From 2000-2007, young Rory Gilmore, a character on the television show Gilmore Girls completed her education at fictional Chilton Preparatory School and the real life Ivy-league University, Yale. Throughout her 7 years of education, Rory experienced many ups and downs towards academic and personal success. Although her drive in the quest for knowledge had been admired by so many of the characters on the show, her character had flaws. She frequently fell apart because of the stress of the school environment, both academically and socially. Her fallings out included being arrested for grand-theft boating, committing adultery, temporarily dropping out of Yale and the ending of a few relationships. The series ended with Rory finally succeeding in become an employed journalist. Although her story was fictional, there are many moments in her life that mirror that of a typical high school student with the heavy burden of preparing for life outside the school walls.
Within the seven seasons of the program, Rory experienced and developed emotions that can be mirrored in many students lives. The whole idea of “who am I?”, “what am I going to be”, and “how can I possibly succeed” are questions that are asked of students on a continuous basis from the moment they step foot into secondary school. With so much uncertainty in the economy and well-paying jobs becoming more scarce, it is no wonder that young students are uncertain and scared.
The School Environment
Chilton Preparatory School in a fictional school in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Rory, a child of a single mother, is a student who displays gifted-qualities and far exceeds the expectations in her hometown’s public school. Rory, has a fairly set plan in terms of her career aspirations. Her idea is to attend Harvard University and become a journalist. In a twist of Aoki’s (2005) concept of ‘curriculum-as-planned’, Rory created a plan outside of school without knowing what was inside. Her curriculum as planned can be similar to curriculum planners in the sense that “they are imbued with the planners orientation to the world, which includes their own interests and assumptions about ways of knowing” (Aoki, 2005, 160). Rory had a self-realized plan and was determined to see it through. Achieving very hard marks all through her education, she felt that she would be challenged at Chilton, and that school would no longer be boring and easy.
Chilton’s ‘curriculum-as-planned’ was drastically different. Upon arrival at Chilton, Rory is met with a cold warning from Headmaster (Principal) Charleston who warns her that Chilton is not for everyone, regardless of what they have achieved before. The school is painted as dark, unwelcoming and cold by Rory’s mother. During one scene in the Headmaster’s office, the decor in the room featured many leather bound books, a silver tea service and statues. The Headmaster and the teacher in the room were wearing suits and ties, presenting a very formal educational setting. Within the first few days at Chilton, Rory receives a D grade, is picked on by other students, and misses a test. She is told after having a breakdown in class, that perhaps she does not have what it takes to be attending a prestigious prep school, perhaps she may just be ‘average’. The other world in the curriculum world, according to Aoki (2005), is curriculum-as-lived, what students and teachers experience. Rory’s experience changes her expectations of school and herself. Rory’s mother, Lorelai criticized the extreme nature of the preparatory school and the harsh learning environment, even calling the headmaster “El Duce”. The environment at Chilton never warmed up during Rory’s three years at the school. The stress and shock of the more intense curriculum could have also, arguably, made Rory a stronger student, something that is mentioned several times in the series.
Shape up or ship out
In the first season of Gilmore Girls, Rory is told that she has to be a particular student to stay in the Chilton program. The education at this particular school is different from the current system in place in Ontario schools. The current focus of education today is the notion of “No Child Left Behind”. Teachers, in both elementary and secondary schools may not fail a student simply because he/she did not do the work. The current Ontario assessment and evaluation policy “Growing Success” details to teachers a series of steps to ensure that all students have equal opportunity to succeed and that elements of learning skills are not to be reflected in a students numerical grade. At the bottom of the title page of the document is the slogan “Reach every Student”. Every student is to have a chance at achieving the curriculum objectives, even if they learn a bit differently. The article explains “our challenge is that every student is unique and each must have opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities and goals” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Analyzing this statement, one could go back to Aoki (2005) and examine the comments made about “faceless others” and “the faces of others”. The new assessment and evaluation plan allows for flexibility in the curriculum documents, making it less about planning for students the government has never met and allows for flexibility for schools and teachers to create plans for their own students.
