In today’s session, six courageous high school students spent three hours with me to discuss education and share their ideas. Polite, articulate, calm, this group’s energy was as positive as yesterday’s group, but much quieter. We spent the first hour exploring these questions (a couple of which were generated by Imagining Learning):
- What is learning? Can we name some examples? Are there many ways of learning? What are they? Why do we go to school?
- Offer adults one piece of advice about how to support young people on the planet today.
- Who was your favorite person when you were younger? How did it feel to be with that person?
- Define a successful student according to our current educational expectations. Now create your own definition as to what you think a successful student should be.
Like yesterday’s group, the participants then identified all the things they could think of that they associated with school. They wrote them down and tossed them in a basket to symbolically let go of their preconceived notions. We spent the last portion of the session in discussion and reporting of their own vision of what a school should and could be.
Though the session is geared to make this last visioning portion the most productive, this group shared their most significant insight in the first hour. They talked at length of the needs of many students for a stable parent figure. They said that without a respectful, trustworthy, and present adult in their lives, many students were fated to failure. They saw the role of school as surrogate parent-figure – that if kids didn’t have that stable person in their home lives, they should be able to find it within the school walls. The participants discussed their own favorite teachers – the ones they felt they could trust like their own parents – and worried about students who might not have that connection. If there was a top theme of the session, this was it. They simply wanted adults to give kids their time, respect, and trust.
The theme of community and family was palpable. They were excited to have a school facility in their little township; whereas before, students traveled 15 miles or so to the Bismarck schools, now they’ll be able to “bring education back home,” as one student put it. They hoped the school would provide plenty of opportunities for family socials, support groups for kids with tricky issues in their lives, carnivals and play.
As for learning, the participants emphasized the need for more fun. “Learning through playing” was one phrase offered up, and another student coined “living the lesson.” They saw the need to make learning relevant to real life, and favored field trips, increased use of technology, and hands-on education vs. textbook learning. Foreign language was another deeply discussed issue. The students felt that languages should be offered at a much younger age, beginning in elementary school, with summer camp options to offer further study. They wanted languages beyond the traditional European offerings as well, such as Chinese and Japanese. They also favored interest-based learning, and suggested that time spent getting to know the students (and their interests) was far more valuable than the time spent in repeated assessments and standardized testing.
I feel deep appreciation once again for the generosity, insight, honesty, and intelligence of my participants today. I was moved by their compassion for their fellow students, and for their values of family and community. Thanks too to the principal, teachers, administrators, and assistants who all worked to make today happen!
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