Seriously! What are the reasons we have mandatory, compulsory education laws and laws to by-pass those laws and unions and teachers who don’t agree with the unions they are forced to patronize, etc.? Is it to “pass on knowledge to the next generation?” To “preserve our culture?” To “help our children survive independently when they are adults?” To “get into college?” For me, none of these reasons encompass all of why we spend so much time, resources and soul to get our kids “educated.”
The answer? Simple! We send our children to school so they can become adult life-long learning human beings. Let’s face it! If we as a human race, as a nation, as a family or as an individual stop learning, we start dying. I believe we have drifted far from this overarching goal enough to fuel the race to nowhere, that never-ending drive to achieve for achievement sake, ignoring the collateral damage we leave behind as we step up to receive the next prize. We educators have also lost our ability to judge the difference between genuine interest in life-long learning and high-achieving, prize students…. You know, we correlate the fact that Suzi and Sam have 4.5 GPA’s, the Presidential Award for Service/Volunteer hours, high standardized test scores and more. We also see Pamela and Paul, who simply love to learn, struggle with physical and developmental challenges, work diligently to achieve and merely receive average recognition. Deep down, we know there is something askew, but we push on in our busy-ness and pressured educator lives. We deceive ourselves if we do not acknowledge that there are two “unmentionable” or neglected cases to consider regarding this push for achievement over learning! First, Suzi and Sam may have “made it to the top” with very little joy of learning or very little independence or initiative to apply what they are learning in order to learn more and integrate into a diverse community. Whether successes merely come naturally or they are tutored or forcefully micro-managed to succeed, they may have achieved the outward accolades and received awards on Awards Day, but their motivation to learn is extrinsic at best and non-existent at worst. Second are Pamela and Paul, students who struggle to learn. She faces challenges with her learning differences or he must work hard to overcome physical or developmental obstacles before succeeding at an academic task. HOWEVER, these students relish the opportunity to grow, to learn, to establish small incremental goals and objectives and work hard to accomplish ultimately sharing their joy of having learned with the community in which they live and serve. So, when they achieve success, they bask in the glory of their accomplishment and the gratitude of having learned… but only for a brief moment. Then, they naturally and enthusiastically step up and ask for more. THIS, is the spirit of an exceptional life-long learner! AND… I believe Pamela and Paul deserve the same kind of recognition at “senior-day” awards ceremonies as Suzi and Sam. At least in rewarding them, the message of what we are trying to accomplish in formal, en masse education is balanced, sane and humane.
The typical “Senior Awards” night praises and rewards students for amazing accomplishments. I am always stunned! Quantitatively and qualitatively the achievements tower over the breadth and depth that other students achieve. Education, however, does not possess the measuring capability to reveal what I believe to be intuitive, good and right… fair, just and humane! Specifically, how can we say that Suzi and Sam have “worked harder” than Pamela and Paul? We educators know students who work hard, know the true essence and purpose of education but do NOT achieve the same successes and sometimes not even in the same categories, the ever-treasured benchmarks that help Suzi and Sam make it to the next level and leave behind all those “average” people. I cringe when our rewards for academic prowess to students like Suzi or Sam send that sad message that Pamela’s and Paul’s accomplishments are unmentionable and unworthy in the context of our culture and civilization.
And, as a side-note, this issue is NOT about judging a student’s efforts! Even though it is difficult to measure, it is necessary to highlight a belief in and application of the true meaning of education… to become an exceptional, life-long learner in order to make this world the best place one possible can, serving the most people with the time, treasure and talent one possesses!
What do you think? In this day and age where “everyone gets a trophy” and opinions rule, why can’t we attempt to award students for their exceptional commitment to life-long learning, and even ear-mark that award for students who must work hard to achieve for any number of physical or developmental reasons and yet STILL exude that beautiful joy and appreciation for learning that we educators know exist inside everyone one of us and our students!
My high school graduation class is doing just this! We have begun a fund to finance AT LEAST two $250.00 awards per year to deserving students who have successfully compelted an IEP or who have had 504 accommodations, all the while demonstrating their exceptional commitment to life-long learning. (Please visit https://www.lancfound.org/fund/exceptional-81/ for more information.) Sadly, as a statement of what our culture values most, this award may NOT be called a “scholarship” but rather a “designated fund” because scholarships must go to an “approved institution of higher education.” While I understand the technicalities of that, consider that policy’s discrimination against Pamela or Paul. First, they will never achieve enough in the “proper” fashion to be considered for such a scholarship. Second, with their challenges, they may not be headed to a State University or a Private Institution for an approved program of study or a “typical degree.” Suzi may need a new iPad so she and it can learn to detect her impeded speech for dictation. Or Paul might have C’s in core classes and score poorly on standardized tests and never get accepted into a college. I hope you can agree with me that the system is imbalanced for atypical students with learning differences and physical and developmental challenges! They, too, deserve to dream of how they might meet their next learning goal.
Please reply to this OPIINE! I need your feedback to channel my enthusiasm in support for and advocacy of these students. If you want more information AND IF YOU WISH TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE FUND, please visit https://www.lancfound.org/fund/exceptional-81/. The award is described in detail. The contribution is tax-deductible, and as it grows, the Charitable Trust will allow us to make these awards even more meaningful with more impact. Simply go to the website above and click “Donate Now.” Any amount will be greatly appreciated.
In addition, please share my blog with your friends and colleagues. I really benefit from the collegial interaction and inspiration.