Jay, Retired College Administrator, Father, WA
Jay Helman is retired after being a Higher Education (College) Administrator and lives with his wife in Washington. He was interviewed by his daughter, Devanie.
DH: Who is a child you care about?
JH: His name is Calvin. Calvin is nearly two and half years old. He was born in Dublin and now lives in a small town in Washington. First, being a non-American native speaker makes him unique. His mother is a sign interpreter so at the age of 2.5, Calvin is learning both spoken language and sign language.
DH: Imagine Calvin is in his late 20s, out of school and starting his adult life. What do you hope for him, and what would make it a successful life?
JH: I think a good life for Calvin would be if he was living a fulfilled and meaningful life in his mind and his heart. That he lived in a world that was larger than himself and got a lot of fulfillment from serving others, from creating, and being able to communicate his thoughts and feelings very clearly.
DH: What do you mean by fulfuilling?
JH: Well, for me its hard to distinguish between fulfillment and meaningfulness. Fulfilling would be the internal sense of having meaning and providing meaning in life. This would include helping others, and feeling full of joy and love and service.
DH: What do you think the role of schooling should play?
JH: I think the role of schooling is to give a child the tools to be able to grow into a life of meaning. By that I mean the basic skills of reasoning, creativity, and the most fundamental elements are reading, writing and communicating.
DH: Do you think schools will play the role you think they should play?
JH: I think schools are trying. I suspect most schools believe their mission is to provide kids with the tools to live their lives in that way so I think their intent is pure but I think its obscured over time through funding issues, through external pressures that cause them to stray away from their mission. I think they want to provide the tools to make this happen, but through external pressures including testing and result oriented outcomes, I think they lose the sense of fulfillment and growth and gravitate towards specific numerical outcomes that cause them to take the joy out of learning for kids.
DH: Will schools play the role it should for all children?
JH: No, I don’t believe they can. I think the human experience is too complex and there are too many SES and spiritual factors that play into the complexity of human beings that I don’t see how one public entity whether its school or anything else could possibly fill the needs of helping to provide a venue for that kind of fulfillment and meaningfulness that were talking about.
DH: If they could get closer to it, what would that look like?
JH: There needs to be a shift in terms of public perception and agreement about what it is were trying to do. Over the years its become so outcome based in terms of testing that we’ve lost sight of what were really doing is helping human beings to develop and grow. So I think I would say if we could get to an educational culture that valued growth and development and was less interested in measurable outcomes because were not creating little robots and I think that’s what the educational system has evolved into. We almost treat children as little entities or production units.
DH: Do you think people agree with you on each of those levels?
JH: Um, observing the way our schools are organized and the way our state and local governments fund and don’t fund schools, I would say most people do not agree with me.
DH: What do you think most people would say?
JH: They create production units. They would use different words but I think in essence what they’re saying is create people that can produce and be viable working units. Within each district and school, people value the growth of each kid. As the entity gets bigger, it becomes more problematic. When we start talking at a state and national level, people lose sight of each child. I think that may speak to the need to really focus on local governance for schools. I also think it just gets more abstract the bigger and more complicated it gets. People trust things that are concrete, and the things that are most concrete are assessment outcomes and tax dollars. This distrust of the abstract makes us shy away from focusing on higher human traits and human development.
DH: Tell me about an empowering learning experience you’ve had.
JH: Living in a foreign country was an incredible learning experience. It took me out of everything familiar and taught me just how important communication is. It almost stripped me down to being a child again, and I had to experientially re-learn everything.
Another time that really sticks out to me is when I was a junior in college. I had a really intimidating Priest as a writing teacher, and I was getting “C”s in his class. He asked to see me privately, and called me out for identifying as a jock. He told me he thought I had potential as a student and intellectual and that I wasn’t doing myself any favors riding on my athletic identity. I respected him greatly, and when he told me I had potential, it really stuck with me.