Monday, March 05, 2007

What Would Shakespeare Think?

I’ve had several conversations lately (both in-person and virtually) where William Shakespeare has come up. This has me thinking a lot about Shakespeare and – in the strange way my mind works – I’ve been wondering what it would be like if he was a freshman attending my high school.

Come on, think about it; the man made up new words. Can you imagine him sitting in a freshman English class?
Now Billy, I’ve told you over and over again that you just can’t make up new words. You’ll never get a proficient on the CSAP if you keep doing that.
And let’s not forget that he often wrote about subjects that would be “inappropriate” in a school setting.
Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare, we’ve asked you to come in today because William appears to have an unhealthy fascination with violence, particularly betrayal and violent death. Is there anything you’d like to share with us?
And I’ve got to think that young Will would be a blogger, and a podcaster, and a very active participant in World of Warcraft and Second Life.
William, for the last time, turn off that machine and get started on that five-paragraph essay that’s due tomorrow. Stop wasting your time on those "stories" – you’re never going to get a decent job at this rate.
Now, once my brain goes off on a tangent like this, it’s kind of hard to stop. So, of course, then I thought about Einstein sitting in one of our science classes.
Yo, Al, enough with the "Everything is relative" stuff. Let me tell you a little something about that. If you don’t start turning in your homework on time, you have a relatively slim chance of passing this class.
Or maybe Thomas Jefferson sitting in a social studies class.
T.J., get real. All men are created equal. Democracy. Representative Government. What utter nonsense. Let me share with you our school’s philosophy known as the Divine Right of Teachers . . .
Or Isaac Newton in math class.
Isaac, give it up. Your assignment was #1-31 odd, what’s this Calculus drivel?
Mozart in music class? Picasso in art class? Actually, come to think of it, I think music and art teachers might actually do pretty well with those students, maybe we can learn a lot from those folks.

As I think about the changes I believe we need in education, I go from wildly optimistic to terribly discouraged. Sometimes in the span of about 15 minutes (yes, I’m seeking therapy). As several others have also noted recently, I’m really beginning to wonder about the feasibility of incremental change, the viability of school as we know it. My worry is that we are not just dangerously irrelevant, but perhaps irretrievably irrelevant. And I say this despite the fact that I work at a school that is thinking very hard about all these changes, with a staff that is very thoughtful, very caring, very committed. But I just don’t know if it’s enough.

This is probably just a result of my “winter of discontent,” and I'll be better in the morning. But as we approach the ides of March, I can’t help but wonder what a young William Shakespeare (circa 2007) would think as he rolled out of bed and realized it was a school day. Would he be excited - or terribly depressed?

Image Citation: Child, Shakespeare, and car, originally uploaded by George Goodman.

Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school. (King Henry VI)


  1. I think you are absolutely right on this. Society as a whole is generally not very accepting of new thinking. And I think that schools are a place where that is very true. Much too often, students are expected to show up, do the work, get a grade, and go home. If we want to remain current, and stay relevant, we have to be open minded to change and new ideas.

  2. I think just about everyone in the edu-blogosphere needs the rebirth of spring something fierce. I know I do.

  3. Whoa, Karl.

    I'm sure Willy Shakespeare would be sad about going to school. But so what? Surely you don't believe that Shakespeare would be damaged if he were at Arapahoe!

    Shakespeare, Einstein, Mozart, and all the rest of the geniuses you're thinking about found a way to develop their talents and to alter the course of humanity--and they did so without modern pedagogy or technology.

    Let's not overrate our influence. High school is only a moment in the life of a human being. When our students leave Arapahoe, they'll do what kids have always done after graduation: they'll begin their true education.

    Our students will do what they're designed to do: adapt. They'll soar or they'll fall. It's largely their choice. The 21st Century hasn't changed that reality. Neither has our "dangerously irrelevant, but perhaps irretrievably irrelevant" school system.

  4. When I did my master's degree, I met a guy who grew up in Liverpool in the U.K. He remembers his father coming home from work with stories from one of his co-workers. This man used to come to work and complain about his ne'er-do-well son who just sat in his room and played guitar all day. He (of course) told him to give it up and get a real job. The kid in the room; Paul McCartney.....

  5. So, Cheryl, is your basic premise "High School sucks. Too bad, too sad." I refuse to accept that. Why can't their "real education" begin in high school, or middle school, or elementary school (or, for that matter, at birth)? I wouldn't call four years a "moment" in their lives - it's four years!

    The fact that they were "geniuses" has nothing to do with it - they're people, just like every single one of the students in your classroom. Yes, I think it's very possible that Shakespeare would be "damaged" by going to Arapahoe, just like so many other students are damaged by a school system that's not designed for them, but rather for the convenience and needs of the adults. (And let's not forget that none of those "geniuses" had to survive school as we know it today.)

    If we don't have influence, if these four years aren't important, than why are we here? What's the point? Day care? To keep them out of the work force? To keep them compliant until they get past puberty? If not learning, if not personal growth, if not helping students become the best people they can be, what exactly is the purpose of high school?

    "I'm sure Willy Shakespeare would be sad about going to school. But so what?" - is exactly what I'm writing about. Do we not care anymore if we are making our children sad?

