|Prairie (2010, M.A Reilly)|
We recently hired a landscaper--a man in his mid thirties. Salt of the earth type. He stopped by this evening to pick up the signed contract and signed proposal and check and explained the timeline to us. One thing led to another and he spent the next hour talking about learning. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the value he placed on the leaning he did in woodworking, auto shop, and horticultural classes he had as a teenager. He's a dad to two young children, but because he volunteers time and work at area middle and high schools he's noticed that the very things he most valued at school are disappearing completely.
It's important to make stuff, he tells us, adding that he wouldn't have made it through school without the special education and shop teachers he had and coaches. He tells us that he wasn't good at the classes that kept you inside and the ones where you didn't move, like math and English.
One story he told was most poignant. When he was first starting high school, the school had just hired a teacher to teach horticultural class. "He was like my idol," he told us. I said to him, "You mean I can learn about landscape and architecture and not just cut lawns?" The career he would build began alongside that relationship. Today he runs a very successful business.
Later, after he's gone and dinner is over--I can't get his story out of my mind. I keep replaying it. As I think about what he has said, I wonder how many young people right now are learning that what they are not very good at or perhaps even interested in, such as math and English, constitute what is most valued at school. How does our myopic focus on school math and reading marginalize learners? If the most important things you do at school are narrowed so severely, where is there room for young people who experience school math and reading as tedious to learn about learning? Do these young people come to doubt themselves? To doubt their choices? Do they label themselves partially proficient? 1s? Stupid?
Do they know they are being lied to? How many are harmed when the woodwork program is cut so that the suite of CCSS prep classes can be added?
Who is it that will help them to know that they can dream bigger than school math and reading? Who will help them to know that they they can embody learning, not be resigned to only being a big head? Who is it who will help them to realize the very 'non-school' dreams they have been nurturing? Are we actually surprised that so many teens don't want to be at school?
Our insane attention to measuring through high stakes test, school math and reading, reminds me of lives out of balance. It's like we are requiring public schools to live a hyper version of the film Koyaanisqatsi and we keep forgetting the very moral and asking children and teachers to go faster and faster in order to focus more and more on math and reading, reading and math.
We must rebalance.