There were a couple of things that came to mind as I was reflecting on the film. Some of them pretty obvious I think, some of them maybe less so. First is that what we’re all talking about here is how to help young people thrive. Hopefully that is a big reason why anyone goes into education. So I think that is obvious, that’s the goal – helping kids thrive.
Another obvious thing is that people are different and will thrive in different situations and be good at different things. All of these talents, even if they are not suited to academic work are valuable. There are young people who thrive doing AP Physics, others who thrive trekking through a forest learning to become an outdoor adventure guide and there are kids who thrive starting their own business. These are all valuable and should be supported.
The movie talked a lot about reforming the traditional school system and yes of course there are things to be done there, but it is also true that lots of kids thrive in that system. I went to a traditional public school in Ohio and I would say I thrived there. There are lots of kids in Princeton High School who are thriving right now. What I learned from my 11 year teaching career though is that there are also a lot of kids who DO NOT thrive in the traditional system. This should absolutely not come as a surprise to anyone. People are different, they need different things.
So we are NOT talking about one solution or THE BEST way of helping young people thrive, we should be looking at solutionS – plural – and helping children find what is going to work for them and their families, whatever that might be.
I think that the programs in the film do a great job offering more options and choice to kids – instead of A or B, they are offering C and D as well, especially when talking about WHAT they are doing and HOW they are doing it. We’re going to teach STEM to kids, we’re going to do it in a hands-on group project instead of lecture and we’ll use iPads instead of paper. For some kids, this expanded choice is exactly what they need.
What is maybe less obvious is that even though the programs in the film have changed so much about the WHAT and HOW of the traditional system, what they have left untouched for the most part is the big WHY. WHY are we doing this? They have given so many more options, but the big WHY is still to essentially satisfy externally created and directed requirements. It might be working towards a diploma or to satisfy school requirements for credits, either way the big WHY is not necessarily coming from the young person or their family.
So this is the big difference between the programs shown in the film and what we do at Princeton Learning Cooperative which is to add just one more , what I think is a really important choice to the list – option E, none of the above. What we mean by none of the above is that everything that happens at PLC is voluntary. We don’t MAKE anyone do any particular thing, there is not a set standardized curriculum that everyone must work on, there are no credits people must accumulate. Our starting point is simply the child sitting in front of us, what their situation is in life, what they are interested in, what they are good at, where they see themselves going and then giving them the time, space, resources and support they need to thrive and create the kind of life and education they want for themselves.
What this does is fundamentally change the WHY of education. It puts families and young people in control. It is saying to young people that your life is your own and encouraging them to take responsibility for it, to be the captain of their own ship.
Supporting young people to have this kind of ownership of their education can be an absolutely life changing option for kids. So we feel that having a range of options in each community across the whole spectrum is the best way to make sure that all young people have a chance to thrive.