Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Tale of Two Scholars (actually three)

One Youtube video + one email + one Facebook post = A Tale of Two Scholars (actually three).
Let me explain.
Suli Breaks, Spoken Word Artist from England, posted a video “Why I Hate School but Love Education” that quickly went viral, nearing the 3 million hits and showing no signs of slowing.
I encountered his video a few days ago when Justin, a high school junior and a former student of mine, emailed to me, explaining: “This describes exactly how I feel about my education.”
The video left me speechless with its heart-heavy indictment of public education. I replied to Justin, coaxing him to explain, which resulted in a lengthy response (“probably the most [I've] ever written,” he reminded me, with a smirk, in the hallway at school).
I then posted the video on my AP English Facebook page with Justin’s tagline: “This is exactly how I feel about my education,” asking my AP English Students (current and former) if they felt the same, which inspired a lengthy Facebook post from Domonic, another former student of mine, currently a college freshman.
Therein lies the genesis of this blogpost: “The Tale of Two Scholars.” Having received their permission to post,  I will now get out of the way, posting their full responses and allowing  students (the most important, most authentic, and least heard critics of education) to speak:
Justin  (High School Junior)
When I was in Waldorf all I wanted was to get out and go to a public high school, but once I started in a public school I hated it and knew that I would be better off in a Waldorf high school. As I look back on my Waldorf education, it was so hands-on and let individuals grow in their own, creative way. In the Waldorf school I was Justin… I was a character… people knew my for who I truly was. In high school I feel more like a number, a letter, a score on a piece of paper that classifies who I am, what classes I can take, and where my future path leads.
 School has been nowhere near what it should have been. If you ask me what I learned today I would most likely tell you something that I learned from one of my peers or read online…not something I learned from my teachers. I am so uninterested in what they are teaching because all I focus on is that I need to pass my next test so I get good grades and can go somewhere with my life in the future. And that’s not what I want my future to be based upon. I am more than that test grade I get at the end of the semester. School should challenge you in ways you want to be challenged; it should still teach you a little of everything but in a way that you can relate to and benefit from.
The solution is that the world needs to wake up and realize that we are the next generation, it is up to them to pass on their life lessons. Also much smaller classes with a much more hands on learning environment. They need to teach us that we are individuals, not just numbers or grades. They need to let us be us without trying to influence our ways. They need to teach us to excel to the greatest WE can be not to the class average. 
Domonic  (College Freshman)
I had a job interview the other day for a summer legal research position. The attorney was telling me about how other attorneys frequently come to him when they’re stuck on a case because he truly believes that there is a way to win every case. For this reason, he told me, he hated specialization and considered it a limitation because someone “may be very good in one area, but if [he’s] in the courtroom with them, [he] will be able to, at some point, out flank them in an area that’s not” their specialty, but still relevant case law.”
I truly believe that all knowledge is power; trivial historical facts may one day help me win a legal case. The Pythagorean Theorem may assist me to…build a garden in my backyard. So to say that students shouldn’t need to learn the details of the Great Compromise or the proper interactions of sine, cosine and tangent, is never something that I’ve personally thought or believed in. Who knows what purpose that knowledge will one day serve in their professional or private lives?  But, at the same time, that’s not to say that knowledge that isn’t taught won’t also serve them well. Certainly the educational system can and should improve in areas that are perhaps more relevant to today’s youth, but I don’t believe that should come at the expense of other basic knowledge. And while I acknowledge I am biased, because I never have believed in memorizing things for a test simply to forget them (because I do believe “it” could one day help me).
I truly, truly, truly, truly believe the key to fixing this educational “gap” is so much more complex than just the educational system itself (which could also use some work). Why aren’t American students as inspired…no, as driven to succeed as they once were? Why aren’t they going home at night and studying what they’re passionate about, like students in other countries who are academically surpassing us? Even if it’s just reading Wikipedia pages on history or science or law or engineering or journalism, this is gaining vast amounts of knowledge.
So, three things we need to do:
  1. Get American youth reading again (not tweets, rather books, or even Wikipedia articles if they must)
  2. Re-instill the desire to succeed through their own passion for personal interests outside of school (or in school through EXTRA-CURRICULARS, Problem Based Learning, Independent Study, etc.)
  3. Bring those basic facts that will serve them in God knows what capacity in the future, to the point where they’re not cramming them in, but learning them for life. Use things like increased PBL (FrankenTrial anyone?) (also applicable in #2), a redevelopment of the testing system with broader exams on wider amounts of course material, and real world applications (design your dream home using these geometric principles, defend a high profile supreme court case with precedents from historic cases) with the understanding that it may not help them/us be a graphic artist, electrician, engineer, accountant, etc., but it’ll sure help you be a better one, and a better, more rounded person.
Create the hunger.  Feed the hunger.  Fuel the hunger.
Final Thoughts:
I hold Justin and Domonic in high regard. Both are good-natured, intelligent, dynamic young men. And while their thoughts about the education they have received from the same community and same school district differ greatly, they represent points on the spectrum of the diverse student body all educators serve.  As such we must acknowledge the integrity with which they speak, the voices they represent, the songs they sing, the deficiencies they decry.
For the Sulis, the Justins, the Dominics, we have much work to do.