In my last post I discussed the experiential learning taking place in my journalism class. I believe this type of class is necessary at the middle-school and high-school level, but I am not suggesting that it’s the only type of class students will take. Students will continue to get traditional instruction in other classes, but by participating in experiential classes, they will see how to apply the knowledge to real-life experiences.
Some ideas I have (the genesis of these ideas started with collaborative discussions with other educators and parents) for other types of experiential classrooms is combining English classes with history classes. In this classroom students will decide what is important and search for materials that can be used to enhance the literary/historical experience. For example, American Literature and U.S. History can be combined to create their own “textbook” in essence. Students will search the internet, book sources, and eye-witness accounts for information about our country that is valid and interesting, and then offer commentaries as to why the materials they choose are necessary for students’ literary and historical experiences. The yearlong class would function the same way journalism functions; each literary/historical time period will be a 4-week project that will put students in various leadership and evaluative positions, as well as contributors to the textbook.
Like Journalism, this will be another elective class for students who would like to dig deeper into the elements of our country. A possible prerequisite would be American Literature or History; students will need to understand the time periods and what is currently being taught, so they have a basis for their own choices. They are “solving the problem” of what is the most essential or interesting things about our country. Other similar classes could create textbooks for World or British Literature and History. I could also see this expanding into the fields of psychology, philosophy, science, and math. How did the great thinkers in these fields influence history and literature? Students would need to read the works of Jung, Marx, Einstein, Darwin, and Pythagoras, to name a few, to discover how these great minds influenced our world.
Not only will the School of Discovery use these types of classes, but Secondary Schools will continue the experiential learning in conjunction with traditional classes. This will take a complete paradigm shift in what education looks like. I don’t think the traditional breakdown of K-5 for Elementary School, 6-8 for Middle School, and 9-12 for High School is working anymore. Instead, I’d like to see all students enter School of Discovery based on mastery at the elementary level. Once they are in the School of Discovery, they are there for at least four years, what we traditionally label as 10th grade. At this point, most students will be anywhere from 14-17 years old. If students are done with their education after School of Discovery, they can go out into the world and work or pursue their dreams.
I know this is a scary thought for some people, but let me briefly explain what high school looks like at my middle-class high school. Currently, the largest number of F’s in the school come from juniors. The majority of these teenagers are done with school at this age. Forcing them to stay in school only creates more difficulties for them and others.
This is one of the biggest issues I have as a high school teacher, and it should be parents’ biggest concern as well. There are students in school who do not want to be there, but are forced to be there by law; since they can’t make their own choices, high school students control what they can: their attitude. They make life miserable for teachers and other students by being disruptive or they take up a lot of a teacher’s time because he or she will try everything to reach the non-performing students. So much time and money goes into these students, and they don’t want to be there. We are fighting a losing battle. Meanwhile, the students who do want to be there are being neglected or have to suffer through the dumbing-down of the curriculum so everyone can succeed. It is the biggest crime in our education system today.
I’m not saying we ignore the non-performing students; we just need to give them other options. Most of these students end up dropping out because school has become irrelevant to their lives. Why not give them a choice? Why not allow them to do the things they want to do, rather than disrupt their classes, or worse yet, become invisible. I am suggesting four options for students after School of Discovery: 1) leave formal education, 2) join a philanthropic experience, 3) enter technology/vocational school, or 4) enter college preparation.
The Philanthropic Experience
For those students who don’t want to continue their formal education but aren’t ready to go out into the world on their own, I’d like to offer them a philanthropic experience. Currently, only students actively involved with their churches have opportunities to have this type of experience. Students can participate in a “missions’ trip” that will concentrate on giving back to their community, whatever that community may be (local or global). This experience would need to be partially self-funded (travel and living expenses, but government can fund the supervision needed for those students). Once they’ve had that experience, they may come back and continue their formal education or have discovered what their path is and pursue that.
College Preparation or Vocational School
If students want to continue with their education, they can take a test to determine where their strengths lie: one track will be a college preparation track, and the other will be a technology/vocational track. If a student wants to be in the college preparation track but didn’t score high enough to get in, that student can continue his or her studies independently (with mentors/tutors) until that student acquires the skills he or she needs to get on that path. If students are truly ready for college preparation, the work done in Advanced Placement classes will truly be advanced; we have far too many students taking AP classes that don’t belong there. The same is true for the technology/vocational path. Students will need to demonstrate knowledge and skills in order to get into this school. Classes will be filled with students who are excited to be there. Regardless of which track students are on, they can decide to move to the other track at any time, after testing into that school.
Giving students choices will change the culture of our schools. I currently have juniors who are failing my class but would thrive in art or wood-tech classes. Instead of feeling like failures and disconnected from their peers, they would feel successful in the company of others like them. In that same class I have students who want to delve into The Scarlet Letter, but instead have to wait patiently while I deal with the shenanigans of students who will do anything to pull the class off topic, necessitating a trimming down of the classic novel. Parents of each category of student should be frustrated by this truth.
No wonder why so many of our high-school graduates are not ready for anything after high school. The current system has made a high-school diploma worthless, and I’m not exaggerating. I recently heard of an insurance company that will only hire college graduates to answer phones in their company. This is an entry level position that used to be perfect for motivated high-school graduates, a position my mother once held 50+ years ago with her high-school diploma. She used it as a stepping-stone to create her own portfolio, becoming successful in the insurance business, without a college degree.
I know to some people, this proposal may seem like a way to separate the “smart” students from the “not-so-smart” students, making this an unfair solution. Please understand, the separation has already happened. We are already labeling students unfairly. In order for true reformation to be effective, it will necessitate an adjustment in the way we think as Americans. We have to stop looking at vocational school as a lesser choice; we have to get rid of the negative labels and encourage students to be the best that they can be at whatever makes them happy. That’s what I hope to do with my proposal: I want to give students choices, which is something they don’t have now.
What are your thoughts on this proposal?