It Happened in the 9th Grade – High School and Career Beginnings

My High School Year Book

Let me tell you a story to help you understand how I came to the conclusion that some of the problem college students have with career choices began with the 9th grade. This YouTube video from Careeralism suggests that it began even earlier…in kindergarten!

The scene opens at elementary school in the late 50’s to the early 60’s. Nobody in school seemed too concerned about what kind of work the girl-who stared-out-of- the-window- all-the-time wanted to do in life after all the requisite cute questions were asked (what do you want to be when you grow up?). It gets old. It just never was the stuff of interest to adults after age 9 or 10, especially if you were a girl. In such cases, in my neighborhood, it was assumed that you would be either a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. These were all respectable,   “good colored jobs” for black women with blue-collar parents back then. It was assumed that unless you” married up”–married into wealth–that you would continue to work. The only thing that drew any interest was my naturally quiet  nature. My mother promised my second grade teacher that she would help school “bring me out of my shell”.

Fast forward into Junior High School, otherwise called middle school  in some systems (It’s not too hard, just wind the reel-to-reel ahead with a finger). There were no career days or introductions to kinds of work outside the “normal” ones presented in library books. We took the required number of course hours of “exploratory electives” to try different things like wood shop, home economics and art class. Again, my guidance counselors seemed only interested in my introverted personality and how it was a minus for me apparently. I remembered being studied a lot.

I do also remember being told that academic grades began to “count” in the 9th grade (freshman High School in some places). I passed into senior High School with no other real goal except to place high in my High School’s graduating class to prove I was worth the breath I sucked in on earth. It was the thing to do for low-self esteemed, nerdy, “smart girls”.  Maybe the thinking back then was that serious discussion about careers direction in the 9th grade was too early.

We all know the truth now, don’t we? Grades DO begin to count in the 9th grade. This is only my opinion, but I believe the 9th grade is not too early for schools to begin comparing notes with parents and purposeful observance of students, making note of their native strengths with  “life after schooling” in mind. In all the confusion and political wrangling about the purpose of universal education for k-12, I think this should be a component of the basis of guidance counseling in schools.

Somewhere in all that testing schools did–some kind of weird state-national competition–was hidden something that would benefit the student:knowledge about the self; knowledge about strengths; accurate, regular feedback beginning at 9th grade which would have been  useful for making informed,  intelligent career choices. As it is, many of us stumble  into our life work by accident and the luck of the draw. Too many of us are following the choices originally made by toddle-logic (logic of toddlers trying to coax adoring coos out of parents and relations).

This is one of the national tragedies of American education and a horrifying waste of  the nation’s greatest national resource–the potential of its youth.


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