  6. I think something else that is important to note is that we get to see the genius of those who can find a way to develop their talents despite what others may want. I think there are plenty of geniuses out there who never reach potential because of their environment. But we never hear about them becuase they are the ones that couldn't find a way to circumvent the system.

  7. Karl--My basic premise is actually that high school doesn't suck all that much. Your post is so full of gloom and despair, that I was trying to keep you from falling into darkness. You wrote, "I’m really beginning to wonder about the feasibility of incremental change, the viability of school as we know it." Well I just don't accept that. But even if it were true--that Arapahoe is doing horrible things to our children and our geniuses--I was trying to point out that high school isn't the end of the road for a human being. It's the beginning. Most people I know prove find that they truly hone their talents--and even discover them--later in life.

    Change is good. But so is tradition. I like the tension between the two. Our school has that tension.

    Show me the damage that you're seeing all around you. Maybe I'm just blind.

  8. I'm a new dad, and a five-year teacher. The thing that disturbs me most is that while I work hard to TRY to convert my peers to new ways of thinking I too feel despair (maybe not every 15 minutes *grin*). When I think about my daughter's future, I keep adding to my bank account and searching out private education that "gets it" so when she is ready for more than standardized education I'm ready to pay for it.

  9. Cheryl - I certainly like the idea that high school is not the end of the road, but the beginning (although I would probably quibble about the "beginning" starting in high school - why not earlier?). But that's not what I got from your first comment (obviously). I'm curious if anyone else got that from your first comment, or if the "darkness" I'm in is coloring all of my perceptions (which is certainly possible).

  10. Another thing is that if high school is the beggining, and something goes wrong there, it can have far reaching consequences and affect an individual for the rest of their life. If students are discouraged during high school, they may never recover the same spirit they once had.

  11. First of all, Karl, that was probably the funniest post I have read from you as far as the "Billy, TJ, Al, etc..." OMG! Thanks for that.

    As I was reading I was brainstorming my response, and you (Karl) took a lot of the words out of my mouth as far as highschool being meaningful.

    The 4 years I spent in highschool were 4 of the best years of my life. As far as I K-12 experience went, they were the best. That is reason I love teaching at this level. I love the age the kids are at because I loved being that age. I loved everything about what highschool meant and I see myself in a lot of the kids I have now.

    I love the raw emotion these kids have about everything in their lives...academics, sports, extracurricular activities, friends, family...everything. You don't get that anywhere else.

    Some of my strongest influences came from highschool...from teachers and coaches and from successes and failures academically, athletically, and socially.

    So, to say that a true education doesn't begin until after highschool sticks a steak through my heart. Isn't that why we as educators are here? To give to kids what was given to us? To pass along the inspiration, the knowledege, and the life-lessons???

  12. As a classroom teacher and one who teaches at Arapahoe, I do not buy the claim that we could be "dangerously irrelevant" in our instruction.

    Karl, how many people reading The Fischbowl know that you are not currently a classroom teacher?

    My point is, that I don't feel this despair because I'm in contact, daily, with students who, despite all of their shortcomings and mine, are striving (or not) to learn. In other words, what I feel is missing from your critique is simply the human spirit.

    To put it better, in the words of Thomas Merton: Do not depend on the hope of results...You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and achieve no result at all...In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

    To me, schoool is a daily community of students and teachers engaging with our hearts and minds and all the wonderful unpredictability that comes of that striving. If we take away from this combination, then we risk irrelevance of the most dangerous kind.

  13. Bravo, Lary. If the students at Arapahoe are "sad" or damaged by what we are doing, then I can't imagine another school in the country where they would be "happy." Those of us in the trenches know how hard we work to make our subjects exciting and our students feel successful.

    And, Jessica, high school was NOT my favorite time of life. I love being an adult much better than I loved being a teenager. I wasn't popular or cool, and only a handful of teachers inspired me. What truly impressed me were the books my teachers made me read--and the books I read on my own. My passion for literature turned me into a teacher.

    I teach so I can share books and ideas with kids. I love my students--but I believe "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." Not every student is ready to learn (or even be happy) in high school. But that's not bad because pain is also a teacher. My teenage angst produced plenty of deep thoughts and poetry. (And, please Karl, don't think I'm saying that I want my kids to suffer. I'm all about happiness. But I refuse to mourn if little Willy Shakespeare doesn't want to get out of bed and attend my class.

  14. Lary - I understood your first three paragraphs, but you lost me on the last two. I don't recall advocating taking away the community, in fact just the opposite.

    But I'm not sure how your comment addressed the original post. How well do today's schools adress the needs of our students? Is it okay for students to be so easily dismissed? For them to be sad at the thought of going to school? (Yes, I know this is not all students, and yes, I know that everyone will be sad at times, but I mean in general.) It still seems to me that too much of school is being done to them, instead of with and for them.

