BRRRIIIIINNNGGG!!! The tardy bell echoes through the hallways, filling the already packed classrooms with earsplitting noise. As one, the teachers react, mechanically fulfilling their morning routine. The drone of roll call fills the halls with an all consuming buzz as the students brace themselves for the day of lectures, tests, and mind-numbing worksheets. After years of experience, the students know just what to expect: the harsh squeal and pungent fumes of expo markers invade the senses as hands cramp and burn with fevered note-taking and eyes grow bleary from watching the clock slowly twirl its hands in an endless spiral toward the end of the day. If we are the students, we know the feeling of a day like this one: mechanical, monotonous, and seemingly without end. Chances are though, that at some point we have found interesting programs, classes, and hours, or even days, weeks, and years that have excited us and made us look forward to the regimen we call school. After all, the transfer of knowledge that defines the purpose of school needs not establish the tone of the institution that can be built on exploration, problem solving, and unity.
When most teens think of school, they picture a structure containing many rooms that seem to eat the soul out of any occupants as boring lectors force information down reluctant students’ throats. An overwhelming sense of an oppressive complacency in the classroom turns school into a common target of anger and hatred. School represents education and hard work to those that struggle to find motivation while dedicated scholars are bound to the low standards established by the overworked masses. Meanwhile, administrators and other educational leaders build upon this epidemic of disinterest by establishing classrooms and environments across the country that pack students in while ignoring their capabilities. The blend of these two groups leads to huge gaps in integrity as a small percentage of students strive to improve while the vast majority manages to scrape by on the labors of their peers. As a result, the school opts to tear everyone down then build them back up as perfect intellectual clones, able to solve every problem in the textbook, yet completely incapable of applying their knowledge to life outside the poster-covered walls of the classroom. This completely defies the original intent of the educational institution! When the educational institution was first established, it was a special place that those with bright futures considered to be a special privilege. Even now, in underdeveloped nations, the ability to participate in a class is a very special thing and all those able to attend do so happily, despite any and all obstacles and sacrifices involved. It is essential that this excitement returns to the halls of US schools. The job of educators should be to draw students in and get them excited about both the school environment and its goal of shared knowledge. As students,this mission must be forwarded as we keep our differences, recognize our similarities, and celebrate the dynamics of the two. Together, the staff and students can establish a new balance: one that empowers scholars instead of subjecting them; one that promotes excitement, not complacency.
The good news is that there already exist multiple gleaming examples of efficient school systems, even within the very districts that employ other deplorable strategies. From a young age, I have been immersed in learning environments that emphasize problem solving and celebrate all aspects of learning, both as an individual and in a group setting. At the start, I attended the Center for Creative Learning (CCL) that replaced the normal classroom once a week. We spent our semesters learning in various, original areas, from archeology to robotics, from French culture to marine biotics. The classrooms contained small, advanced classes and passionate teachers that made full use of hands on, active learning strategies. As we worked to become experts in the areas we studied, the teachers employed field trips, guest speakers, the arts, and countless experimental labs. They were all at levels appropriate for elementary students and we were always lencouraged to apply any knowledge we retained in conjunction with a number of problem solving strategies to answer grand, real world problems. Moving on, the opportunity to attend CCL ended after 5th grade, but two distinct teachers remain active at a high school level, actively engaging students through whatever means possible. Mr. Rob Durham, a language arts teacher, received a place at the head of a creative writing class which he has since transformed into a group of published authors and avid bloggers, who seek writing and the arts as a form of both personal expression and public sharing. At the same time, Mr. Ed Bolton, a chemistry teacher, boasts exceptional classes on the grounds of attendance, performance, and energy. His students, including my own classes under him, have consistently outperformed others nationwide on tests, including the Advanced Placement college credit testing established by the college board. The key to his success is always pointed back to two things: the students’ enthusiasm and his own employment of problem solving strategies. His appreciation of students and the ability to connect obscure events to each other creates an exciting learning community that promotes the best growth I have ever seen. And it all comes back to connections and creativity. From CCL to creative writing to chemistry, unique areas of expertise can be found within each, and the creative problem solving strategies bring everything together with a bang of excitement applicable to everyone.
To conclude, it is only appropriate to request, and maybe even plea, that students and teachers everywhere work together to seek new strategies in learning. School is a place of learning, but knowledge cannot compare to the power of wisdom that teachers like Durham and Bolton promote. The nation needs to employ more problem solving strategies that incorporate all subjects and learning styles in order to appeal to not only the majority, but everyone in the classroom.