Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Another student whining about School

From Dangerously Irrelevant comes this sad tale of woe and student repression that needs another point of view.

Here's the story. A student named Jack Hostager went to the "Coastal America Student Summit on the Oceans and Coasts. So far, I'm loving the sound of this.
[It] 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. 
This is awesome, though I have to point out that few classrooms will ever be the same as a Student Summit on the Oceans and Coasts because they are not designed to be so specific.  Rather, school curricula are usually designed to be an underlying foundation that provides the students with the knowledge and skills to appreciate and learn from something such as this.  
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.
Okay, but hardly new in the annals of education. Overall, he's still on a good theme here, though a bit misguided about what makes for effective education. Then he gets off track:
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. 
Punished? Because you learned something while not being in school? Did you think somehow that school was the only place you could possibly learn?
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.

The main thing: You missed a test and some assignments. What did you expect your grade would be based on? Random behavior rubric? A report on "What I learned at the Conference"? If the teacher had said, "That sounds like a neat symposium, you get an A" he would be okay in your book? Instead, he said "That sounds like a neat symposium but irrelevant to our study of the Kreb Cycle and so you still have to take that test" and that makes him a bastard?

This symposium was irrelevant to the course and that is what you are graded on.

It may be relevant to your life (sounds like it will be and THAT's why you should have done it) but it was irrelevant to the course. 

Even if it were directly relevant, you can't expect a teacher to give you a grade based on self-reported and vaguely stated "learning" from a conference that the teacher did not attend. As much as possible, grades need to be based on objective standards not on participation rubrics and happy feelings.

Shut up and study hard.
But, please continue:
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. 
Now THAT is funny. You went to a single conference and when you returned, you expect that the entire school would have changed to reflect and resemble a two-week student symposium. What did you expect, "Sure, you can skip all this material" or "Jack went to a conference, so we're changing the curriculum to match"?
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.
No one is stopping you from contributing anything. Knock yourself out.

I certainly won't hold you back.

If I seem underwhelmed by your obvious brilliance, it is because that brilliance isn't so apparent. You aren't the first student to come back inspired from a summit and you won't be the last. What will set you apart from the rest is what you do from now on.

Will you spend your time whining about oppression by The Man or will you actually do something noteworthy?

Are you one of the crazy ones?

There's a big difference between being a rebel because you know something better or have done something important and being a rebel because you're immature.

Certainly, I wouldn't give you credit for something you haven't done. When I give grades, I do so based on things that I have direct knowledge of, like the tests that I write. I don't give credit for attending a conference I know nothing about, because that's what the students, parents, and school demand.

The grade is something you earn, not something I give. As best as possible, it reflects what you know and have learned.

I am required to address a certain number of curriculum standards, not because I have this random, indeligible list of checkboxes but because I know that students from this Algebra I class are going to be expected to know various things before going to Algebra II, before attending symposia, or before they can "contribute something noteworthy."

Was this symposium a waste of time? For you, it might have been. If the only thing that makes this type of experience worthwhile is a grade in the gradebook, I truly feel pity for you. If, on the other hand, you spent the summit "messing with perl" ...


  1. The boy is always free to find and pay for alternate education if he feels he has discovered a better way of learning. However, he shouldn't expect any academic institution to give him credit for his self-acquired knowledge. I say this as a homeschooling parent who takes advantage of programs like this conference - you take it for the information, not for "credit"; if you should happen to receive some sort of acknowledgement, then that is icing on the cake. This boy is in for some really rude discoveries at the college level, if he takes courses from more than one establishment. Accreditation and requirements vary by region (and there is even some variability from school to school within a region), so even college credits may not be transferable from one school to another.

  2. "There's a big difference between being a rebel because you know something better or have done something important and being a rebel because you're immature. "

    This needs to be a poster.

    I agree with you and I agree with Peggy. Thanks for this post.