“Apparently my job is to shut up and study hard”

High school student Jack Hostager says:

[My participation in the Coastal America Student Summit on the Oceans and Coasts] was indisputably the best learning experience I have ever had. I learned more than I could have ever learned in a classroom about how the planet works, ways in which humans depend on and impact the ocean, and efforts being undertaken to conserve them. Equally important, I discovered how to work well with others, connect with people, be persuasive, speak in front of an audience, answer questions under pressure, juggle competing priorities, and follow through with a project.

These all sound like skills that every student should have. Yet because I didn’t practice them in a classroom, I was punished by education’s systems of grading for this. When I got back to school, my grades had dropped (some considerably) since I missed a few assignments and a test. It was as if the whole experience meant nothing because I learned the wrong thing. But it would have been irrelevant even if it directly related to what I was studying because I still would have had to make up the work, listen to a lecture, and eventually take a test.

After returning inspired and ready to change the world only to be thrust back into the invariable cycle of desks, worksheets, textbooks, and lockers, education’s expectation for me hit me painfully hard. I realized that apparently my job is to shut up and study hard. If I’m so inclined, I can go out for a sport or join a club, but my schoolwork should trump all. I’m not supposed to contribute anything noteworthy to the world, but instead lay low and consume it until after I’ve graduated. Sure, adults applaud when we do something great outside of school. But ultimately school only cares if it meets some curriculum standard that can be measured. Oh, and it has to be the one we are studying right now, and it has to be part of an assignment that’s going in the gradebook. If not, I don’t get credit and therefore it’s a waste of my time.

via http://iowatransformed.com/2013/04/16/meaningful-contribution-punishment-back-at-school

12 Responses to ““Apparently my job is to shut up and study hard””

  1. I’d be interested to know how Mr. Hostager got invited and/or accepted to attend the Summit in the first place. In addition, what the agreement was for his attending during school hours/days.

    If an employee want to attend a conference not linked with her employer’s work, she almost always has to take time off – sometimes paid, sometimes not. As valuable as the Summit may have been to Mr. Hostager personally, if we see it as being similar to typical post-graduation employment, it’s no surprise that the school system was reluctant to accept his participation for credit.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nancy. I think it’s hard to argue that what Jack did at the Summit isn’t valuable learning that should be recognized as worthwhile by his school. Are you trying to make the case that the worksheets he missed were more important or worthy of ‘credit?’

      If we only pretend that learning happens in physical classrooms – or that meaningless worksheets should trump relevant, real-world learning – we’re doomed as educational systems…

      • “Are we pretending that learning happens only in physical classrooms”? Absolutely not. Randall Munroe’s classic phrase “Messing with perl” comes to mind here. http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/11th_grade.png

        What Jack did at the Summit is valuable.

        To him.

        Value and “worthwhile” are slippery things and aren’t always measurable or comparable.

        Is it valuable enough to the school that the school should be giving him credit for Calculus? How about AP Biology? Why not his entire senior year?

        Is any “worthwhile endeavor” sufficient to get credit? Would Univ. of Iowa accept an algebra II or Calculus credit if they knew it was based on attendance at a series of TEDxMath talks?

        Nope. Because the conference and those classes have little to do with each other and we all know it.

        His grades are lower than they should be because he missed assignments and a test. Until he makes up that test, the teacher should not give him credit for it. If the teacher attends the conference and knows that the conference is directly relevant and that Jack’s attendance is sufficient to replace that test, sure. But I don’t get that sense here.

        What’s important is that a conference isn’t a replacement for whatever the student wants.

        Learning can happen anywhere. Jack has not made the case that this particular learning scenario is equal to that other class. If this summit were so worthwhile and valuable and such an appropriate learning experience that it should trump his schoolwork, then it should have provided him with plenty of inspiration and knowledge to easily pass that test.

        He should simply make up the test … getting an A would certainly silence any doubters.

    • To clear up a few questions: I went to this conference through the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. The aquarium is a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center, meaning it is part of an international network of aquariums that aims to educate about issues facing the world’s oceans. Every two years, each of these learning centers sends a delegation of high school students to a national conference hosted by Coastal America.

      In all fairness, my peers and I that went initially heard about the conference through one of our teachers, so we would never have gone if not for school. Our school is also recognizing us at an assembly later this week and including an article in the school newspaper, so the school community certainly cares about our experience even if the system prevents it from officially recognizing our work.

      I’m also not suggesting I shouldn’t have to complete the work or make up the test I missed: I did so without issue.

