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[Susan notes: This is a great, elegant, important letter.]

Published in Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

To the editor

I appreciate the hard work and success of Memphis City Schools Supt. Carol Johnson, but I have concerns about a statement she made at the recent teacher rally (Aug. 11, "Teachers get pepped; FedExForum rally gives educators a boost for successful school year"). She said: "Every child. Every day. College bound."

This canned message is being promoted in various schools throughout the district. It is, in my opinion, dangerous and misleading.

Attending college is a good thing. However, there are many vocational occupations that are equally important to our society. Consider firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement officers, mechanics, practical nurses, plumbers, chefs, barbers and hairdressers, and assistants in service occupations. All are vitally important careers. None requires a bachelor's degree.

Our students should not be made to feel unworthy if they choose not to attend a four-year college. Rather, our schools should be assisting young people to sort out their interests and strengths so they can achieve in the area they choose, in which they excel and enjoy. Pushing all students to attend college is deceptive.

Consider data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are many satisfying and well-paying jobs in demand that require two-year associate degrees, postsecondary vocational awards, work experience in the related occupation, and long- and moderate-term on-the-job training. Those with master's and doctoral degrees seem to have the most difficulty finding employment.

I am reminded of news anchorman Peter Jennings, who died recently. What a tremendous contribution he made to his profession, yet he dropped out of school in the 10th grade! I am definitely not advocating students drop out. Jennings always regretted he didn't complete his education. Still, it was his passion for his craft that made him who he was.

Our public schools need to do more to help students find and develop their interests. Perhaps a better slogan would be: "Students Do Your Best. Find Your Passion. Serve Others!"

Nancy Bailey

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