Children shouldn’t be forced to pick career paths

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As children, we often spoke about what we wanted to be when we “grew up.” Many of us identified with those professionals we viewed as heroic — policemen, firemen, or fighter pilots. Other children were drawn to the glamour that comes with being an actor, a sports star, or even a president.

These are, of course, the desires of children. As we get older, we start moving to more realistic career paths. But even in high school, many children are not yet sure what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Never content to allow parents and students to have freedom of choice in any aspect of education, however, bureaucrats and politicians in many states are now requiring ninth graders — children at or close to 14 years old — to choose career paths in preparation for their post-high school lives. My home state of Georgia is the latest to jump on the bandwagon, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls a “national trend.”

As part of this scheme, students in Georgia will be able to pick one of 17 career paths, ranging from manufacturing to finance. As The Journal-Constitution reports, “Teachers would start talking to students about potential career opportunities, starting as early as fifth grade.” Bureaucrats and lawmakers in the Peach State are worried that Georgia’s children will be left behind if they are not properly pigeon-holed for future job opportunities.

While the idea of early career-path directing may be based on the best of intentions, it is oddly reminiscent of systems that European countries have long used. In these countries, children are pushed to pursue careers that politicians believe will be important to their economies years down the road. While educators in these systems still use the word “choice” to describe how children are placed on career paths, free choice has little to do with the process. The perceived needs and desires of the bureaucrats are what really matter.

This latest “trend” toward controlled career paths comes at a time when educational achievement in many states continues to lag. According to reports released earlier this month, nearly half (48 percent) of the schools in the United States have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals.

Political and educational leaders are searching for ways to gloss over their failure to teach children the basics of a sound education. Focusing on “career paths” rather than addressing the fundamental reasons why students are continuing to fail to meet even basic achievement goals is a convenient distraction.

Moreover, this latest gimmick has achieved mixed results where it has been tried already, and has left many parents angry that their children are being pushed to make such a decision at such an early age.

The simple fact is, many — if not most — students are not ready to make such an important decision so early in high school. These young minds are still being molded, their opinions are still being formed, and, in many cases, they are far from making career decisions. Narrowing a child’s focus and options is a sure way to keep him from excelling and being creative.

Rather than wasting time pushing and prodding teenagers into certain “career paths,” those adults responsible for developing and implementing educational standards and requirements should renew their focus on teaching the fundamentals of mathematics, science, history, and writing. For it is these disciplines that will equip students with the basic skills they need to excel — at whatever careers they and their parents eventually decide are in their best interests.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.