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What Is School For?

If you haven’t seen the video “What is School For?” that went viral after it was released on Youtube last Monday, please check it out.

My 12-year old son was the first to share it with me and he’s been quoting lines from it ever since.  The video resonated with him as it did the many people who have left comments. What struck me after watching the video is not the accuracy and eloquence of the message, but more that so many people believe our current K-12 education system squanders, instead of unleashes, diverse human potential and yet progress towards changing the system seems minimal. Why?

In full disclosure, Ted Dintersmith, the video’s producer, is my hero and his work with the documentary and book, Most Likely to Succeed, was the main reason I co-founded Pathways High. I believe Ted's intent has always been two-fold: 1) beat the drum about the need for change and 2) inspire and mobilize community members to change their schools (or start new ones) in order to create positive momentum and a tipping point.  I think the tipping point is possible, but only if the success stories in all communities go viral and put pressure on those reinforcing the status quo to change. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to complain and many of us enjoy complaining. The hard part is doing the work of change and then taking the time when you’re already exhausted to document the successes. But we must. We (everyone at Pathways High, other progressive schools and those in traditional schools who are trying new approaches to benefit students) have to do our part to tell the positive stories and lots of them and help them go viral. As they say, nothing succeeds like success.

Demonstrating success in the new model of education, one that is engaging, relevant, learner-centered and supports students in developing skills for their life now, not just their future requires different metrics than those used in our current system. We know that standardized test scores aren’t accurate predictors of success and, consequently, are no longer required by many colleges and universities for admission.  We can look to thought leaders in our past and present for more useful metrics. Today, an organization that is leading the effort to transform how U.S. high schools measure student achievement, is the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Performance as measured by portfolios of work is an essential component of an education model that mirrors the real world. When exhibition of student work is integral to a school, the successes will be evident. In the world outside of school we are judged by the quality and timeliness of our work. Why should school be different? What stories do you have about the real work your students are doing -- work that inspires others, work that benefits their school, neighborhood or global community? Make the effort to share these stories in any format you can so we can reach a tipping point.

Finally, a critical factor in reaching the tipping point more quickly is for the adults in students lives -- their caregivers, teachers and school leadership -- to take an honest look at their own mindsets. The majority of adults are products of a traditional education system and for many of us this system served us well. Change requires a conscious effort to step outside one’s comfort zone to think about how our own experiences create a limited lens through which to view school today. Understanding our own biases and broadening our perspective on school to include a place (both physical and virtual) for students to engage in solving problems that impact them and their community is essential.

I’m excited to share the perspectives of two Pathways High teachers, Angelique Byrne and Megan Goers, who have developed and continue to develop multidisciplinary seminars based on this broader perspective of school. I hope you enjoy the podcast interview of Angelique and Megan by Joe Scanlin, Founder and CEO of Scanalytics, about the teachers experience at MIT’s NuVu Innovation Lab. 

Special shoutout to Pathways High student Sophia McLees who edited this podcast.


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