Something is wrong.
One of the most frequent questions I receive about our school relates to the the fear of the unknown... what will happen to our students when they leave our building? How will we know they are progressing and will "fit in" and "measure up"?
I can't have a good answer for this, since all I know is the here and now. All I can share is the true growth happening each day in the personal, academic, social, and emotional areas of our students' lives. How do we quantify this? Most of it, we can't. We can't measure watching a student work to become better at managing impulsiveness, or talk through things with their friends, or work harder than they ever have before on a meaningful project, or to finally become more critical in their problem solving abilities.
And while I can understand both the logic and emotion behind these fears, these questions start to write a story in our minds that hasn't happened yet... we are making decisions based on the fear of the unknown and the "what if".
Enter this tweet from Ted Dintersmith from earlier this year:
@dintersmith: A S at last night's amazing community forum in Molokai. "I've spent four years getting good grades, prepping for standardized tests, and developing a great college resume. I have no idea who I am, what my values are, or who I want to become. Something is wrong."
Doesn't that make you stop and pause? I felt so much anger and sadness when I read that comment. And yet, the majority of the people in charge of educating that young student continue to lead and make changes based on fear... fear of not measuring enough, fear of not fairly evaluating everyone in the same box at the same time and in the same way... essentially the fear of the unknown.
Well guess what? No one knows. The standardized tests simply line students up within a standard box, and yet, if we challenge the status quo and dig into research like "The End of Average", what do these tests even mean? At a higher level, we can comb through tons of big data without actually getting to know the students within the numbers, without having a frank and meaningful discussion with the teachers who know each student in a deeper way. Or, more than likely, have a frank discussion with a teacher who wishes he/she knew their students in a deeper way, but due to too many students, too many special projects, too many meetings and committees, they don't have this type of relationship with their students. I know they feel angry and saddened by this... I've spoken to them. Ask a teacher who truly knows his/her students and I will show you a teacher who doesn't see much value in standardized tests.
How can we help students learn their values, learn about who they are and who they want to become? We MUST begin leading and teaching through love and faith instead of fear. We MUST start valuing something different than grades, test scores, perfect behavior, and quiet classrooms.
The student at Ted's meeting made a very poignant and accurate statement about something being wrong. The mental health crisis in our communities is often brought to light in the news and social media. Many discussions are held about how we can influence people in a healthier way and help them find the services and help they need. My thought? Imagine if the COMPULSORY system they are required to attend for 10+ years of their life treated them like humans with unique differences instead of sheep made to fit into a rigid box. The lost feeling of that student could become a thing of the past.
On a deeper note, the student in Molakai who made that statement is a MODEL student. He/She has spent four years of high school working on getting good grades, studying for standardized tests, and running themselves ragged in order to build up their college resume. This was a child, that if his/her parents were presented with an option like The Innovation School, they would say, "My child is fine in the public system. They get good grades, they are consistently top of their class, and they're active in sports and other activities." Please, if that is your child, coming from someone who WAS that student, I'm pleading with you to consider reevaluating what is important to you. Your values about education will shape your child. Your willingness to rebel against the social norm of "average" and "academic success" can make a lasting impact on who your child becomes. I waited until I was in my early thirties before feeling self-worth WITHOUT a grade or praise.
I meet people all the time who have students like this child Ted Dintersmith tweeted about. Most think their child is fine and they never even consider the damage this could be doing. If you're thinking "Well, my child really IS fine. They really excel in a traditional environment!" challenge yourself to give it another thought. Sign them up for a day to shadow a student at our school! See how enriching and empowering a more modern way of learning can be.
Think about the words of that straight-A, 4.0, captain of the _____ team, 25+ ACT score student that stood up and spoke at a community meeting, imploring his/her community to help them find their values, learn who they are, and who they hope to become. The Innovation School and others like it are the places where mental health of students and teachers is a priority and helping everyone involved reach deeper and more meaningful growth as humans. Imagine if our public systems were willing and open to learning a different model and collaborating with places like The Innovation School. Could that be the answer to that child's plea for help?
As you weigh your thoughts after reading mine, ask yourself if your current education values align with what kind of person you want your child to be upon high school graduation. Does that student's comment make you stop and think harder and question some of our social norms that we deem so important within society, especially as it relates to school? If so, reach out, and start valuing something different... sign your child up today for a day to shadow another student at our school! Email me today!
Maggie Barth - Director and Founder of The Innovation School