The last weeks in August are kind of like brownie sundaes, which are arguably my favorite kind of sundaes. Both are last hoorahs.
The celebration of summer is coming to an end. It’s time to treat my backpack to a good rinse cycle and saddle up for school. Seeing that September is creeping up on us, the topic has been on my mind.
I’ve been reminded of two TED Talks I stumbled upon a few months ago.
One is called "Hackschooling Makes Me Happy." The talk is by a 13-year-old named Logan who wandered off the public school path to do what he calls "hackschooling."
Logan became interested in the science of happiness. He was puzzled why schools don’t teach kids how to be happy and healthy. Now that he is in charge of his education he approaches his learning with one main goal: How can I be happy and healthy? He doesn’t follow a particular curriculum. His lessons come in all shapes and sizes and rarely take place in a classroom.
This kid blew me away. I must say there are few things more humbling than witnessing a tween give a killer TED Talk.
The second talk is by Sir Ken Robinson, "How Schools Kill Creativity." It is one of the most highly viewed TED lectures, and with good reason. He argues that the worldwide educational structure squelches individualistic creativity and divergent thinking. Robinson says, "I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it."
I love TED Talks because they always present me with new perspectives, which in turn gets my brain wheels spinning.
I started thinking, what if I could redo me education with identical circumstances but within a different educational framework?
I was delivered to the question, "Would I have enjoyed school more these last seven years if our public education system were built around happiness, health, and creativity?" My answer is yes.
I refer to my last seven years because that is how long I have struggled with school. Not in it, but with it.
I work hard and get good grades, and yet I haven’t truly enjoyed attending school since I was 10. It has seemed like an uphill battle for a long time now, despite the fact I have been blessed with friends I cherish, committed and engaging teachers, and small, high-quality public schools.
By the end of my sophomore year I was quite desperate for a change. An amazing semester with Journey East was coming to a close, I was about to leave for Cambodia, and I could not swallow the thought of spending 30 hours a week in a classroom come fall.
I explored the feasible options: private school, homeschooling, Simon’s Rock, college courses.
Homeschooling sounded interesting. I wouldn’t call myself fiercely independent, but let’s just say the idea of being on my own appealed to me. Although it also painted a very scary picture of me, sitting in my pajamas, teaching myself junior year, not having left the house in ... too long.
I split my junior year between courses at high school and courses on my own. Homeschooling taught me discipline, dedication and perseverance, but it didn’t bring me any of the pleasure that I was desperate to find in my schooling.
Why? What changed when I was 10?
I realized that 5th grade was when the space for creativity and the use of my imagination began to disappear. This was in no way a reflection of my amazing teacher. It instead marked the beginning of a stronger emphasis on academics that minimized the room to explore the non-intellectual parts of my brain -- a national phenomenon that undermines student growth and development all across the country.
Instead of using pictures to prompt our writing, we worked in math workbooks. I couldn’t build any more Popsicle stick bridges; I started studying words for the spelling bee.
When I got to high school it seemed like standardized testing drove the curriculum. We didn’t have time to go outside or have a night off from homework because we had to get through the material.
How can we be expected to be engaged students if the end game is to "get through the material?" I want to color outside the lines and have room to discuss the questions that have no answers.
As a rising senior I can only find glimpses of creativity left in my daily learning. Even when I was homeschooling myself, I spent the majority of this past year applying equations and memorizing facts about wars that occurred when my grandmother was just a little girl. This kind of learning doesn’t make me happy.
Logan mentions Dr. Robert Walsh in his TED Talk. Dr. Walsh studies the science of being happy and healthy. According to Logan, Dr. Walsh has distinguished eight keys to happiness and health called Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes: exercise, diet and nutrition, time in nature, contribution and service, relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management, religion and spirituality.
Right now public education isn’t built around these practices. It is an intellectual environment that has a tendency to make kids feel either smart or stupid, depending on who can figure out the "right" answers.
The students who suffer because of this are the ones who don’t fit within a certain box. Maybe they think in circles instead of lines. Maybe numbers and words don’t make sense but if they were taught with pictures they would be straight-A students. It doesn’t seem to matter much if a 14-year-old can reassemble a car engine unless they can write a technical procedure about it.
Imagine an educational system designed around creativity, happiness and health that mandated outside time, creative space, stress management practices and involvement in the community.
I am convinced that if even these four of the eight TLCs were required in all public schools, the amount of adolescent depression, ADHD and substance abuse would decrease.
I’m not saying forget about academic classes so that we can frolic in the grass all day. I’m saying foster individual development by finding the space to teach children how to thrive as people, as well as how to thrive as students. Help ensure that every student who graduates from high school has found something they flourish in and knows how to take care of him or herself.
If the system made sure of this, we wouldn’t leave school with tools just for financial and career success. We would leave school with the tools for personal success.
That’s all for today. Until next time,
Alana Redden is a senior at Leland & gray. She can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.