At the invitation of a brilliant student that attends my school, I attended a very interesting gathering last week. Technori is a group of technology entrepreneurs in the Chicago area who network monthly by having a mini “elevator pitch” for up and comers in the business. This particular meeting was a homage to Black History Month with all of the people participating on stage being African American. My little genius (yes, he’s mine, you can’t have him), was introduced as someone, at age 15, that was going to be an outstanding member of the business one day. Yes, he will be.
This post isn’t really about him though. (sorry). After he’d made his little speech and everyone was duly impressed and wanted to meet him, others came up to give their pitches. One women caught my eye and ear. She talked about how school was for her and the one statement that took me over the edge was
“School was boring, so junior year, I quit.”
As one of the teachers in the room, I was initially shocked, then, intrigued, and finally fascinated. She was right. School is boring. Its boring as hell, and here is why:
By the time students get to high school, they’ve spent up to 9 years learning how to read, write and do arithmetic, learned the history of their country and particular state and the basics of science. Depending on the district, they might have even learned a little fine arts in the way of a music, dance or art class. They also learned how to hit each other with balls in gym.
When they get to high school, for some completely insane reason, they are forced to KEEP learning this same crap. Ok, so social studies, science and math get a little complicated and more global, but why the hell does anyone need to know the finer points of Shakespearean sonnets or the various theories of algebra, geometry or calculus? Why is all of that… redone. Then assessed, over and over and over again.
As I look back on my high school education, which, nearly 40 years ago now (Jesus), was almost EXACTLY the same as it is now for this group of students (think about that a moment), why the hell did I have to learn about Shakespeare or sit (literally sobbing) through pre calc? I had 4, count them FOUR physics teachers my senior year, because each of them were incompetent idiots. One actual sat and read from the book to us. I learned more physics when I began teaching it!
Back to the statement, “school is boring”. That pronouncement came from Tiffany Mickell and she dropped out of high school. Since she only had 5 minutes, I didn’t get the details of how she managed to become the CEO/CTO of her own company but, she did. The premise of all she does now is based on the reality that school is boring. That there must be a better way to teach the things that need to be taught or better yet (and this is my thinking) APPLYING the 9 years of study leading up to high school to the learning done in high school instead of basically starting from scratch as if no one had learned anything up to that point. I think I’m in love with her; well, her notion of how school must change.
Yes, we’re working on the “technical” stuff: how learning is presented, making education more student centered, blah blah blah. We’re making great strides in that area. What Tiffany is suggest though is this: during high school, prepare the student to go out into the world with a skill set of some sort. I recall that happening (sorta) back in the day: Girls learned some business arts skills, boys took industrial arts classes. They were ready to go forth. Those sorts of classes are only taught in speciality schools now. We have one in our district. Why do we only have one? Only those who have particular interests, who apply to, are accepted and thrive in those settings, are ready to hit the streets running nowadays.
How do we fix that? How do we make high school applicable to the real world? Its not like those who know in the business community aren’t saying DAILY, we need you to teach them A, B, C. Why don’t we teach them A, B, C? Why are we still stuck with Shakespeare, geometry and getting hit with balls in gym? Check out Duval County Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. At some point in the recent past, it occurred to all the districts in that county that if they pooled their money into one large budget, then created specialized high schools in the buildings that already existed, then provided transportation to those schools for any kid in the district, that those students would be able to have a solid, APPLICABLE learning environment to get the skill set for the careers they were interested in. Duval County School in the 2015-16 school year had a 5.3% drop out rate. Who DOES that? I hear it’s working. Why doesn’t everyone do that?
School is boring. Yeah, it is. Teaching it the same way all this time is boring too. That realization is really bugging me. Teaching distruptively is one thing, being intentional is another. Perhaps more of us need to be radical. What is there to lose? In this new, quirky era where the leader of the Dept of Education has no clue what is involved in providing education and parents wonder why we aren’t doing the same things for their children in the classroom that was done for them 20 years ago (really, mom?), why NOT be radical and actually prepare children for the world that hasn’t a clue what to do with them but knows they need to be able to do “A, B, and C.”?
School is boring. We’ve heard children say that. We know the drop out rates in our districts. We always justify it with “well, they weren’t conformists”, “they were troublemakers”, “good riddance”.
Sitting in that room Tuesday night though; a room full of “drop outs”: some from high school, some from college, some from corporate careers, it became apparent…some of us are meant to drop out. Can we at least provide the fuel to burn on their way to be what they sense they can be? Can we teach radically?