    But, like I said, I may be better in the morning - although I wasn't this morning :-)

  15. The person most dear to me is one who claims he was never affected by a single class, never affected by a single teacher. He has been in school for twenty years now.
    That is what scares me the most as a teacher--that I will dedicate my heart to this career, whether in a constructivist or a traditionalist fashion, and will never affect a student.
    I say this because I feel we place so much emphasis on the way we teach and sometimes forget whom we teach.
    We teach as individuals and cultivate relationships with other individuals. Furthermore, how one learns is the style of that individual. No matter in what style we teach, if we cultivate those relationships, I believe there is room for all of it--constructivist and traditionalist. Every individual learns differently and I think it's important to value the uniqueness of teachers as well as the uniqueness of our learners. If every class is the same, every teacher uses the same techniques, that's when, I think, genius gets stifled.
    Cheryl, you received a letter from a student you had 20-something years ago. No offense, but I bet that student doesn't remember how you taught the class. He does remember, however, you and your affect on him. That, to me, attests to the value of education.

  16. Lauren--I love your comment. I want to post your words on my bulletin board: "Every individual learns differently and I think it's important to value the uniqueness of teachers as well as the uniqueness of our learners. If every class is the same, every teacher uses the same techniques, that's when, I think, genius gets stifled." Bingo!!!!

  17. Now I'm really confused. Nowhere in the original post did it say anything about expecting teachers to all teach the same way. Nowhere did it mention constructivism or traditionalism (if that's a word). In fact, the point of the post was to meet the individual needs of our students, to take into account their "uniqueness." That's what I'm despairing over, because I don't think we're doing a very good job of that. We expect them to always meet our "standards," even when we don't believe in all the standards ourselves. We're about to add on more required years of math and science in order to graduate, apparently with the thought that what we're doing now isn't working, so let's just do more of it.

    So, I go back to the ideas of the original post and the questions I posed above to Lary. How well do today's schools address the needs of our students - our individual, unique students with their individual, unique needs? Is it okay for our students' thoughts and ideas and feelings to be so easily dismissed? For them to be sad at the thought of going to school?

  18. Well why didn't you say this in the beginning, Karl? I'm all hot and bothered because I took offense at your suggestion that guys like Willy S. would be warped (and maybe--God forbid--"terribly depressed") if they entered our school.

    Ahhhh, individualized instruction. Now that hearkens back to my college days, the days when we also were trying to redefine education. Gads, Karl. You're much younger than I am. Why do you sound so much like a 1960's radical?

    Of course I believe in individualization. But I also believe that students don't always know what they'll need in their adult lives. Our job as educators is to give them sips. Sips of math and science and literature. That way, when they are ready to "drink deep" from the "Pierian spring," they'll have a sense of what ideas are out there.

    You ask, "Is it okay for our students' thoughts and ideas and feelings to be so easily dismissed? For them to be sad at the thought of going to school?"

    I suppose my answer is YES.

    My own sons don't like to read, but I'm grateful their teachers assign books to them. I didn't appreciate math, but my geometry teacher changed my life. (She was one of the few teachers who influenced me.) I'm glad my teachers and my school system had standards, that they didn't let me call the shots. (If they had let me be in charge, I would have studied the lyrics of Beatles' songs, but never Hamlet.) I'm thankful my teachers challenged me and insisted that I learn what they--educated adults--knew was valuable.

    Sorry for being such a grump today. I guess you struck a chord with me. I feel a bit defensive--but also very passionate about this topic. (And, besides, it's more fun writing these comments than grading my seniors' essays about Brave New World. Poor babies. I know I made them sad when I gave them the assignment...)

  19. Maybe I'm a 00's radical!

    Well, I guess I thought I did pretty much say that in the beginning, you guys just took it a different direction (which, of course, means I didn't say it very well).

    But why does everybody equate paying attention to students' thoughts and ideas and feelings with giving them complete control? Why does trying to meet their individual needs have to mean having no standards and not challenging them? That's not what I'm saying at all. In fact, what I'm saying is much, much, much more challenging for them - I'm asking them to truly think, care and feel about the ideas and the world around them. To connect and engage and make these ideas their own, not just do it because somebody told them to or to get the grade.

    All I'm asking is that schools do the same thing. I'm not suggesting we don't assign books if they don't like to read, or that they can't learn a lot from their Geometry teacher. I'm asking us to do our best to make those books meaningful and relevant to students, even if that occasionally means reading books that we - as so-called "educated adults" - don't find as much value in. I'm asking that instead of teaching Geometry with the sole aim of preparing them to take Advanced Algebra, that we teach Geometry with the primary aim to help our students understand the world around them. I think too often we stop with the sips and we never let them drink. So I guess I believe our jobs as educators is to nurture - and help them satisfy - their thirst. How many of the Colorado standards directly address that?

    But I still have to disagree with it being okay to make them sad on purpose. Intentionally. By Design. And I'm curious as to how the teachers in 21c would feel if I referred to them as "poor babies." As Terry said last Friday, conferences always remind him that they are all somebody's "baby," and as Lauren said, we "sometimes forget whom we teach."

    Oh, and what's wrong with studying Hamlet and the lyrics to Beatles' songs?

  20. To the Celestial God of Technology, Master Fisch:

    Methinks thou dost play the devil’s advocate. Surely thou canst not believe Arapahoe students perform mere dumb shows whilst their teachers mouth only words, words, words? Surely our charges enjoy much revelry and merry-making during the course of their studies! Wherefore must we teachers suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous slanders even as we take arms against a sea of ignorance? Alas—tell me all of my labors have not been in vain. Tell me I am not a poor player who struts and frets her hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. Tell me I am not in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes. There are more theories than are dreamt of in heaven and earth than simply one educational philosophy. And remember, the course of authentic learning never did run smooth. Aye, there’s the rub! Remember me! Adieu, adieu!

