Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Myths and Facts about School (part one)

Originally posted as a Facebook note on August 11

Exactly two months after leaving Japan for the summer (and 5 months since the earthquake, incidentally), I finally spent my first full day in a long while back at CAJ. I set up the desks in my classroom, started organizing my files, and put some posters on the wall. As I was leaving this afternoon, I bumped into one of my students from last year, and had a good chat with her--I was reminded again of why I teach, and encouraged that at least some of my students appreciate my philosophy of education (honestly, I am grateful for the patience of my students who are willing to work with me and invest in me, still relatively new to the teaching profession as I am, and do their best--the reason why last year was such a good year was because of my students!) Anyway, the conversation got me thinking and I want to do some thinking out loud on Facebook over the next two weeks as a series of open-letters to any and all students who I will have in my class next year. If you read these notes, feel free to pass them along to your friends/classmates. Consider them both an invitation and a challenge!

Myth: School is about getting good grades so that you can get into the best college.

Fact: School is about learning how to interact with the world that you are living in.

I know that this is tough for some of you to hear. I know that some of you are not satisfied unless you get straight As. I know that some of you feel like getting a B on that essay or a C+ on that test will be the end of the world as you know it because what college is going to accept someone who got a B (or so you think)? Here's the reality--we learn by our imperfection. If we could do everything perfectly, there would be no need for school... no need for colleges or even jobs, really, since each person would be totally self-sufficient. That's not the way the world works, though. We're fallen human beings. Creative? Yes. Capable? Yes. Limited? Also yes. Our limitations are part of who we are, and we shouldn't pretend to be perfect. Nor should we use our limitations as an excuse for not trying. We'll only successfully learn how to live in the world if we own up to our limitations and then strive to work through them... and yes, this may mean stumbling and falling; failing; or at least getting a lower grade than you wanted. That's how we learn, though! If you can show that you know how to learn, and that you genuinely care about learning... well that means more to any college or any employer than grades ever will. Grades are only as useful as showing you (and me) how much progress you're making. So, I challenge you to let go of grades--they are not the end of the process... merely signposts to help you through. If you end your hike at a signpost on a trail in the woods, you'll be stuck in the woods for a long time, and frankly, you'll probably get eaten by a bear.

On the flip-side, I know there are some of you who are totally turned off by the race and pressure for good grades. You don't feel like you have a chance of academic success, so long as academic success means scoring 100%. Well, take heart because getting 100% is NOT what school is all about! You may be used to floating through school, doing just enough to pass... and why is that? Perhaps you worry that if you actually tried hard and put your best into something, that it wouldn't be good enough--that you'd do poorly and then everyone would think you were a failure. Or perhaps you have been trying your best and keep being told that you're not good enough... either way, that's not the point of school. The point of school is to learn! Simple as that. To learn, to truly come away with your own understanding of something, you need to do your best--to stretch your mind just as weight lifters keep adding more weight or runners keep adding distance to their work-outs--and recognize that everyone messes up at some point. Don't be ashamed when this happens, but celebrate because you'll have another chance to improve! And trust me--though it may feel frustrating sometimes, you will improve. Here's the thing, though: you'll only learn how to function in the world if you're willing to take a chance and invest yourself in discovering how the world works, and this will mean working hard! This will mean pouring your heart and soul into papers and presentations. Will you write the perfect paper or deliver the perfect presentation? No. Don't let that discourage you--let it liberate you! You're working as hard as you can not to get a certain score, but to learn more about yourself and your place in God's creation! If you don't invest yourself in your learning, you'll end up just as lost as those poor souls who have mistaken the signpost for the lodge at the end of the trail.

Stay tuned for more myths and facts in the coming days!

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