Let me start with a simple fact: a lot of teenagers don’t like school. (Shocking, I know.) There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that many teens don’t feel like they have much say in their day-to-day lives — the work they do, who they interact with, their schedule. This lack of control in their lives has fairly predictable results for many kids: disengagement, boredom, frustration. It’s like the people who have jobs at the bottom of a government or corporate bureaucracy, whose work lives are quite literally out of their control.
We think that feeling you are in control of your own life is a fundamental condition of humans being happy, productive and engaged. And we’re not the only ones — there have been a number of psychological studies that point to the same conclusion.
At The Learning Cooperatives we put this sense of control and autonomy at the very center of all the work we do with teens. We get rid of all the ways kids’ learning is controlled by other people — grades, standardized curriculum, credits, bell schedules, etc. — and focus on supporting teens to be active participants in their own lives.
The stereotype of the bored, disengaged teenager doesn’t have to be true. Sometimes the solution is fairly simple. Life is better for teens when they are learning things they are interested in, are in a welcoming community, have the support of positive adult mentors, and are in charge of how they spend their time. This isn’t the solution to all of everyone’s problems, but it is definitely a good place to start.