Not Through That Door

I teach in a unique high school program in which students develop professional interpersonal skills while solving problems they see and are passionate about. Our students are not under constant supervision and given the autonomy to pursue the solutions as they see fit. The instructors are here to mentor and guide. Part of our driving philosophy is not to ask students what they want to be, but rather what problem do they want to solve? When they answer this, the follow-up question is what skills and knowledge do you have to gain to solve the problem? The results are amazing and the solutions demonstrate their passion, creativity and desire to change the world.

We share our building with a school for at-risk students. The work this school does in vitally important in giving every student the opportunity to succeed. They are successful in their efforts and should be applauded.

There is, however, an issue with sharing spaces between two very different programs. The at-risk is very traditional and rules based and causes a cultural clash between the two very different models. They use a 1920’s management looking to produce the minimal viable student in that their graduates are compliant to the rules, do what they are told and should be able to hold a job. Our students are expected to lead and drive change; they are expected to be indispensable in their chosen career paths, not cogs that are easily replaced. This being said, the at-risk school management expects our students to follow their rules. Every culture needs rules and norms, but they must make sense to the culture. To have teachers troll a parking lot looking to find a rules violation without understanding the reason (such as no parking available in the student lot) does not make sense. To have teachers hide in stairwells, like some Bella Lugosi character with the intent of jumping out with a “Caught you!” does not make sense; it seems like a waste of that teacher’s valuable time. Or the requirement that students exit only through the main entrance. The argument for this, they don’t want students sneaking out…at the end of the day. It does not make sense.

When questioned, the management team’s response is that it is a rule and all will comply. Rather than accepting the possibility of multi-cultural attitudes towards education and success, they force enculturation into an industrial era environment rather than recognize we are now a post-information society. As a result, the management team has answers and solutions to problems and questions before they are asked. In other words, the listen to respond and not to understand.

Recognizing the pressures that the management teams are under in order to meet standards and have continually rising test scores (a different issue) it is no wonder teachers succumb and comply without thought. And student go through the motions to remember enough to pass the tests. Even if the tests are decontextualized and the subject matter seems irrelevant to the students (again, a different issue).

The first step is open communication between all parties involved, management teams, teachers and students (understanding the maturity of the students must be considered) in order to stop the one size fits all rules and processes. When this happens we can stop checking the boxes and preserving the past, and instead, have inspiring leaders with vision who look to the future with hope.

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