Lisa, Master's Student, CA
Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for them about their life? What would make it a ‘good’ life?
I guess it’s so dependent on the individual. My cousin comes to mind. He’s in high school, and his needs are more different than other kids needs. Or maybe they’re not—when I actually describe them, they’re going to be the same as every human person; like living in a robust community and engagement with people. For my cousin, I see him living in a lively community of liberal peers who can support him in his creative endeavors. If I think of a former student, I think of a different context—the ability to make social impact or quiet research. I think every kid needs a different thing.
It’s those innate sparks you see as a teacher, and those threads you can trace back in your own life, where you see that your interests now as an adult have roots in interests that you had as a child. So I think that’s it: extrapolating a life context from what I see as their innate attributes. Kind of blossoming. I’m a self-actualization-style educator.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
In my vision, schools help kids identify areas of focus, areas of passion at different stages of development. Those things are open to change and evolve. I guess it’s interest-driven; students bring to the table what they’re curious about and educators help develop them, or at least align them with opportunities.
Do you think schools are currently playing that role/doing what they should (for you/your child and for everyone)?
I think that there’s a huge gap, but that the forces that are working against schools are so big—I mean, they have to do with the economy, cultural values about education and life, moral values. I think they have to do with politics and how much money and support are attributed with education. I think one element of students having freedom is having more support in the classroom because it’s hard to run multiple projects. You need more human resources in any given classroom and school. And in order for teachers to be on their feet and sharp, they need to have sleep, they need to have their basic needs taken care of. I argue, for the most part, that teachers are completely repressed members of society. They’re underpaid and overworked.
I don’t think you can really change the classroom culture. I think it changes naturally when kids have reached high school because they’ve proven they can jump through all the hoops and they’re old enough to run an independent project on their own. In my ideal world, kids would be doing that in elementary school, but they need more support, and unless we provide that and give teachers time to reflect and give them the proper tools, then it’s going to be really difficult to execute that type of paradigm.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling?
I think there would be many different perspectives. I think some people have the kind of technocrat view of schools are meant to give you specific skills to go seek on your own the types of jobs you want, but it’s very economically focused. And then there’s the moralist type of self-actualist… I think I’m definitely in the artistic/moralist camp rather than the technocratic camp. If the technocratic camp made more sense to me, if their were clearer jobs kid could go to, I think I’d be more balanced in the spectrum. But because our whole economy has just—I don’t really understand the conversation about what kinds of jobs are needed. I mean that’s what people say, right? In the future, how many specialized knowledge workers do you need? Nobody knows. So what do we do with the masses of students that are getting educated and there’s no middle-class types of labor anymore? That’s where this conversation gets really big and confusing. I don’t understand the end point of the technocratic argument. In the meantime, we might as well teach people how to reach their own goals in whatever scrappy ways they can, and find themselves in the short life they have, while they’re still children and life is still sweet and there’s still hopefully someone helping to take care of them.
Do you think others agree with you about what a good life is?
I think in some ways we can see things changing really slowly. Like there’s a slowly emerging spiritual-character-moral dialogue in America, mindfulness in schools—mindfulness being this neuter exercise that any person can go through that helps them focus, but really it’s a lot like prayer, and really some people believe it’s just this wedge to get Buddhist, dharmic thought into the curriculum. But you know, there are people who are bringing these ideas back into education, and no one’s really complaining, whereas even in the 2000s when I was doing my undergrad, the moral education conversation wasn’t really allowed to be had. No one cared about that. And flash-forward 10 years, and everyone’s having that conversation, but through a very secular lens. So, maybe there’s kind of this secret spiritual uprising that’s happening in all of American society, thanks to Dr. Phil and Oprah and the 60s and modern times of the internet… and I think that is changing society. Americans talk about this in a very statistical, Malcolm Gladwell type of way, whereas actually naming it as a spiritual—like we’re living through a spiritual awakening, and it’s affecting schools, or just things like character education, social-emotional learning. We’ve put these scripted titles on it, but that’s what’s really happening at the deep level, is people paying attention to not having societal values and the implications that that has and wanting to remedy that somehow. So I think that that change is happening. Which gives me a lot of hope.