eight year old understand that college is about more than chicken fingers and pizza in the cafeteria or Testudo the terrapin (or any other mascot that might catch their fancy)? Answer: they can’t.
So while it’s cute to see a group of 20 children in their red t-shirts, I’d certainly rather see them on a field trip to the zoo or an outdoor education center, especially those urban children whose connection to nature is slim. Let’s save college tours for high school students. And for underrepresented students, there are successful non-profits like College Summit or the Posse Foundation (though there are many more students who could go to college if there was more money and these organizations could handle more students) addressing the achievement gap and helping to get underrepresented populations to college—at an appropriate time.