This morning, while perusing the Plain Dealer, a local Cleveland newspaper, I read an article by local reporter Karen Farkas. She discussed the proposed changes coming to the high school curriculum, specifically to the twelfth grade curriculum. She quoted Stan Heffner, superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education. He spoke at a meeting last week and said, “A high school senior year is in many ways a wasteland.”
As someone who teaches high school seniors, I would like to say that he can not be more inaccurate. On a daily basis, I see students work to achieve their high school diploma. All students are enrolled in an English, History, and Math class, and most also take a science. On top of that, students are afforded the opportunity to take a plethora of elective courses that may be more geared toward their interests.
I abhor bureaucrats who are so far removed from the physicality of a classroom that they make broad-based opinions about what students are and what students are not. They then rambunctiously pass laws to change what is taught and how it is taught without ever taking into consideration that the biggest factors that affect the way a child is educated are his home life and his socio-economic background.
With that being said, a great deal of important learning does happen in the senior year. This week, I am chaperoning an intensive three-day service learning senior project. The project is designed for the students to be taken out of their comfort zone and volunteer their time at local soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, and area community outreach centers. After three days, the students will reflect on their time in the community, draw parallels to the curriculum, write extensively about their experiences, and present information to other classes and community members.
This morning, I chaperoned a group of students to the Second Harvest Food Bank located in Lorain. On the drive out, each kid seemed to be in his or her own little world: texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, or listening to music. They did not interact with me, and they barely interacted with each other. If Mr. Heffner would have been in the car, I am sure he would have called it apathy toward education and questioned the validity of the field trip.
Well, Mr. Heffner, these are real kids. They may like their technology, but they are more than the “wasteland” you see from your policy-making governmental office overlooking Columbus. When we arrived, they enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves and got to work!
Through the course of five hours, we unloaded, evaluated, cleaned, and repackaged four and a half pallets of food. Each pallet held 32 large boxes. At first, the work seemed daunting. It took a good hour for the students to figure out the categories to re-box the items. However, once they got in a groove, they worked incredibly hard. Not one of these students felt the work was demeaning. On the contrary, they understood how important food banks are to communities, providing necessary nutrition to people and families who may be at risk for hunger. Second Harvest provides food and groceries to 76 food pantries, 32 soup kitchens and 9 emergency shelters. The students learned these statistics and facts in the classroom. They experienced the possibility of being part of the fabric of the community by giving their time, their energy, and their compassion.
On the drive home, the students were legitimately tired. I asked them what they got out of the day.
One girl said, “It puts things into perspective, you know. I think my wants way outweigh my needs.”
“Yeah,” a young man agreed. “It makes me appreciate what I have that much more, and I think what we did today was really important.”
Yes! What they did today was important. These students spent their day in a community classroom. Later in the week, they will discuss all of their experiences and connect what they did and accomplished to what they have learned about society, social class, and the nature of man.
So if Mr. Heffner thinks that students are Mickey-Mousing their way through high school, I do not know who he is using as the model student. The students I know are committed to improving themselves, improving their minds, and becoming well-rounded individuals who will someday lead by example, not by red tape and tall talk.