  21. Marlys - it's about time you got here. A post with "Shakespeare" in the title and it takes you 24 hours to comment? Shame, shame. Get thee to a nunnery . . .

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  23. Shakespeare, TJ, Einstein, and Picasso did not have an easy time revolutionizing their respective fields of study. Picasso's GUERNICA is criticized by many as too different. Granted, we all know better than the meatheads who refuse to appreciate art, but even so, there are those who seem to solely exist to persecute new ideas. Throughout the ages, we have never been able to accept new, confusing, unfamiliar ideas. The revolutionaries were able to overcome their situations and so are we.

    In fact, I believe (not speaking from experience) we are in the thick of an educational renewal of open mindedness never seen before. I have never received anything but support from all of my teachers regarding my different, sometimes BS answers.

    And personally, I think that mankind in general has gotten more and more pessimistic, even as more and more doors are opened for us. I do not advocate huge lecture classes of 300 students, but also do not condemn our current educational structure.

  24. Late to the party, but oh well. The despair felt by folks like Fisch, and myself (a technologist in an education setting,) is that we see so much potential in the "new way" that we forget about the value that of the "old way." That doesn't mean that there isn't any value, it's just that we are afraid that the needs of the society and of learning are going to change too rapidly for the education establishment to keep up.

  25. Hi Karl
    I am Javier, the founder of, the fastest growing community of amateur writers writing about The Future of everything. We would like to invite you to join us and write an article on the website, perhaps "The future of education?" or whatever you are passionate about...
    It is up to you, you choose the subject.
    You would get a link back when you link to your own article, if you wish.
    You can even re-use some of what you have here, in the last part of the article, "your view and comments". That would save you time and still be interesting for readers.
    And yes, I know you may not have the time. Theoretically, none of us do...;)

    Failing that, if you like the project and you can help us spread the word -even if you don't write- it would be great.
    Since we are starting, any help is appreciated.

    By making this valuable information available online for free, I truly believe we are helping to make the world a better place.
    And you could do your bit for the world too, by sharing what you know, as we already do.

    Please let us know if you link or mention us, so we can link you back too if you wish.
    You can even use our valuable articles on your websites, provided that you link back. Any better offer than that?! :)

    Look forward to hearing from you or reading your interesting article at Trendirama!

    Best regards
    Javier Marti

  26. The Jefferson stuff is priceless! This all makes me think about an exam I gave today. One essay option asked, "Why is it important that Americans living in 2007 learn about Marxism?" One student's response was not an "essay" exactly, but was one of the best pieces of student writing I have probably ever received. I plan to post it on my blog after I obtain the student's permission, but as a preview, he answered the question with a thoughtfully sarcastic and relevant "answer" to the question from people such as Adam Smith, a Democrat, a Republican, Michael Jackson, a high school senior, someone named Ms. Crosby, and many others. It was a great response! My first thought was, "You know, some teacher out there would probably mark points off because he didn't write a traditional essay." My next thought was "Should I break with my philosophical opposition to extra credit and reward it for this amazing response?" My point is that I think free-thinkers aren't shut down throughout the halls of AHS. That doesn't mean we're perfect by any means, or that we don't accidentally shut them down sometimes, but I don't think we collectively do that to our students. If we did, I can't see why hundreds of kids from outside our attendance area would come here. (I realize that the last sentence opens me up to comments about parents sending their kids here and "shutting them down less doesn't mean we're doing something good," etc., but it's late and I've spent hours blogging, so I'm going to sign off.)

  27. Well, I may just be the cynic around here, but considering my feelings about dragging myself to school every morning, Shakespeare would probably be terribly bored. My main issue with the education system is that it's so standardized. There is no possible way one system can work for all the millions of young people in the world.

    Einstein himself said that "it's a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." He did not get along well with teachers. They told him that he asked too many questions they didn't understand. But I challenge you to consider Einstein in an advanced english class. Surely he would have been smart enough, but beyond a certain point, he would never need it. That is the problem with education.

    I am certainly no Shakespeare or Einstein, but I am bored to death. During math class, I find myself either asleep, writing or calculating how many hours of my life have been wasted listening to a teacher explain a concept I understood in two minutes. That is my major issue with education. Not only will I never, ever need to know that y/x=tan(thada), but I don't need to listen to an hour's worth of examples to use the equation.

    It seems like such a grand waste of time to sit in classrooms for hours on end, when maybe only 20 minutes of actual learning takes place per day. During my math class the other day, I calculated that over the course of just a single month, if I were paid $10/hour for every hour spent in the school, I could easily make over $2500. That's not including homework time, weekends, breaks, anything. I also figured out that during four hours of doing real work with professionals I learned more useful information than in two weeks of school. Not much incentive for me to pay attention to my pre-calc now is there?

    I know, incentive is the wrong word. I'm not saying that students should be paid for school (though it would be nice) or that we should be entertained all the time. What I am saying is that students should be able to tailor our own education to our needs. I'm guessing maybe one out of six people will ever need math beyond geometry. I can't see why the rest of us should have to force ourselves through three years of things we will never need or remember just to graduate. It's not just math either. Someone who knows he or she will be an engineer shouldn't have to schlep through extra years of tedious reading analysis or grammatical corrections.

