Choosing your career path

I’ll be on All Things Considered tonight with Tom Crann, talking about what I’ve learned so far during the News Cut on Campus “tour.” My theme this evening will be the number of people who wish they’d made different choices when choosing a career path in high school, and the story of one person who wishes her parents had told her she was making a mistake.

(Update: Here’s the dance mix — )

That’s why I’ve taken note today of an idea being considered at the Capitol on the subject of career paths: Requiring students to have one.

On Tuesday, a House committee heard recommendations from the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, one of which would require high school students to develop a plan for their future careers as early as the ninth grade.

According to the Legislature’s Session Daily report, “Executive Director Brenda Norman presented the recommendation that every Minnesota student, from ninth grade on, should have an annually reviewed plan to guide them down an educational and occupational path of their own choosing.”

There are, of course, two schools of thought on this:

Rep. Steve Gottwalt said he was concerned about adopting a European-style plan. “I get awfully concerned when we’re talking about mandating things on ninth-graders and graduates in high school…The fact that we might require them to start building a career path too early or too arbitrarily is a bit of a concern.”

“Ninth grade, to me, is almost too late to be thinking about where they want to be going,” countered Rep. Jeanne Poppe.

This question sent me into the Wayback Machine to my youth, which — for the record — was not in Europe. We had two tracks in high school and kids were separated in 10th grade — the college track vs. the “business” track.

As a member of the esteemed college track, I was told by my guidance counselor that I would be an engineer, because that’s where the jobs were in the early ’70s, especially in my declining New England milltown. So he loaded me up with a planned schedule that included trigonometry and physics and a whole host of classes for smart people that I had no hope of passing or any interest in attending. Back then, however, I often did as I was told.

That afternoon I showed my mother my planned schedule and her jaw dropped.

“I thought you wanted to be a journalist,” she said.

It was a forehead-slap moment. “Oh… right,” I said. “I forgot.”

It provides a good reminder that lives are changed by parents who’ll slap you on the side of the head and tell you when you’re being stupid.

And that brings us to the question for discussion. Is your career path a matter of discussion between a student and parents only or should the law require you to choose a career path by a certain point?