      But that isn’t my point. It’s clear to me that there are curriculum standards I met leading up to and during this trip. Yet when we get around to those in a future class, I’m still going to have to go through the ropes with everyone else. I don’t see why I should have to go to a class and “learn” again under a teacher at the same pace in the same order at the same time as everyone else in order to get credit for learning I’ve already demonstrated.

      There are an infinite number of ways to learn and an equal number of ways to demonstrate that learning. The system in large part only awards credit for one of each, and that’s what I’m pointing out.

  2. Sounds like a great time. To be honest I have never heard of this summit but it seems great.

  3. I think some of you are missing the crux of his argument. He’s arguing against a factory model of school in which time is more important than learning. He wasn’t asking for “credit” for a seat time class as replacement, he was simply showing how ridiculous a learning system is that doesn’t appreciate the true meaning of learning and instead substitutes it with a desire for production. Note his comment: “But it would have been irrelevant even if it directly related to what I was studying because I still would have had to make up the work, listen to a lecture, and eventually take a test.” He is clearly not suggesting he get credit for the classes he missed, but that the system doesn’t appreciate what can’t be prescribed and accounted for.

    The education system is turning in on itself. Jack is right – his job is to shut up and produce what other tell him to produce on their timelines. Production of what others tell you to produce, not learning, is what Jack is told is important.

    The whole notion of “credit” based upon grades and seat time and prescribed curriculum is equally ridiculous in this day and age. As if we adults have the foggiest idea what content kids today will have to know not to mention the assumption that all that stuff in HS was important to us and that we have it locked away inside our own heads. How about we focus on actual competency in context? What would school look like then? It would look like Jack integrating multiple and complex skills while pulling in relevant content in context to create something worthy of public consumption and display – like he had to do to be a part of the Summit.

    Jack will take the test and do just fine. His summit experience and what he learned there will live well past the experience and learning contained in whatever worksheet and test he missed, that I’m sure of.

  4. Welcome to the real world Jack. Sometimes, many times, the doing of things which are good for you is your only immediate reward.

    If your gratification is measured in grades, then it will have to be gratification delayed — someday your experience will help you do better on something which is graded.

    I could make a fairly persuasive argument that coaching 2nd grade soccer makes me a better team leader at work — but they’re not cutting me a check for it. But maybe someday it will help me earn a promotion.

  5. Standards Based learning avoids all of this. If he was able to demonstrate his ability to understand and use the skills that were being addressed in his classes during his absence, then he should not be penalized for not being there.

    School is like work, we say we just want you to get your job done/understand the material, but even if you can do everything we ask of you in two hours, you still have to be at your desk for eight and jump through every hoop we present.

    It’s time school changes. Let’s actually starting helping kids learn rather than require them to jump through hoops.

    • Agreed.

      Common Core Standards is a good means to blend the two sections of kids learning and kids learning to perform. I think we can all agree that the traditional model of schooling is outdated and ineffective. The new trend and new model towards implementing CC Standards in the classroom has been and hopefully will continue to be relentless in proving that students benefit more from a tailored style of educating that does not require extensive training for teachers.

  6. I won’t argue what point Jack was trying to make. Here’s my take away. Jack shouldn’t have to “shut up” in class. Jack should be able to go to a school and take classes where he (and I will use his words) “discovered how to work well with others, connect with people, be persuasive, speak in front of an audience, answer questions under pressure, juggle competing priorities, and follow through with a project”. My take away from Jack is that we, as educators, need to work hard (and, yes, it’s very hard work) to create and facilitate learning environments where students are ACTIVELY engaged in the learning process…not feeling like they need to “shut up and study hard.”

  7. Good luck getting through life with the “I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it” attitude. My students all feel the same way and like Jack don’t want anybody to tell them what to do. I would like to teach Chemistry the way I think it should be taught – guess what? I have a principal, school board, and state education department that set standards.

    It would be wonderful if we could all study what we are interested in but Curriculum Standards are getting longer not shorter meaning less and less choice. Tests are getting harder and more frequent – again less choice. It is madness!

  8. The more negative comments illustrate where we are at with education in America. On one hand, teachers and admins say they want to allow for greater freedom and student involvement in (their own) education. But on the other, we see more structure, more tests, and less time for innovation. I do realize that this push comes from the “higher ups” on school boards and in government. It’s just frustrating to watch the school system squander so much brilliance and talent. We must find ways to support, not stifle creativity…

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