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VOICES: Why our current K-12 curriculum is failing students

David Gamlin

This essay is part of the 2018 essay series "VOICES: Overcoming Challenges in Learning" from Michigan Nightlight. In this series, we feature the authentic voices of teachers, parents, students, administrators, counselors, medical practitioners, and others about a challenge to learning they’ve encountered and how they are working to overcome it.

David Gamlin is the vice president and program director at the Midnight Golf Program, which uses mentoring, career skills training, and golf as a platform for youth development. 

When I contemplate the future of our children, the thoughts produce a mind-numbing uncertainty. The education system being used to prepare them for future success was developed by the "Committee of Ten" in 1892. Ten people sat in a room and created a system that produced the type of people that they thought would serve the republic well. The outcomes effectively worked the full span of the industrial age.

But for Generation Z, the system is proving completely inadequate and young people know it. Their disdain for the merits of formal education is increasing. My personal outrage is not on their apathy, but on the absence of meaningful change to a system that has been obsolete for more than 50 years.

Line up, lecture, recall, repeat. More than 125 years later, in an era of endless innovation, the vast majority of our young people are preparing for a race that is already over. An education system designed to prepare students to recall what they read in a book or heard in a lecture in the age of Google doesn't make sense. Students need different skills.

Successful professionals are increasingly required to communicate effectively, work with others, be creative, perpetually learn new skills, think critically and exhibit high levels of genuine confidence. These skills are not being taught entirely in any school setting. Nonetheless, young people are expected to possess these capabilities at the opening bell of their careers. That's where the Midnight Golf Program comes in.

Since its inception in 2001, the Midnight Golf Program has worked to focus entirely on equipping young people with the skills necessary to make it through college, be successful in the workplace, and live their very best lives. They learn golf, too; it's a handy implement in a professional’s toolbox. The game can be played without a single word, but speaks volumes on personal character.

Collaboration, continuous learning, and creativity are all critical skills also developed in Midnight Golf. The combination of these skills produces a confidence that is palpable. Midnight Golf trains students without regard to their academic potential because there are a million reasons why they may not be able to recall what they learned in a book. 

There is, however, no substitute for drive. Angela Duckworth calls this "grit" in her seminal book, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance." It is the main criteria for students to be selected into the program. Grade point average, economics, school district and geography all pale in comparison to grit. When grit is present, potential is unlimited.

While grit might not land a student an A+ in math or history, it can tip a young person toward success if he or she is nurtured in the right environment. At Midnight Golf, that involves adult, near-peer and peer mentoring; golf training; summer professional development sessions; and exposure to a world of possibilities during our Road Trip for Success weeklong college tour. Trained staff members assist young people in college selection, finding financial resources for college, and navigating life challenges.

For the 250 students involved in Midnight Golf, we are helping to fill the void that high school seniors often experience in traditional school environments. And it works.

The more than 2,500 students that have gone through the Midnight Golf pipeline since 2001 emerge well-prepared for successful careers. The program supports students during their senior year of high school and throughout their college experience, including graduate school, to ensure adequate motivation, financial support, and mentoring. These students graduate from college at four times the rate of their peers who do not have similar support. Keeping young people on track and moving forward successfully is the focus of Midnight Golf Program.

Midnight Golf now has the reputation of being a pathway to success for college, career, and beyond. For many urban youth, the perceived golden tickets are professional sports, music or social media fame, or God-given genius. The other 95 percent of young people without one of those traits are increasingly dismayed by an obviously antiquated system. At Midnight Golf, we redirect student energy to prepare them for a world where recall is benign and communication, creativity, collaboration, and confidence determine success.

Who would have thought so much could be done while playing golf at night?

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
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