“[He said] he’d lost his way in high school… lost any clear sense of why he was getting those straight A’s. During his travels that summer…he’d rediscovered the point of learning. And what is that? I asked. ‘It’s fun,’ he answered. ‘It enlarges your life, and it prepares you to do some good in the world”(Hunting for Hope, 174).
This quote, spoken by a 17-year old in limbo before he made his way to college and the “real world,” represents the overarching goal in my attempt to define the perfect school. Education should be about “doing good in the world.” It should not be about making good grades or getting through tests and assignments as students race toward graduation day, but about contributing to society. Schools should be integrated parts of communities. They should serve as hubs of connection–aiming to make students aware of issues in their hometowns and inciting a passion in them to create change. Schools should create activists. In my ideal school, high expectations are held for every student. There are no excuses. These expectations are always enforced. Furthermore, high expectations are held for parents and community members. Parent-teacher conferences are held often. Acknowledging the long working hours and obstacles of low-income families and communities, each of these conferences provides free transportation to the school, flexible hours, day care during conference time, and a meal. Parents in my ideal school follow the model of investment–dedicating time and energy to the education of their children and the mission of the school.
Community members (parents or not) also play a role in my ideal school. On a regular basis, men and women from diverse occupational fields and with varied life experiences come to speak to and interact with students. They share tales of their own successes and failures and participate in projects of civic engagement. Students become involved with all aspects of the community surrounding the school as authentic assessment requires them to learn about and participate in it–causing them to learn more about themselves and what they care about.
In an article read for my civically-minded and democratically taught course “Campus Ecology” titled “Against Apathy: Role Models for Engagement” by Paul Rogat Loeb, the notion that optimistic youth are not provided with the platform or the skills to create necessary change is acknowledged. Lamenting the inaction of our generation, Loeb states:
” Wherever I go, small groups of students do tackle the critical issues of our times: environmental threats, illiteracy, growing gaps between the rich and poor. But most feel too overwhelmed. They’ll do important work volunteering one on one, because that’s tangible and concrete. But when asked to imagine themselves taking on the deeper roots of issues they care about, they come up blank. Our culture hasn’t given them the models to take action” (Loeb, 1).
Like culture, I don’t think that our education system has given them the models to take action either. Teachers and authority figures preach about the colossal issues the next generation will have to face–reminding them that the future is in their hands. And yet, they don’t provide their students with the knowledge necessary to change these detrimental systems. The Utopian school I imagine fights this seemingly inevitable problem of apathy by providing a model to take action and teaching activism. It is a school that asks students what problems they see in the world, and collaborates with them to trace these problems to the source in order to begin brainstorming how to change it. It is a school that teaches students to question and take action–consistently exposing them to civic engagement opportunities and both sides of controversial topics in world news. It is a school that develops not only well informed and active American citizens, but citizens of the world as well. Bridging parents, teachers, community, and the crucial issues of today, my ideal school battles the apathy Loeb laments.
Leaving many of the niches of my Utopian idea of education unexplored, this is where I try to conclude. Conclusions are confusing. They attempt to sum everything up, while simultaneously bringing something new to the table. As I learned in my high school advanced composition course, a conclusion should include a “wow factor.” And yet, a neatly tied and packaged conclusion is impossible in this contemplation of the U.S. Education system. Everything remains open-ended and up for debate. These are my ideas today, but I guarantee they will change. I have learned more from this independent study and blogging process than I ever could have in a conventional classroom. I explored organically–researching one topic after another and weaving a web that somehow completely connected in the end. I thought outside of the box and constantly edited. I learned from educators, authors, film makers and students about pieces of a system most will never make the effort to investigate. I read the news now with eyes wide open, scanning eagerly for articles about education and the possibility of making more connections. I have begun to develop my own personal philosophy. I have been bitten by a strange and beautiful bug. This kind of passion is what I hope for students all over this country. I believe that we will fix this broken system. I believe that imagination and collaboration are the key. And so, I refuse to conclude. This isn’t the end.