    So maybe the school system does work well for the majority of people. I probably whine too much. I've always been a bit different from the mainstream. But, then again, shakespeare and picasso weren't exactly in the majority either.

  28. Brett, Molly, and Ben--It's wonderful hearing from you guys! Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting responses. You've given me much to think about.

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  30. Well, regarding "needing" lit and math classes, here's my position on a broad liberal arts education. Most people enter college with no idea about what their majors will be, even if they think they know. I cannot think of a single friend of mine from college who graduated with the same degree he or she expected in August of our freshman year. So why do you need a range of classes in high school? From a practical standpoint, you need to have the prerequisites to accomplish what you want to accomplish. What if a person decides at the age of 20 that she wants to be a doctor, but she never took any science beyond biology in high school? She'd have to spend many more years in college (and tons of money) catching up on the knowledge she missed out on in high school and the first few years of college.

    From a philosophical standpoiont, however, I think that you need to take a variety of classes because they broaden your view of the world and help your brain make all sorts of physical connections that improve your thinking. No, as far as I know I don't use calculus anymore. But taking calculus was a good brain exercise. We talk all the time about the need to do physical exercise to keep our bodies in shape. What about our brains? Aside from the fact that I was a perfectionist who stressed myself out all the time, I loved school. Many American teenagers today have eighteen years during which their main job is to learn. Wow! I'm not saying that our education system is perfect, by any means. But I think that (particularly for females!) being a student today in the United States isn't quite as horrible as some young people seem to think.

  31. Maybe Spring has sprung early in Texas--it is nice and warm and flowers are blooming!

    I was reflecting on MollyG's comments particularly as I was reading (belatedly) this whole discussion.

    I've been thinking of an article I read somewhere about video gaming and employees, and how most twenty-something employees have been raised in the era of videogames. The effect of that is that employees want to finish a task and "move to the next level."

    I'm thinking one of the downfalls of "group" instruction, per se, is that it doesn't allow students to complete things and move to the next level.

    On the other hand, there is a lot of value in the conversation that goes on when the whole class is reading a novel together, or share a community lecture, etc. to have a system or learning environment where both can happen--where you can have both the interaction or common conversation and face to face, but also allow people to move along at a pace suitable to their learning? That is a tough question.
    Not every learner is self-motivated enough to learn completely autonomously or online, by any means. But the traditional classroom structure, which has the merits of a community and bonding, also has its definite limits and downsides.

    I recently visited High Tech High School in California with a group from my campus. While it was somewhat mind-blowing, it seemed a little closer to a model that allowed for the group dynamic, but also allowed students more flexibility.

    Students were still working on the same project, but the projects were integrated across math, physics, English, and art at the same time.

    Students were working on building a lever, for example, but the math/science teacher had taught the trig they needed to do it, the science behind it, and the English teacher was working with them on writing a reflection on why their project did/did not work.

    Another project involved the physics, engineering, and art teacher to design an art print that illustrated a science concept.

    I really liked that more integrated approach because it seems reflective of how we learn or create things out in the work world.

    I also liked the idea of a more "work-like" environment for students--they were often moving about the building from room to room, working on their projects and interacting with other classes, just as you would as a professional or in an office environment.

    Lots of good questions in this discussion. I don't feel a sense of despair myself--maybe it's the spring in the air. I feel a sense of opportunities opening up and of this global conversation contributing to our growth as professionals...

    It takes awhile for seedlings to grow....

    My two cents worth from Texas...

  32. Mr. Fisch-

    Just another thing to ponder while you worry about the "geniuses" of history and their exploits at Arapahoe; but wouldn't most of those figures have been regarded as too imaginative and unable to focus? Wouldn't most of them have been put on a drug to change this behavior? Imagine Einstein on Ritalin. To play off the Foo Fighters: There goes my genius...

    As for the topic, I definitely agree with Mr. Fisch. The structure of education, and today's society in general, can destroy the individualism of a person. While unique people have always been viewed as outcasts; now we have various means to change them and make them just a face in the crowd. After all, the SAT and ACT are the greatest determining factor for colleges to pick their students, not whether they are geniuses or individuals. The same applies to CSAP's.

    Quote: "You ask, "Is it okay for our students' thoughts and ideas and feelings to be so easily dismissed? For them to be sad at the thought of going to school?"

    I suppose my answer is YES."

    It should never be accepted for a teacher to push aside how a student feels about an assignment, or a project, or school in general. How can a person relate to another if the feelings are left out of the conversation? From this quote it sounds like Mr. Fisch's question is being proven. If teachers do not care about the ideas of the students then how can they be gleaning the mind?

    Lastly, what is with all the ad hominem in these posts? I knew I would have to remind new bloggers, but a group of teachers? Name calling and generalization get this debate nowhere, in fact, in a way overgeneralizing supports what Mr. Fisch is saying. Honestly, why does it matter if Mr. Fisch is not in a classroom every hour? Part of his job as the facilitator for this new style of learning is to help the teachers adapt to a newer way of thinking. Besides, how often does a teacher have the time to sit down and evaluate if they related to/with every individual in each class? Not often is my guess, and I think this because I have only had two teachers ever ask me how I was doing. And only one did so during the class period. Perhaps I am being to sensitive and taking what is being said too personally, but I feel that a lot more can be gained from this discussion if we focus on the topic and not the people presenting.

