What can we do to make school better?
I found myself in the company of three very articulate teenagers at dinner last night. All are former students of mine: one is returning to college today, one recently graduated from high school, the other is entering his junior year, and none of them are very upbeat about their public school experience, so I asked the question.
"Get rid of it?" they replied in unison and we all laughed.
"But seriously," I said. "Can we agree that some level of education is important?" There were nods all around. "If so, then how do we make it a more positive experience?" I shrugged. "I'm just asking, because, really? I don't want to spend my days forcing people to do things they don't want to." They have drill sergeants for that.
"Honestly?" answered the recent graduate. "The teachers don't need to change anything. It's the kids. My friends and I were so negative we never gave anything a chance."
Remorse is not really his style, but maybe the trouble he's had finding a job in the current market, or the prospect of living with his parents for a while longer, or even seeing many of his friends pack their stuff and leave for college, something he has long said is not really for him, is unsettling; certainly no one wants to be left behind.
Even so, when he said that, my jaw dropped, and I know I literally gasped. What teacher wouldn't feel at least a little bit vindicated by such a come to Jesus moment for one of our more challenging students? I'm sure many of us have fantasized about just such an act of contrition by a few of the smuggest of them, and yet I was not satisfied at all. Here was one of the most ardent anti-establishment kids I have known in my career, and it took exactly two months for him to be co-opted by the blame-the-students brigade. How did that happen? No wonder kids think that nobody understands them.