Saturday, November 3, 2012

Learn from the kids the system fails to teach.

Part of the reason I haven't posted much this Fall is....I think my ideas and beliefs are pretty well-represented by what's already here; and partly because I've got so many irons in the fire right now with respect to education activism that as one seeks priority over the others in turn, my work has been a little disjointed and unfinished. 

Then there is after all, my School Board work. That has always claimed priority over my other activities.

And then there is that business of making a living.

There is, too, lots of stuff I'm working on that I'm NOT really interested in broadcasting...developing relationships with others in my community who agree with me about the direction our district ought to take...or, as Lisa Nielsen puts it, "picking the low-hanging fruit" so I have more support for my issues on the school board.

One way to use this platform is to respond to issues that come up in the news, and recently, the Bangor Daily News had a story that I think ties in very neatly with what I'm trying to do.

Here is Damion Saucier, 19, of Belfast, Maine, who went on a tear through town this past summer. He's managed to turn the incident into an opportunity to turn himself around, but as I read the article I wonder how we could have done better by him.

The article is very clear that his public school did nothing for him. His story is typical: a smart, independent kid, he saw a system that needed to control and domesticate him and he simply refused. Sometimes kids simply can't fit into the tight spaces school requires; they can't shape-shift and blend. They have to be who they are; they have no choice. And if who they are doesn't fit into those tight spaces, there's a build-up of pressure and something's gonna blow.

We say we want our kids to be independent thinkers, but what we have here is a classic case of the system failing one independent thinker.

And it's not like he's not capable of scholarly thought. He likes math and physics.  He's capable of understanding complex subjects, and takes a great interest in technology. Still, school was a blank for him. 

Saucier speaks of a recent period of his life in which he retreated into himself, a period of “self-pity, self-loathing,” in which he felt like “a room without walls,” passing through the world without connecting with it.

“I never thought I was going to amount to anything,” he said

If we are not holding our school system responsible for this, we should. There is no excuse for a school system to NOT be part of the solution for a kid like Damion.

The first purpose of schools should be to find out who these kids are, and then devote time, resources and support to helping them become the people they want to be.

We keep kids all day, every day, and we make them sit still and learn stuff they find meaningless. What they do find meaningful is of little interest to this system. You need to learn what they tell you to learn, when they tell you to learn it. Sometimes a subject may click with a student; a stopped clock is right twice a day, too.

Who are those buildings for, again?

Shape our schools around the identities, the passions, the learning needs of our children...whoever they are. Respect them. Learn from them. Give them breathing room, space to grow and find out who they are.

If you don't know how that's done, look at the Big Picture.


  1. Great article Lisa. Really enjoyed it and reminded me to hang in there with the work I do at Big Picture: UnReal! Learning in Australia.

  2. I have missed your posts, but this one makes up for it in so many ways. It is why your "school board work" takes priority. It is why I take my Big Picture book into every meeting or conversation about public education I participate in. It is for the other Damion's.

  3. Thanks to you both! I think we just have to keep hammering away at it, on all fronts. Pushing the Big Picture is one front; opting out on state tests is another; and I also believe sticking up for teachers is a big one. Teachers are the ones carrying out the system we all tacitly approve of; I want to change public education, yes....I want to set up a situation where teachers can succeed by helping students succeed.

    So let's stop giving silent permission to forces (public and private) forcing teachers and students to work under such impossible conditions.