Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Students Want Challenges

After reading the war writings of Julius Caesar in the original Latin and then exploring some Greek philosophy in translation, our Latin II students bring it all together with a project involving Steven Pressfield's The Warrior Ethos.  They must discuss three of the tenets from the book with regard to Caesar, their own current life, and what they plan to do in the future.

In one of his sections, Pressfield talks about why people join the military or want to be soldiers.  For some it is a rite of passage.  They want to challenge themselves. They want to grow.  Emily, one of my freshmen, chose this and applied it to her life at the moment.

Life in high school can seem very stagnant; we follow the same schedule every day and see the same people every day for the majority of the year.  I am craving some of the action, risk, the need to challenge myself, just as this tenet describes of those wishing to join the military.  I need a rite of passage into adulthood that does not involve taking standardized tests.  I want to challenge myself in a different environment than I am used to seeing every day and I want to learn and mature and become a better individual as a result.

There is a move away from high stakes testing for many good reasons.  Some opposed say that this is a move away from academic rigor, yet as my student clearly indicated, this is not the case.  Emily is an intelligent student who it seems has obtained wisdom as well.  In her own words, she wants "to learn and mature and become a better individual."  After fifteen years in which tests have played a far too significant role in life, she has indeed learned something.  She knows what she needs and wants, a proper rite of passage into adulthood that is suitably challenging to provide growth.  She knows that this does not involve testing.

I would argue that our school provides much of what Emily needs.  Ours is a rich curriculum that offers varied opportunities for students to explore their gifts and worlds in which to exercise them.  Yet even we are bound by exams sending the message to students that grades are the most important measure of achievement and the most important of the rites of passage.  We know this is not true and frequently say so, but when our actions do not match our words, students become confused, or worse, believe the message of the exams.  Fortunately some students, like Emily, know that there must be something else.  Hopefully she and others like her are able to explore a world beyond tests as they travel the shared journey of discovery that is true education.

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