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Are Schools Preparing Kids for the Future?

Teachers from across the nation recently gathered together in Rockefeller Plaza, and virtually through Facebook, Twitter, and an online chat for the second annual Teacher Town Hall hosted by NBC's Education Nation. One topic that elicited some strong opinions among the participants was that of how to prepare students for the future.

Towards the beginning of the segment, host Brian Williams of NBC asked: "Is your job as educators, as institutions, to educate kids, or to get them ready for the wider world?" Annie Bogenschutz, a community resource coordinator for Cincinnati Public Schools, answered that in her experience, kids come to school carrying all sorts of baggage, whether that be hunger, homelessness, or a lack of support at home, and that in Cincinnati, educators try to align their school goals with resources to help students face the world around them. Kids can't learn when they are grappling with these issues, said Bogenschutz. She explained that her district incorporates services such as after-school programming, health and mental health programs, extra-curricular activities, and mentoring to help kids succeed not just in school, but also in life.

But there was a stir in the room when Williams asked why students are unprepared for college. Survey results for the teachers at the summit showed that 52 percent believed it was due to lack of academic prep, 34 percent because of lack of student motivation, and 14 percent due to lack of encouragement. A national survey conducted by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showed that 41 percent believed it was due to lack of academic prep, while 35 percent thought it to be lack of student motivation and 24 percent because of lack of encouragement.

A Philadelphia teacher who pointed to problems with motivation said: "When they have a lot of baggage like hunger or gang violence, their motivation is on something else." Another teacher, from Harlem, explained that lack of student motivation is often a result of not having any examples to follow or role models at home. Meanwhile, a teacher from Wayne, N.J., disagreed with Williams' question entirely: "What is our goal? Educating kids, or preparing them for college? I think there are a lot of students who aren't looking to go to college." He added that teachers and schools shouldn't be judged on where the kids go to college, but on whether they are helping students achieve their goals in life, which for some might mean getting into a trade profession after they graduate school.

Sophia Faridi, a 6th grade language arts teacher in Broward County, Fla., said she makes a point of talking to her students about real-world issues, such as the environment and genocide, as a way to prepare them for the future. "Because once they know they are a real part of this world and can effect change, there's no telling what kind of influence they can have on the world around them."

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