Learning to teach in the alternative school system challenged me to listen and design with the learner at the center of our design decisions. We were still mandated to use state standards, yet we used project based learning, collaboration and creative pathways for expression and exploration of concepts, ideas and information. Our curriculum was designed based on community and social justices issues and also provided spaces for youth to participate in the curriculum design process.
Many of the young people that came to an alternative school were critical thinkers, and they were hungry for meaning in an increasingly chaotic world.
Today, youth are becoming adults in a very uncertain time in history. There are no clear pathways, or guarantees and schools can no longer hold on to the attention of the young mind with promises that an education will lead to the attainment of some mythologized “American Dream.” Like in the alternative schools, educators must provide a space for young people to find meaning in their world. Schools must become a place for us to be human beings. Leveraging our curiosities and challenging our views in connection with others is the best argument for preserving civilization.
Yet far too many times, schools and teachers loose the attention of the adolescent mind because what we have to teach them is perceived to have no value. For the student that must work to pay rent and put food on the table, it is hard to make a strong case for going to school.
And of course, economically we need relevant education in our schools. See the Chicago Tonight report on how youth who dropout of school costs both individuals and society.