  33. I like the reference carolyn made to a work-like environment. I don't know about other students, but personally I thrive in a more goal oriented but unstructured environment. It may just be that winter slump, but classes can seem so stifling. I go crazy having to sit in the exact same position for hours on end without really being able to move or do what I want. Sometimes it's really nice to have a tangible goal. Sure, a high score on a test is nice, but eventually all the tests start to look the same to me. Chemistry labs are a good example of balanced learning. We may complain about them, but not only do they illustrate the concept at hand, but we're doing real chemistry, not just talking about it. And then we have to write a report on it. Maybe that's what we need, a chance to do real work. Not just talk about real work, but actually do it. We're certainly capable enough. So how about in English, instead of writing about how someone else wrote an essay or a story, let's write about our own ideas for a change. Or in math or physics, instead of just doing some word problem, let's calculate just how high we can make bouncy balls go and then actually do it. It's nice to feel like we have some purpose other than sitting in some fluorescently lit room with 35 of the exact same desks.

    Maybe that's why I choose to spend all my free time in the theatre. Mr. Earley tells me to build a train and that's it. I can do it however I want. I don't get my grade dropped if I insert a screw at the wrong angle. I have the freedom to do my own work and the materials to make it happen. And if I screw up, I learn and I have to think my way through it again. That's my preferred style of education. It's nice to feel productive.

  34. Molly and Kurt,
    I do think that it can be unfair that truly bright students can sometimes get screwed over by ACTs and CSAP, but when you're working with literally millions of students, you must generalize to find proficiency. Perhaps colleges could accept students by looking at their test scores and then more closely evaluate those who had lower scores but that is another argument. It would be impossible to evaluate every student individually.

    The wonderful thing about so many of the teachers at Arapahoe is that they are willing to throw out the book to recognize talent, as in Crosby's case. But there are subjects, like math, science, and some business classes that require hard, fast rules. And I hate hate hate how much teachers think about what would be "fun," because life is not always fun. Perhaps if my driver's ed teacher had spent more time on responsible driving and less time on "good-offense defensive driving," the smoking heap in the NE corner of the east lot might instead be nestled safely at home. (Just kidding, it's still my fault.)

    Carolyn's comments are particularly interesting, perhaps that's something to think about to make AHS more preparatory.

    And Crosby's points also hold true. I hated trig and pre-calc, but those were classes that not only taught me things that I cannot remember at this moment, but the class also taught me better study habits to ensure that I made the grade in a class I dislike (sidebar: I didn't make the grade...). Boring classes are a fact of life and perhaps time might be better spent in those classes finding something to learn, rather than giving up and complaining about how pointless school can be.

    In reference to Kurt, perhaps ADD and Ritalin are overused to control the mind. Good point there. But if that is the case, blame shouldn't rest on the school. It should rest on the parents, irresponsible teachers, and doctors who make the recommendations. (Hope I don't ruffle too many feathers with that last bit. Or maybe I do)

    Honestly and off-the-record, I think that my education's shortfalls were my own fault and I can only think of one or two "bad" teachers.

  35. And the fact still stands that free thinkers have been persecuted since man made fire and left the caves. To quote the Social Darwinism theory from Mrs. Cornils' 9th grade history class, the ideas that are truly good will survive and the weak ones will get picked off. It's sad to think that the next James Joyce might have gotten an F in English and given up, but teachers can't give As just to be supportive. And if Joyce, Jr. isn't strong enough to overcome one mean teacher, then he isn't strong enough to be Joyce, Jr.

  36. While I agree that it would be impossible to evaluate every single student, I still think that there are better ways that colleges can pick their perspective students. For instance, shouldn't colleges take a student's best piece of writing, not a general essay. This would help the admission's officers because they would not become bored with similar pieces of writing over and over; and students can show their true potential. Even better, an English teacher can help the student pick the piece of writing.

    Quote: "But there are subjects, like math, science, and some business classes that require hard, fast rules." While this is true to an extent (I still cannot envision the math class of the future); already the rules are being rewritten. Mr. Hatak's Astronomy class only uses books as a last resort. In fact, I do most of the learning on my own in that class. Interestingly, Mr. Hatak has not tried to make the class more fun, simply a better class; and in turn, the class has become infinitely more fun. He has said so himself.

    Quote: "Boring classes are a fact of life and perhaps time might be better spent in those classes finding something to learn, rather than giving up and complaining about how pointless school can be."

    I definitely do not agree. Why do boring classes have to be a fact of life? Look at European schooling: Once children reach ages around 16 they choose a type of higher school that caters to their future. Whether it be vocational or otherwise, the students do not need to take a class that covers a subject that won't be beneficial in the future. While some of this may not persuade firm believers in our educational system, consider that European countries score higher than the U.S. on education tests.

    In reference to Brett's Ritalin comment, that was my point. I wasn't trying to imply that the teachers are at fault, I was just giving another dimension to think about.

  37. Just some quick thoughts on a few of things Brett said (although Kurt beat me to one).

    Brett said, "when you're working with literally millions of students, you must generalize to find proficiency." Why? I don't think the assembly line model is the only way we can do this. I think we can do better.