Rory did not have this choice. In the first meeting with the Headmaster she is told that “there is a good chance that you will fail”, already implying consequence if she does not conform to the rigid standards. If assignments were not handed in, she would receive a grade of zero. In Ontario, zero grades are an absolutely last step and can only be given after a series of steps to assist the student in achieving the curriculum objectives. In one episode, Rory hits a deer while racing to get to school for a test. Because she was late, she was forbidden to take the test. This situation in an Ontario school would not be allowed to take place. Being late is also not considered to be a factor in determining a student’s grade. Although with the the new “Growing Success” document, teachers are allowed to deduct late marks, you cannot fail a student because they did not complete work on time. Procrastination is not a reason for failure. One has to question which method is better, the hard approach to education where you are expected to fit the mould of a particular student, or be allowed to learn in your own way with a more individualized education. Headmaster Charleston states that “the school sets impossible standards, but that is life”. Analyzing that comment, is life really that hard? Should we have separate public schools for students who wish to undertake difficult careers? Are students even able to make that decision at sixteen years of age? Systematically, which produces the better student and worker in the end?
Why is the quality of education so important?
The Ontario Government has set a provincial goal with achieving an over 80% graduation rate by 2011. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal party have introduced many initiatives to encourage the graduation rate higher. Programs have included more emphasis on Co-operative Education, Student Success programs, and focus/specialist high skills major programs. The idea is to give more options to students than the typical high school program. Essentially there should be something for everyone, giving all students the chance to succeed. However, have our standards been lowered over time in order to make secondary school accessible to everyone? Gidney (2002) explains that our standards have fallen, especially when looking at the 1898 high school entrance exams in Ontario. Even some university professors today would have difficulty passing the exam, says Gidney (2002). Gidney (2002) explains that as of the 1960’s there has been more movement towards offering a full high school education to all young people, not just a handful”. Sure, the characters of Gilmore Girls may be interested in being researchers, lawyers and doctors, but do we need an entire graduating class devoted to those fields?
The current Ontario curriculum focuses on a series of objectives as well as establishing skills for future education and the workplace. Newer initiatives in terms of ‘21st Century Learning’ and technology based education have a focus on preparing students for life outside high school and into more career-based employment. A video produced by New Brunswick Department of Education showcases a variety of comments about the changes in technology and how it will affect current students careers. In a sense the video explains that what we are teaching youth today may be irrelevant in 20 years time. One has to wonder while watching the clip whether our educational system is sufficient at preparing today’s 21st century learners for what is to come in ten or twenty years time. Lorna Earl (1995) explains that with economic and political uncertainty there has been more concern about the quality of education. The Premiers Council of Ontario in 1990 stated that “unease was growing that at the end of their schooling many young people had not adequately mastered basic skills and lacked adequate preparation for the entry into work world”. So, what is the purpose of school today? Can we, as educators possible educate every type of student in publicly funded buildings, or are the over-achieving group suggested to go to private school to ensure endless possibilities.
Schools have become very interested in their EQAO results for both Grade nine math and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy test. Earl (1995) describes an assessment procedure in Ontario schools prior to the curriculum overall that happened with the Harris Government. Earl (1995) states that Ontario did not have a history of standardized assessment or testing and educational indicators was something new”. Today, with the EQAO and OSSLT testing, students and schools are more aware of Ontario’s standardized test procedure. Schools are required to submit School Improvement Plans in which, emphasis on improving test scores are predominant. However, are we focusing too much on a few statistical numbers? Ellis (2007) states that with the ‘No Child Left Behind’ program, schools in Texas, especially low preforming schools were teaching to the test and not providing a well-rounded curriculum. Students in the United States write SAT Reasoning exams in their last year of high school. The impact of the SAT has not only been mentioned in Gilmore Girls, but in many other shows featuring high school students. The impact of their score affects the chances of being accepted into their choice of universities. In a= scene in Gilmore Girls, parents at a parent/teacher conference badger the English teacher if what he is teaching the students will be on the AP (Advanced Placement) tests. His response of enriching the curriculum and the students knowledge is dismissed by the parents asking again about the AP test. Students take practice tests and study for hours on end for the test. Does this make good students, or good test-takers?
