Kela, a former student of mine who I interviewed for the Unimagined podcast released on 5/30, shared an analogy about education being a destination. I honestly am surprised at how simple the idea is, and it took me writing this post to actually understand just how incredible it is as an analogy.
I really loved the idea, because there are always going to be different methods to get to any destination. I might fly, while you choose to drive; someone else might take the scenic route, and still yet someone might take the challenge and choose to ride a bike or walk.
Should the “how” matter? What about arrival time? What should we define as the actual destination - and does that allow for lifelong learning?
Educators, is the content of your class the destination? Do students have to take the path you provide to them? What happens when they choose a different path?
Parents, does your child’s destination match yours, or does it have to be longer than the one you found? Do your children have to take the same path you did, or can they take a different one?
Administrators, do you let your teachers develop fun yet challenging paths? What happens when the paths they provide aren’t accessible for the students they have - do you blame them?
In education, we have used terms like “differentiation” and “individualized learning,” but these are not really the methods we use in our practice.
By now, I hope you know me to be an educator of the whole student. I love chemistry, that is true, but chemistry is only the vehicle that puts us on the track to get to the destination - it is not the destination. If I believe it is, I have made it even more difficult for the students in my class to arrive at the destination. In my perfect world, each student gets to choose their destination at school, and my class is a rest stop, a support station, or any support put in place to get the student to the destination of their own choice.
When I started this post, I saw the destination as a high school diploma, but if that is true, then we stop when we get there. I believe we are trying to teach students to be lifelong learners, as we should be, which means that each stop along the way is just getting each and every student closer to their destination.
Not my destination, not the school’s, and not even society’s destination.
It makes me wonder why the requirements are the same for ALL students to receive a high school diploma. Do we offer options for students to obtain their diploma? Maybe there are two or three different diploma options in most schools: the rigorous one, the state minimum, possibly the vocational / technical one. If this is the destination, there aren’t too many ways to get there, and flexibility is at a minimum for how long you have to get there.
A year can be repeated if you don't meet the requirements at one stop. You can work in the summer, although this path carries a negative stigma. There is the expectation that we only need 12 years to get to the desired destination. When a child doesn’t, they are seen as a failure, the state considers your path as having failed you, and the school is told they failed. That doesn’t seem to convey that the destination is achievable for everyone.
What do we want for students?
My husband has worked in an alternative high school program for 15 years, and we have had countless conversations about what the goal of his program should be for students. He has said, if you can play by the rules and get that high school diploma, then you can earn more money, and you will have more opportunities. This is true by all accounts, but not all students can complete and compete in the game the same way. We all have students whose parents are divorced, and some are lucky enough to have parents who share the responsibility of the children, and others have one (or more) absent parent.
Have we even really thought about what it means for a child in a divorced family having dual custody. Do they have a home? I would argue having two homes is not the equivalent of having a home. Many are moving twice every week.
I personally hate moving. Hell, I hate packing for a weekend.
What grace are we providing these children to move and pack and move every three days? What response might we give a student who says they left their book at their mom or dad’s?
I used to think it wasn’t very responsible. I don’t think that anymore. I have set myself up to have enough textbooks or other materials that if a student tells me they are living in two places, I give them an extra to take and leave at one of the homes.
Will you change with me, and see that every kid has a different destination? It is our job to support them along the path that takes them to that destination, and if they don’t make it to the finish line, it is their fault, our fault, or the school's fault - is it even a fault at all?