High school has changed in the past 50 years. Aside from the technology changes (computers were not in my high school), the emphasis has changed a couple of times.

When I graduated, and for a long time thereafter, college was the holy grail.

It was assumed in my family that I would go to college, although neither of my parents did. I had the example – which I resented for years – of a big sister who was studious and hardworking.

Eventually, I got the piece of paper that said I was educated.

Pardon that digression.

Now, the emphasis has changed again. For the past decade or more, high school has been centered around “career readiness.”

Theoretically, that can be college, but it is aimed at those who are not going to college. One of the problems is education has changed. Well, mostly technology has changed.

Computers are everywhere now. (We call them “phones” most often, but they are computers.)

What used to be thought of as “trades” now requires considerable math and knowledge of computers.

Other fields, such as welding, have become more sought after and the pay has gone up at a high rate.

As a consequence, Georgia is near the front of the pack in training folks for things other than a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Casey Cagle, once upon a time thought of as a "shoo-in" for governor, has disappeared, but he started and promoted the notion of “college and career academies,” programs that trained students for work after high school.

Most of the school systems around us are promoting non-traditional learning. The notion of a “liberal arts” education is quaint these days. (My bachelor’s degree in communications is not worth a great deal financially.)

Barrow County is about to start a high school that can combine esoteric, higher-skill learning with practical knowledge. Health care is one of the “hot spots” because there are so many “seniors” like me. (My wife says kids today need basic math because they are the ones who are going to be counting our pills in coming years.)

Visual arts is another area that is getting traction. It can be everything from abstract painting to building a doghouse. It can combine architecture and painting.

“Pathways” is a buzzword in schools these days. Students can take several courses (usually three) in an area. That helps them decide if they want to pursue that course of study, which could be four years at the University of North Georgia or a two-year associate’s degree at Lanier Technical College.

(Heard Ray Perren, president of Lanier, say recently that he oversees a “specialized” college. A good turn of phrase.)

With the emphasis on “career-ready” or making money, teachers have even more pressure on them. Lately, I have heard more and more about “social” factors. Those can include homelessness and dysfunctional families, bullying and suicidal teens, and the normal hormonal urges of teenagers. Teachers are asked to become social workers, to build relationships with their students. More and more we seek the “best” teachers.

I remember when the “best” teachers were few and far between. I had my share of all kinds of teachers, I believe.

Some school districts just are not large enough to meet all the needs – I think about Commerce and Banks County. Some may be too large – I have no experience, but I can’t conceive of a district with a billion-dollar, or multi-billion, budget, such as Gwinnett or the Atlanta metro school districts.

No school district has adequate time or knowledge to meet all the needs.

That brings me to “professional learning” days – we used to call them in-service. Teachers still make inside jokes about “getting those annoying students out of here and getting some work done.”

I have not seen a school system in 20 years or more that does not take those days, whatever they are called, seriously. They are for learning – more pressure for teachers.

Might be a column for another day. School has changed a lot. It’s much more serious than I remember – I hope having a good time still is the focus of many teenagers.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter with Mainstreet Newspapers. Send email to him at ron@mainstreetnews.com.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter with Mainstreet Newspapers. Send email to him at ron@mainstreetnews.com.

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