My fourteen year old son is in those middle years of high school. He’s a smart kid but he’s not an academic. For him school is more about endurance than excitement. School’s over for the year. We haven’t got his report yet but he tells us he got average results. My wife and I know he can do better. So does he but average is good enough for him, especially considering what he has to endure.
He’s recently developed an interest in spear fishing. Hasn’t done it yet as he needed to do a ‘free diving’ course first (free diving = diving without scuba gear). So that’s where he’s been the past three days.
Suddenly he’s an information sponge. It turns out free diving is surprisingly intense and complex. It requires discipline, focus, concentration, trust, courage, respect, understanding of the sea and a reasonable understanding of how the body works. He’s learned more about biology in the past three days than in the past three years. He’s learned about pain management, the power of the mind and the importance of maintaining a healthy body. He’s talking about taking up yoga so he can be in peak form for diving.
Ask him to describe what happens to the lungs as you go deep and the answer flows like he’s the teacher. Out come the pen and paper. Diagrams are drawn. Concepts are explained. This kid is really taking things in. That’s my boy!
Ask him what to do if your diving buddy is in trouble. Bam – he rattles off the drill with military precision, throwing in a couple of moves for visual effect. That’s my boy!
He’s showed such commitment to the task that the diving instructor has offered extra lessons and diving experiences in exchange for chores at the dive centre. That’s my boy!
It’s a joy to see him come alive like this. It makes the average results at school seem irrelevant and unimportant.
It’s a nice follow up to a speech his Principal gave the week before at a ceremony for his older sister’s year. The Principal said the students he remembers most are not those that achieve the highest results, but those who discovered and lived their passion in their school years.
If only they were the rule rather than the exception. I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to fixing the education system – some might say it works fine as it is – but the one size fits all strategy doesn’t seem to work. Something needs to shift.
It’s worth asking the question, what needs to change so kids can make the connection between learning and what interests them? How many kids are switched off because they haven’t connected ‘life’ with school? Sports high schools and performing arts high schools are a step in the right direction but what else can be done to meet the needs of kids that don’t fit those molds?
Maybe the middle years of high school could be more about experiences and experimentation, giving the kids an opportunity to test things out. Spending time on farms and in factories. Enjoying the company of artists and entrepreneurs. Doing service work for those less fortunate. Maybe even have a taste of the military. Less desk time and more time out in the field.
It sounds expensive. It sounds complicated. It also sounds exciting, potentially productive and could possibly give these kids an edge in their senior high school years they might not otherwise have. Could even be fun for the teachers.
My son may or may not sustain his interest in free diving and spear fishing – only time will tell. Either way, he’s had a reminder that we all have an inherent yearning for learning. If we can meet him halfway, adapt our approach and allow him more of these opportunities in the coming years, he could well be one of those kids that the Principal remembers long after he’s left the school. More importantly, he himself will have fond memories of his teenage schooling years as being fun, exciting and full of rich and deep learning experiences. What more could anyone ask for?