Thursday, May 30, 2013

Expressing Some Frustration

In the past I have written about The Classics Academy.  The theme-based academy for 12th grade students is in its third year of existence.  Next year we are extending the academy down to 11th grade.  Part of the rationale for extending the program is to create a feeder system. It has always been a struggle to build our numbers for senior year due to scheduling conflicts or graduation requirements which still need to be fulfilled.  The academy has run but we have always operated under a cloud of whether, due to numbers,  the program will continue.

In particular we have lost interested students due to conflicts with advanced placement courses or because taking a fourth year of science and or math looks "good" on a college transcript.  Most recently, we lost two students who initially enrolled in the academy but this week decided to go in another direction their senior year.  As was the case for the most recent cases and in the past, I speak with students who are weighing whether to enter the academy or decide to leave after enrolling.  Never once was I truly convinced that students were making a decision purely for the love of learning.  Decisions it appeared were more along the lines of following a prepared script that had been handed down from one generation of learners to the next.

I wonder about the long-term costs when a system is created where a love of learning and personal passion for the content takes a back seat when it comes to constructing a schedule.  I started by referencing the Classics Academy but similar decisions impact other programs.  I'm not sure who decided what the perfect college resume looks like and to an extent I do not think an answer to this question matters.  It comes down to those who are involved in helping students make decisions about where they want to spend their time.  We have to coach / collaborate with students to put them in classes where a love of learning is fostered and personal interests flamed.  Think about what is lost or what is ever gained if these two core principles are muted?

I offer this story in closing.  The other day two recent graduates returned to say hello to a few teachers.  Both students happened to be alumni of The Classics Academy.  One student shared an experience from college.  This student happens to be a Classics major but is also minoring in education.  As part of a teaching fellowship this student taught a lesson on the Trojan War to 6th graders.  The Classics alum shared that 6th graders were spellbound learning about the "wrath of Achilles, Odysseus, the horrors of war and the difference a journey makes."  The Classics alum also said that it was one of the best experiences of her life and has caused her to consider pursuing a career in teaching. 

This story is a bit revealing and offers a juxtaposition against filling out a prescribed template.  The Classics alum was able to share her passion with 6th graders and invite them in on her personal quest to see the relevance in studying the Classics.   For this particular student genuine and sustaining inspiration was realized by simply having the chance to make a free and unrestrained choice.  I imagine that her love of the Classics was only furthered by this teaching experience.  The great fear is whether the story briefly explained above is a rare an unique experience. 

Are values such a choice, lifelong learning, curiosity, experimentation and play pushed aside in favor of an arbitrary set of rules, procedures and expectations?