What did it all mean, all those years in school? What did I learn, and when and how? What kind of student was I? What was my educational path, and what is its relationship to who I am today?
I was a precocious student who showed a lot of promise. So for a short time in elementary school I skipped science class to participate in a curious unit called "Air is Matter."
I was a lazy student who didn't put in the effort to learn and practice. So I never achieved any level of mastery in piano. Or violin. Or French.
I was a motivated student who wanted to do more than expected. So I petitioned for entrance into classes for college seniors when I was a sophomore.
I was a scared student who was afraid of challenges. So I dropped out of intro physics three weeks into the college semester.
The descriptions are endless, the contradictions expected. I've been different students, and in some ways I am the same student (person) today I was in elementary school.
Mine was a pretty straight path. I went to a small K-8 public school. I have excellent memories of first and eighth grade; the years in between are a blur. I went to a large and highly regarded high school. Freshman year was confusing. Working on my Junior Theme with Mrs. Baker was incomparably rewarding. Senior year was difficult socially, emotionally, romantically.
I got into my first-choice college, a state school close to home, but I was an immature 18 -- should have worked or volunteered before heading to campus. I skipped class a lot freshman year, and although an intense summer job kept me on track for an anticipated degree in special education, I felt lost sophomore year. I didn't like my classes, my friends, or me. During a long weekend home, I announced my plans: I'd take a break from school, live at home, work at my distant cousin's warehouse. My parents encouraged me to reevaluate in a few weeks. I felt embarrassed, especially around my dad, who had paid his own way through college and law school while living with his Yiddish-speaking dad and aunt.
In the end, I found a rigorous, rewarding college life of creative writing workshops, literature and teaching methods coursework, and student teaching.
Six years after graduating college, I went to grad school -- a solid, memorable, Ivy League experience.
Mixed into my formal education were other learning experiences: sports camp, where I sailed and skinny dipped; arts camp, where I sang in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas; two years as a Special Olympics student coach; a year in Israel, picking pomelos on a kibbutz and teaching high school English; family road trips; a three-year physical illness; professional positions at prestigious organizations like Encyclopaedia Britannica; and a suite of odd jobs, like selling minimally invasive surgical devices, working the register at a Christian book store, fitting models for bridal shows, teaching English at an Orthodox Jewish boys' school and aerobics at a group home, waitressing at Pizza Hut and an exclusive country club...
I work in the education industry. I keep up on national trends, participate in experiments with clients, and spend time discussing the purpose of education. I don't know which education reform strategies are working, and neither does anyone else. (If this comment offends because you have the key to education reform, please stop reading and give us the answer!) An initiative may keep a school from closing, a student from dropping out, a teacher from slacking off. But the student we're tracking -- where is he or she the following year, or in twenty years? More importantly, who is that student in twenty years? And which learning experiences are responsible?
I'm not like that guy in Slumdog Millionaire, who can trace what he knows to specific experiences. I'm not interested in that kind of pinpointing, but I am enjoying revisiting my educational experiences, analyzing the kind of student I was, and making connections to the person I am today.
I'd love to read who you were as a young student. How and when you grew into the student you are. Where you had a significant educational experience. How you make sense of your education path.
I think a collection of portraits of adults as young students will illuminate what it means to learn. Further, deconstructing our paths might tell us something about how and what we should be teaching in schools today. If we look backward, maybe we can move forward.
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