    Brett also said, "It would be impossible [for colleges] to evaluate every student individually." Why can't they? I believe they can - and many already do. I think we can do better.

    He also said, "But there are subjects, like math, science, and some business classes that require hard, fast rules." I disagree. All three of those areas are in a constant state of flux - particulary science and business, but even math. While some of the basics of math may not change much, how math is applied is certainly not hard and fast. And I think that points to some of the things we need to improve on as a system, because we don't really have students do science, do math, or do business, so they too often think it's all about facts. Facts are necessary, but not sufficient, to understand and apply those areas.

    Finally, he also said, "Boring classes are a fact of life". Why? I think we can do better.

    I think the most telling part of this whole discussion might be the fact that a high school student believes that boring classes are a given. I completely and vehemently disagree. Please note that I'm not talking about making them "entertaining," but interesting, and meaningful and engaging and relevant. I believe we can - and must - do this.

    It's not about "bad" or "mean" teachers, nothing in this post was about that. As I stated in the original post, the teachers we have at Arapahoe are some of the best you'll find anywhere - caring, thoughtful, committed. But I think we can - and must - do a better job of meeting our students' needs. If we don't, then why are we here?

  38. This dialogue has certainly been one to note. The arguments and illustrations articulated by AHS students have been of particular interest. I ask:

    1. How do you define the terms meaningful, interesting, and relevant?
    2. Who determines such measures?
    3. Does hindsight alter one’s recollection of experiences?

  39. Stacey,

    I think - ultimately - only the learner can define and determine what's meaningful, interesting and relevant. I think that's an essential part of being human.

    That's not to say that we - as teachers, adults, human beings with experience and background - can't have an effect on our students, can't influence them, can't guide and share our passions with them. We have a ton to offer but - in the end - if they don't perceive it to be meaningful, interesting and relevant - then it wasn't. It reminds me of the phrase, "I taught it, they just didn't learn it." I just don't think that's acceptable. (Note: I realize we can't control everything, the responsibility is ultimately on the learner, but to use "I taught it" as a way to dismiss any further thought and discussion isn't acceptable.)

    As far as hindsight altering one's recollection - definitely. But I'm not clear on where you're going with that . . .

  40. Regarding the comment about Mr. Fisch not being in the classroom, Mr. Kleeman was not being disrespectful - he was just explaining why he didn't fully agree with Mr. Fisch's position on a particular topic.

    Regarding the American educational system versus other educational systems, it is so interesting (from the viewpoint of a social studies teacher, anyway) to hear Americans praise other systems - especially when the praise partially stems from the fact that students in other systems score higher on standardized tests. First of all, so what? I thought that most people in education didn't like standardized tests anyway! Secondly, my response would be: of course they score higher. In the United States, every student takes every test. In many other countries, students are tracked from the age of 8 or so and then tested only in the areas pertinent to their particular tracks. If you studied math and science every day from the age of 8 onward, you'd score better than you do right now, at least on the math and science tests. However, your knowledge of other subjects would be crude at best. This all goes back to my earlier point: the American educational system, for all of its faults, still provides a variety of learning experiences for students from all walks of life. I would be interested to know if educators in other parts of the world look at test results and say, "Well, our tracked kids certainly score better than American kids on certain tests, but at least American kids get to learn about lots of different subjects and get to choose their own professional paths." I suspect, in other words, that there are different problems with education everywhere. If there weren't, why wouldn't we just adopt someone else's "perfect sysyem?"

    I guess that my last comment is really a question for those students who have commented negatively about classes at AHS. The impression that I have gotten from your statements is that we're giving you some pre-packaged education here. Yet, isn't AHS, with its variable schedule, set up to really allow you to tailor your high school education to your needs? To the extent that you have requirements, those are imposed on AHS from above. So, here's my question: what have you done as a student to seek out an individualized education? Have you taken lots of electives, or just maximized your unscheduled hours each semester? Have you asked a teacher to work with you on an independent study? Have you gone to the post-grad center and researched colleges that follow an alternative path? I'm not saying that we as teachers should be excused from doing our best to help you develop individually in each of our classrooms, but what I am saying is that I think sometimes students take the easy way out and blame "the school" when they could be proactive instead.

  41. Quote:
    "Regarding the comment about Mr. Fisch not being in the classroom, Mr. Kleeman was not being disrespectful - he was just explaining why he didn't fully agree with Mr. Fisch's position on a particular topic."

    Thanks for clearing this up Ms. Crosby. I knew I had taken this comment wrong when no one else had commented on it.

    Quote: "it is so interesting (from the viewpoint of a social studies teacher, anyway) to hear Americans praise other systems - especially when the praise partially stems from the fact that students in other systems score higher on standardized tests"

    We are kind of agreeing on this one. I voiced my opinion about this in regards to boring classes. I referenced the tests to show what you supported: that European and other countries educational systems do better in certain subjects because they get rid of the classes they feel are unnecessary. I was in no means praising the world education systems; I was simply saying that they do a better job in teaching specialization. Of course, as Ms. Crosby said, this is not always for the best.

    Quote: "I guess that my last comment is really a question for those students who have commented negatively about classes at AHS. The impression that I have gotten from your statements is that we're giving you some pre-packaged education here."

