Inerrant Rampancy

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High School!

…Preparing you for…well…something.

Stumbling through the internets today, I came across this article, from the Chicago Tribune. Apparently, Stevenson High School administrators have a problem with students writing articles about topics that aren’t cute and cuddly; teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol usage among high school students, particularly honor roll kids and student mentors.

I find this brand of censorship especially angering, because it seems to be part of an overall trend regarding high school and education in general, namely, a disconnect from the real world. I’ve heard that school is supposed to prepare you for the outside world, yet high school was, for me, the least real experience of my life. On a purely superficial level, I was spending several hours a day inside a building in a rich suburb of Chicago, nowhere near the real world, which is filled with poverty, ignorance, food that isn’t served on styrofoam trays, and music that isn’t dumbed down so it can be played by 18-year-olds. I spent most of my day being told how to think and how to act, by people whose higher education was focused on teaching people how to think and how to act, rather than on a particular subject on which I was supposed to be thinking or acting. Our internet was regulated and filtered, and our books were cue cards for our teachers, simply walking us through exercises and experiments that were meant to instill a rote memory of facts or processes, with no time spent on understanding what these facts and processes meant to the other 300-some-odd million people outside. We even had a protocol in the event that something bad happened on the outside, something we were unable to deal with as high school students and teachers. We would lock the doors, turn out the lights, and hide until it was over. Safe? Possibly. Applicable to the real world? Not in the slightest.

Most memorable of my high school moments? September 11, 2001. I was in auto class, which met in a building separate from the rest of the high school. Word had just started spreading that something was happening in NYC, and that all the news networks were covering it. We were only working out of an exercise book (of course) and so were allowed by the auto teacher (a hip twenty-something) to turn to the news and see what was happening. At that moment, one of the World Trade Towers was burning, a plane having flown into it, and there was speculation as to how such an accident could have happened. Now, all the buildings were wired for tv (channels approved by the administration, of course), but the auto shop was on a network that was controlled separately from the rest of the campus. So, when the administration made the announcement that the TVs would be turned off and locked off, the auto shop was unaffected by the decision, and the TV there remained on. It remained on long enough for us, those of us who skipped our next class and stayed where the information was free-flowing, to watch, live, a second airplane fly into the second tower and both towers collapse to the ground. I suppose I was one of maybe thirty to fifty students in my high school to see that happen. The administration was content to let the others sit inside the bubble and remain ignorant to the events that have, more than any others in my or my parent’s generations, shaped this world. The lie continued.

And now, at Stevenson, we have more of the same. Not content to simply omit the outside world, to merely refuse to inform us of the problems that face us today, to continue to operate as though our textbooks provide us with all we need to survive out there, the Stevenson administration has moved on to flat-out denying that the real world exists. They do not believe that students get pregnant, or that such a thing is anything more than a tragedy akin to death. They do not believe that good students will drink or smoke, or that drinking or smoking does not necessarily mean that someone is a bad student, or a bad person. Rather than admit that these things happen, and allow the students to work out an understanding of the situations, of how those situations arise, the administration says that such things don’t happen, and when they do, they are “bad” and should be ignored so that they go away.

This is unforgivable. The last thing a student needs is less information. We continually find out that our students are less and less prepared for the world after school, and yet we never think that it might be the institutional nature of education that is to blame. We shelter more, rather than less, and things get worse, yet we wonder why? It is because we refuse to let our students deal with the outside world on their own terms. I do not think we should dump them in the proverbial deep end, to sink or swim. That would be even worse than never letting them near the pool. But our current practice of showing them videos and reading to them from text books, while never actually doing anything in the natural environment, is akin to teaching them how to swim with diagrams only, then dropping them. Some may mimic the diagrams well enough to survive, but they will never develop their own technique, one which will be comfortable, possibly even better than what has been taught. Yes, some will survive, but far too many, having never touched the water before, will drown.

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November 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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