I was one of about 45 people who participated in career day at Ellsworth High School this year. I love participating. Career day exposes kids to careers they may know little about. Because this is Ellsworth, many kids do not aspire to college, let alone grad school, and then a licensed profession. Part of my effort is to show students they can travel that path. Being a professional, whether lawyer, doctor, architect or accountant, is not beyond their station.
Career Day gives students the opportunity to be exposed to four 25-minute sessions in which adults explain their careers. Going in, I wondered, should I be selling architecture to the kids? Is the goal to make my profession attractive, more attractive than game warden or cosmetologist? As an established professional in the area, I am part of the establishment. I want sustained prosperity for the area. I believe design professionals play a part in bringing sustained prosperity. I think I have a responsibility to show the next generation the benefits, both individually and for the common good, of a competent and caring professional class.
At past Career Days, I had shown a computer model of a prominent project I had worked on in town. Doing so accomplished a couple goals. It stroked my ego. It was a building most of the kids recognized, and could relate to. And it showcased the technical wizardry that now pervades the practice of architecture.
This time, I decided to give a low-tech presentation. I talked about my educational path. I gave a simplified exposition of architecture as a concern for the Vitruvian characteristics of commodity (function), firmness (durability) and delight (beauty). And, I ran through the process of deciding how big a classroom should be. We did the math on a 20-person room with tables and chairs, each person occupying 15 square feet of space.
I lost many people with the math problem. I think I never really got through to the majority of people who attended one of my four sessions. A few were truly interested in design. There were children of carpenters who were familiar with construction. Some were the children of professionals: they went to hear the lawyer and the doctor as well as the architect. A few had an understanding of public space that seemed beyond their years. One young man had contacted me a few weeks before about an internship at my firm.
Two thoughts stay with me. First, I did not know what I wanted to do until I was already out of college. I majored in religious studies. It was not a career-track major. A job with a contractor after college and a girlfriend with an interest in design pushed me toward architecture. Fiction writing, basic science, and renewable energy were all fields that excited me. There was never an opportunity in those fields like there was in architecture that I could latch onto.
Second, these high school students were woefully unprepared for post-secondary life. For a ninth or tenth grader to be flummoxed by 20 times 15 is disconcerting. Is there a motivational gap? Do the parents just not value education? Are the teachers simply unaware of the urgency with which education must be approached?
I’m not worried about students who do not know what they want to be when they grow up. I am worried about students and an educational system in need of commitment to a good education.