Monday, May 23, 2011

What Education is Supposed to Be About

It's getting to be that time of year when, whether you are student or teacher, homeschool or institutionalized school, we're all just ready for school to be over. ( Of course, most homeschoolers I know continue to homeschool over the summer as well, but usually in a more laid-back way, especially since most of the group classes, coops, and projects are suspended during the traditional school "summer vacation" period.)  It is not a season when most of us wax eloquently about the wonders of schools, especially these days when the end-of-the-year focus is so fixed on standardized tests and numerical quantifications of our students' performance.

So it was such a treat last night when, as I was reading Gary D. Schmidt's latest wonderful book, Okay For Now, when I came upon a beautiful passage that reminded me what education is really supposed to be about.

In this book, set in 1968, 8th grader Doug Swieteck (who also appeared in Schmidt's Newbery Honor award-winning book, The Wednesday Wars) is the sole transplant to a new junior high in a new town who is attending a pre-school orientation for new students.  Divided alphabetically, Swieteck is assigned to the principal's section, where he has to listen to rule after rule after rule of school regulations--being on time, boys keeping their hair short (1968, remember), girls keeping their skirts long, etc.  He acts up a bit and is excused to go to the bathroom.

On the way there, he overhears what the science teacher, Mr. Ferris, is tell the other group of incoming students.  Here is what Mr. Ferris tells them:

"Within a year, possibly by next fall," he was saying, "something that has never before been done, will be done.  NASA will be sending men to the moon.  Think of that.  Men who were once in classrooms like this one will leave their footprints on the lunar surface."  He paused.  I leaned in close against the wall so I could hear him.  "That is why you are sitting here tonight, and why you will be coming here in the months ahead.  You come to dream dream.  You come to build fantastic castles into the air.  And you come to learn how to build the foundations that make those castles real.  When the men who will command that mission were boys your age, no one knew that they would walk on another world someday.  No one knew.  But in a few months, that's what will happen.  So, twenty years from now, what will people say of you?  'No one knew then that this kid from Washington Irving Junior High School would grow up to do".....what?  What castle will you build?"

Thank you, Mr. Ferris, and thank you, Gary Schmidt, for reminding us all what it is that we teachers and students get to do together.

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