As I turned the final page of my latest read, Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, just a moment ago, my fingers immediately reached for my keyboard. This is what I feel. This is what I fear. This is what needs to be recognized and considered for our children today…
“Erica Goldson shared in her very powerful high school valedictorian speech in 2010:
I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition, a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.
We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special. Every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation rather than memorization, for creativity rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved plaction after placation. There is more, and still more.” (Couros, Innovator’s Mindset)
In the six short months the ARCTIC Zone has existed, I have watched every single one of my 6th grade students’ eyes light up while exploring their personal interests for their passion projects. Now is the time for them to be exploring their passions, talents, and curiosities. In order for educators to do that, though, we need to be given the freedom, flexibility, and the push to unleash our own talents and our own hunger for learning, for what kind of encouragement and excitement can we model for our students if we are caged by curriculum benchmarks and rigid schedules?
The second round of our parent-teacher conferences concluded today, and we were again bombarded with positive feedback from families. I find it incredible how many parents have said things like, “For the first time in a very long time, she loves coming to school!” or “I wish school had been like this when I was growing up.”
Why has it taken so long for our eyes to be opened to this kind of teaching and learning? This is a question I cannot answer and one I refuse to waste my energy pondering. Instead, because I can, I will ask myself: What can I do? What opportunities can I provide for my students? What sparks can I ignite? What passions can I encourage? “Me. We.” – Muhammad Ali