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Cold comfort for education change?

  • Courtesy photo—



For the Monadnock Ledger Transcript
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 12:9PM

When I graduated from high school, I told my mom that I wanted to be a high school teacher.

She was shocked because she knew how much I hated going to high school so much of the time. I was insistent that we could change it all for the better, and that gave me a sense of purpose that I have grown more passionate about through knowing this community. Every job has its pieces that are hard to handle, but the students, families and employees of Jaffrey Rindge Middle School and Conant have given value to my life that I would not have without them. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have this opportunity.

I feel like we are in a unique position under the purview of Mt. Monadnock to lead the type of education reform that has been needed for too long. There is a thought exercise that I have done with my classes that I feel is important.

It goes like this.

Imagine that I raise a puppy inside a box, to keep it safe. The grown dog would never know that the outside world existed, yet it would be utterly miserable.

I think we do a similar thing, often with the best of intentions, to our children by placing proverbial boxes around them that prevent their lives from having the type of purpose that results in fulfillment. What makes this more challenging is that because so many of us have never seen the other side of that box, it is not clear what the obstacles and possibilities are.

The education profession is filled with buzz words that seem to cycle depending on who is trying to gain control of the illusion of change. Yet, there always seems to be this mantra of students being inspired, empowered and intrinsically motivated.

I feel these are the awesome goals that would shred the boxes, yet I have never heard anyone give explicit instructions on how this might be done. That is because empowered students are contradictory to our school model. The only way this oxymoron can be spoken with any conviction is through buzz words and vague language, or else the elephant will become too hard to ignore.

Students are often told to take risk, but the topic of what is appropriate to risk and the consequences of risk are rarely discussed.

We tell them to be empowered, yet when they are empowered they are still supposed to support all the pieces of the school that make them feel oppressed.

We ask them to be intrinsically motivated and then too often we pretend like there are many exact pieces of knowledge that are essential for all people to know, so they have to learn what they are told.

Of course all of these invisible boxes are ridiculous, and we have grown so comfortable with them that they seem normal. Then, when students struggle to find a sense of self-worth and academic motivation, we are bewildered.

I love that when I meet people around this town, there seems to be easy conversation about all the amazing possibilities we have here in the Jaffrey-Rindge district, especially regarding how schools could become a center of hospitality. I get the feeling that we are ready for much higher levels of community involvement and that the confined nature of our schools is the roadblock to empowering all generations, not just those required to attend school by law.

I think that teaching should not be thought of only as a subject taught in universities, but instead a natural instinct of all people, including our children, who are proud of something they are capable of doing. Our children are our most precious resource and it does take a village, or two towns.

We have so many needs all around us, yet we would rather have our youth locked away to practice their avoidance strategies than to break down the walls and start taking significant and necessary risk. I cannot see how isolating the conversation about what the purpose and direction of schools is to a bureaucratic and political process will ever be what is best for our kids or our community.

Perhaps this is a barrier that is inhibiting a nation of schools, all doing the same thing. How cool would it be to start a movement of empowering all people of all ages right here in this town by expanding our view of what is best for our children?

Note: This article is inspired by conversations with students and includes the contents of many of their voices. Thank you Conant High School students for being so bold, dynamic and inspiring.

Jason Boyle teaches at Conant High School.