Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Idea #7: The Meaning of Life

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the seventh of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); Think Differently About Time; Think Differently About Classes; At Least They've Still Got Their Health; Cultivate Curiosity)

Name of Administrator,

Despite not wanting a long list of requirements for our students, I'm kind of on a roll with suggesting things we should perhaps require in some shape or form for all students, so I'm going to stick with it for a little bit longer. I've previously written about Health and Curiosity as being ideas I'd consider "core," today I'm going to add The Meaning of Life.

We currently spend a lot of our time with curriculum that we claim is preparing our students to live well, but we don't devote much time to helping them figure out how they want to live or how they define living "well." It seems like we believe that students will just automatically figure out what's important to them, what they value in life, how they will define "success," and how they want to live in order to achieve those things. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should tell them those things, or that their family doesn't have a big role to play here as well, but as they are creating their identities as teenagers I think we should devote some time where they intentionally think about these things and purposefully start developing their own philosophy of life.

As with everything I've been writing about, there are a variety of ways this could be done; I'm going to suggest one way it might look. First, as students enter AHS I think we need to do a better job of bringing them into the culture of AHS (especially if the culture is going to include some of the new things I've suggested, which are likely very different than what they are used to). Our LINK Crew does a nice job with an initial orientation for incoming freshmen, but after that it seems like we think students will just pick up various aspects of our culture by osmosis. I think we need to be more intentional and purposeful with this, which is why I would suggest an advisory class for each student for all four years at AHS.

Ideally these advisories would be 25 students or less with two staff members for each advisory. That would take about 170 staff members, which we don't quite have, but perhaps we could borrow a few from ESC to help with advisory time. These 25 students would stay together for all four years, with the same two faculty advisors. As they enter Arapahoe as freshmen, I would envision this class as partly an "Orientation to AHS" class, helping students figure out where things are, how things work, who to ask for what, and how to be successful at AHS. More importantly, however, it would begin the acculturation to our community of learners and begin the process of figuring out their own personal philosophies of life.

As the students get older, these advisories would continue operating in an advisory capacity, but would also spend time helping students begin to figure out some of the big questions of each student's life: how do they want to live, what does it mean to be successful, what's most important to them. This would include some exploration of some of the world's philosophical traditions, including the ancient Greek philosophies (my personal favorite: stoicism) and more modern ideas including rationalism, idealism and existentialism (among others). But perhaps unlike a traditional philosophy class that just explores others' philosophies and that we might offer as an elective, this would be offered to every student and be a chance for students to actively piece together their personal philosophy.

While they wouldn't "finish" this process by the time they graduate, they would be approaching adulthood with a much more informed perspective on how they want to proceed with their lives. Instead of the default being defining success as a college degree, a high-paying job, and a family with 2.4 kids, we would help students decide what is important to them and how to pursue their own definition of success. Many of us learn in school that Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and Thoreau said "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." If those are true, then shouldn't we help our students examine their life more closely, create and follow their dreams, and then help them live the life they've imagined?

The meaning of life is, quite literally, the meaning of our existence. Our students deserve the opportunity to explore their own meaning of life in a genuine, thoughtful, and thorough way as they are going through the identity-creation years of their lives. Shouldn't we help them do this in an intentional and purposeful way, instead of just "hope" they figure it out?

I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff and am "curious" to see what results.


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