On March 14, Susan Engel published an article in the New York Times called, Let Kids Rule the School. I should have written this blog on that day, but I wanted to talk with Engel first. I wanted to know just a bit more about this extraordinary program where a small group of high school students were allowed to design and execute their own course work for a period of time. You see, my desire is to help everyone understand that when you take control of bringing fresh knowledge into your work and life, life gets easier and better. I wanted to see if there was anything different about letting teenagers do this as well as adults.
Let me first introduce you to Susan Engel. Susan Engel is in the Department of Psychology at Williams College. Her specific area is developmental psychology, and she is also the Director of the Program in Teaching. During her recent sabbatical in a public school district in Western Massachusetts, she studied the “Independent Project” where eight high school students designed and executed their learning program for themselves. (For more about this program, view the students’ own video here.)
“If you spend a lot of time in a high school, you see a lot of faces that are like stone. Thedon’t seem to want to be there. You see a lot of kids who look like they are being dragged through the system. They get this kind of flat, bored look on their face. You know that teenagers are filled with life and enthusiasm, yet they are leaving it at the door when they get to school. How can we do anything with teenagers if they don’t even want to be here? How can they succeed if they want to be somewhere else? And what struck me about this program is that these kids really wanted to be there,” said Engel.
She went on to say, “One mother said, that for the first time, her kid (at 16) said, ‘Hurry up, I need to get there early, we have to talk about such and such.’ There were all these little, but concrete signs that kids suddenly wanted to be at school and that a big piece of it was that they were making their own decisions.”
I had my answer. Teenagers are in that wonderful transition from being children to being adults, and here was a clue that showed it. Like adults, when they made their own decisions, there were energized to execute them – even if it meant learning about mathematics or history or … The first step in Riding the Current is to decide that you have the intention to do so. You make a decision, and the result of the decision is that the energy to follow that intention is guaranteed. There are other steps to follow, but what a treat knowing that once you decide, the remaining work is fully charged and remains so. I call it being fuel-efficient! Just imagine if staff could have a say in choosing what they will learn. I’ll have more to say about this in a later blog.
And speaking of later blogs, there was more from Engel. You’ll find it in a future blog on how she knows when she is really bringing fresh knowledge into her work.