Who am I?
With the recent edition of the Ontario Secondary School Curriculum, students are now required to complete a half credit course in Careers Studies. The curriculum documents note that “this course teaches students how to develop and achieve personal goals for future learning, work, and community involvement” (Ontario Curriculum, 2002). It also states that “this course prepares students for managing work and life transitions and helps students focus on their goals through the development of a career plan” (Ontario Curriculum, 2002). Although Rory had a career choice in mind, and a pretty hefty plan, she lacked the skills necessary to cope when things did not go according to plan. This was evident in scenes where she has outbursts and steals a yacht when a newspaper editor says that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a journalist. In two incidents Rory failed to complete large portions of exams because she was pondering what the point was. The Career studies course is supposed to give Ontario students a chance to examine their personal career goals and a dedicated time to analyze them. The beginning of the course is about self-discovery and figuring out who you are. However, at 15-16 years of age, are students ready to really fully discover themselves and make decisions?
Cynthia Chambers (1994) discusses her resistance to being labelled. Rory is terrified of being labelled as “not good enough” and “average”. She has aspirations to become a journalist and is a good writer. She knows that just because she can write well, it does not instantly make her a write. Chambers (1994) notes that she seeks a way of becoming and work in a place that she becomes, along with people who are becoming. Rory, in her last months of her studies at Yale has a personal conflict of knowing exactly what she wanted to be, but very unsure if she would have the chance to become a journalist. She realizes that in order to become a journalist she needs to get out there and be a reporter. She even toys with the idea of going to medical school or law school for a few minutes until she whines “ugh, I don’t want to go to law school!”.
Chambers (1994) also says “living the story of our lives is a bit like playing improvisational jazz. We are given the score but we play the notes” (pg. 47). We give students as much as we can in school, especially in Careers Education, to help them guide through their own journeys in life. We can give them advice, tools and share our own lived experience, but it is truly up to the student to get themselves through. Rory had many gifts given to her, along with a supportive mother and grandparents. However in the end, it was truly up to her to connect the pieces and become who she wanted to be.
If anything, we know that society and the educational system within it will change. Rory, a fictional character on a television show ended up doing very well with her education. The series ended with her starting her first paid journalism job. For many viewers of Gilmore Girls, they wonder whether Rory remained successful later on in life. There are many tough schools in North America and a very touch economy to break in to. One can just hope that the educational opportunity they are given makes them who they want to be in the end.
Aoki, T. T. (2005). Curriculum in a New Key: The Collected Works of Ted T. Aoki. Edited by William F. Pinar and Rita L. Irwin. Chapter 6: Teaching as In-dwelling Between Two Curriculum Worlds (1986/1991). Pg 159-166.
Aoki, T. T. (2005). Curriculum in a New Key: The Collected Works of Ted T. Aoki. Edited by William F. Pinar and Rita L. Irwin. Chapter 9: Legitimating Live Curriculum: Toward a Curricular Landscape of Multiplicity (1993). Pg 199-218.
Chambers, C. (1994). Looking for Home: Work in Progress. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 15 (2), pp. 23-50
Earl, L. M. (1995). Assessment and Accountability in Education in Ontario. Canadian Journal of Education, 20 (1), pp. 45-55.
Ellis, C. (2007). No Child Left Behind: A Critical Analysis. Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 9 (1-2), pp. 221-233
Gidney, R.d. (2002). From Hope to Harris: The reshaping of Ontario’s schools. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2006), Guidance and Career Education: Grades 9 and 10.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2010), Growing Success: Assessment, evalation and reporting in Ontario Schools. First Edition
Premier’s Council of Ontario. (1990). People and skills in the new global economy. Toronto: Queen’ Printer.
Video: 21st Century Education in New Brunswick, Canada. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjJg9NfTXos Retrieved on July, 18, 2011