    I do not feel that way at all. The only reason my voice is on this blog is because I feel that Arapahoe is the most progressive school when it comes to thinking for the 21st Century. I only give my opinion to help those trying to change this school for the better.

    Quote: "what have you done as a student to seek out an individualized education? Have you taken lots of electives, or just maximized your unscheduled hours each semester? Have you asked a teacher to work with you on an independent study? Have you gone to the post-grad center and researched colleges that follow an alternative path?"

    While I probably should not answer this because I cannot speak for everyone, I feel this needs to be addressed. I have individualized my schedule by taking A.P. and Honors classes in the subjects that will help me in college with my major. I have been engineering my schedule for individualization since the summer before Freshmen year when I took a swimming course. While I have not pursued an independent study, I spend a decent amount of my off hours (or used to before physical therapy came into the picture) in teacher's offices. I would discuss politics and current events with my government teacher, and I would discuss 21st Century Learners and constructivism with my English teacher. The most individualized thing I have pursued has been utilizing a Supreme Court database that is not yet available at Arapahoe, but I can use because I spend time talking to Mr. Murphy. As for college, I applied to seven colleges. One of them in-state. Two in California. Two on the East Coast. One entrepreneurial school. Six private schools. I guess what I am saying is that I did a lot of research, about nine months worth. When it comes to college, I know a lot of students at Arapahoe who are taking their futures into their own hands. I know students who are taking a year of classes at one school and planning to transfer. I know students who are planning on going out of the country. I know students who are going to Bible colleges. While some students may just accept the larger in state colleges, I know a lot of kids who refuse to fall in line for college.

    This is not complaining or blaming the school. This is examining what is currently taking place and trying to improve it.

  42. Interesting thoughts everybody.

    Amanda - while I agree that students can and should pursue all those things you reference in your last paragraph, how does that help them in their "regular" classes? How can they "tailor" those classes to their "needs?" Those all seem like options to bypass "the system" to get the most out of their education. Perhaps by voicing their opinions here they are trying to be "proactive" in changing the system . . .

  43. Thanks for your responses, Kurt. I take all comments on the blog as constructive criticism of AHS, and it helps to hear from students. Keep up the good work!

    Karl, I agree that many of the things I mentioned are outside the "core" requirements, and I meant to be careful to acknowlege that. I guess when I hear that students are "bored" in core classes I am comparing their AHS experiences to mine about a decade ago. Many of the teachers who taught here back then and are still here are MUCH less into direct instruction than they were a decade ago. I would say that the quality of their teaching has improved, and the new methods employed by those teachers as well as younger staff has made the quality of education here much better. When I hear about the interesting methods being used by many of the 21C teachers, I have to admit to feeling a bit envious of today's AHS students. If they think they're bored, they should've sat through some of the classes I sat through as a student at AHS. Again, I'm not saying that we're perfect by any means, or that we don't have a long way to go, but I do think that taking a view that encompasses more than 1 or 2 years, we will see that we are in much better shape today than we were in the past.

  44. Amanda - understood, and agreed.

    Oh, you probably just forgot to mention how brilliant your trig/pre-calc teacher was when you were at AHS . . .

  45. My oversight. Sorry. :)

  46. Amanda (and all who might still be reading this blog),

    Karl is right, shift happens. It was happening when I was a student in the 60’s. It was happening when you were a student. And it’s happening now. Educators shift back and forth, back and forth.

    A decade ago Arapahoe's teachers were reflecting the best practices that were fed to us by the educational specialists of the day. We were trying to recover from the public humiliation we received by exposees in Newsweek (“Why Johnny Can’t Read”) and the like. In the 1980’s and 90's, Arapahoe instituted what we believed was a more “rigorous” educational philosophy. We taught the “five paragraph essay,” for example, just as the educational gurus of the day directed us. We used elaborate study guides, machine scored multiple choice exams, and overhead projectors. Researchers and educational specialists assured us that these were the most beneficial practices, the best ways to educate our students. I am embarrassed by some of the practices I used then, but also I believe that we accomplished needed changes. After the 1970's, education needed more “rigor” and students needed to be challenged.

    Right now, we are riding the new wave in education, but I promise you, in ten years, we’ll look back and believe that educators didn’t quite have it right in 2007.

  47. Undoubtedly. And I would hope in 2027 they would look back at 2017 and think they could improve on that. And in 2037 . . .

    I would hope that all of us believe in something along the lines of continuous improvement, that we are always striving to get better at what we do. I just happen to think that we are at a particular moment in history where a fairly major "shift" is going to happen.

  48. Cheryl - I completely understand what you are saying. In fact, in my experience, the English department was the best about being rigorous but not boring, and even a decade ago was pretty constructivist, especially in the honors track.

  49. A 14 year old girl in her English class, that she is getting 92% in, gets into trouble because she is reading Animal Farm. Here she is at 15:
    And here she is blogging about creativity (or lack thereof):
    Dare I say she is a lifelong learner who will thrive despite her schooling ...if she can keep it from sucking the life out of her.
    She is currently suffering from writer's block due to a daily dose of 6 hours of boredom! Should someone like this be handcuffed to a textbook?

    Thank you for this post!