Written By Sherwood Kohn

In the dark ages, when I was in high school, student counselors were regarded, by students (and I suspect, by faculty and administrators as well) as almost superfluous: the least effective, most expendable members of the school staff.

If students were required to consult with a school counselor, they either had behavioral problems or were totally confused about their lives. The average student avoided counseling as if it were detention (or maybe because of it) and regarded counselors as naive, somewhat inept and definitely uncool.

How things have changed.

Today’s counselors are hip professionals, empathetic and trained in the craft and art of guiding adolescents as they transition through academic life; and definitely very cool. Many are respected for their wisdom, practical knowledge, worldliness and compassion, in tune with both academic and workaday worlds.

They can also be very popular. At a recent Westminster High School graduation, a school counselor was greeted with cheers by the graduating class. Obviously, she was not only well-liked, but according to the students, had had a deeply beneficial effect on their lives.

What has changed?

“The society” is an easy answer. But the changes are more specific than that. For openers, teachers and school administrators are no longer simply authority figures. They are grounded, not only in the subjects that schools offer, but in the psychology of the developing human beings for whom they are responsible during the school day.

Moreover, their attitudes toward students are no longer simply disciplinary. They come into the classroom expecting a complex relationship; teaching and learning are matters of vital human maturation; and educators are increasingly aware of their effect on the immature beings who will inevitably grow into well-rounded, responsible citizens.

School counselors are an essential component of that contemporary structure. Unlike the simplistic system of the past, in which students were herded into school and bludgeoned with facts that they were expected to regurgitate at the end of sessions, they are taught to think and perhaps to create.

Counselors have an important role to play in such a system. They are an adjunct humanizing factor, a link between process and person, an essential component of learning and thought.