Editor’s note: warning–very rough thoughts here. I don’t know what to make of them just yet, but I wanted to get them out before they got lost.
This, from Seth Godin (emphasis mine):
What’s high school for?
Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:
How to focus intently on a problem until it’s solved.
The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
How to read critically.
The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.
Yes, all of these are extremely important, and I know we would add to this list from our own specific philosophies, but those I chose to highlight have been running through what I’ve been reading about, thinking about, and working with lately. There are two specific levers that get students to work: social and peer pressure, and academic pressure. How we leverage both of those determines whether, as Godin puts it above, they leave us with that “insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.”
The simplest example of this is this video that I used a few weeks back here, and that I plan to share with parents in the next couple weeks to demonstration the specific changes to our English curriculum.
By decreasing the academic pressure to read what we say they have to read, these students doubled their productivity in terms of amount of text read. We also pulled some anecdotal evidence from our staff in regards to series like The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Harry Potter–kids were more likely to want to read books that were buzzing. Applying social pressure, or “need to know” pressure to students pushes them toward that insatiable desire to know.
But what of the academic pressure we place on them? Does that have merit? It’s a swift route to excommunication in some circles to eschew the mandatory assignment of reading, especially reading in textbooks. That’s where the first three highlights come into play. It’s something I’ve dubbed “The Broccoli Effect” here before. Part of what we do in schools is help students connect their passions to our own, and to the culturally significant elements within our history. Schooling is both parts enlightening and accepting.