Dear Community Member:
Here are three comments I have heard lately:
“Our expectations are higher than ever.” – Red Hook Teacher
“Kids are stressed out. What are we doing to them?” – PTSA Member
“You shouldn’t force me to take a lunch just because I choose to challenge myself.” – Red Hook High School Student
There is a lot to think about in these statements. I'd like to share some of my responses to these very real and reasonable comments.
I have yet to find anyone who disagrees with the idea that high expectations are good. The disagreement comes in the application of a single standard to a diverse group of learners. It becomes more muddled with the realization that learning is not linear and that it is impacted by a myriad of variables outside of the control of the school. By way of extreme example, to expect a severely learning disabled student to meet the same standard as a non-disabled peer is ludicrous. We should celebrate achieving the highest possible outcome for each individual student. Admittedly, the danger in this approach is that we aim too low and never realize what can be for a student. I view it as the professional educator's responsibility to work with parents to set the highest possible standard for each child.
Many kids ARE stressed out. So are parents. So are teachers. So are administrators. This search for competitive advantage is a cultural creature that our society is going to have to grapple with. I recently read a book called Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz that addresses what he believes is the move away from real education and toward credentialism. While I don’t agree with everything Mr. Deresiewicz writes, I do worry that we have lost something with this resume-building mentality that pervades secondary and post-secondary education. It's time for a larger conversation about this.
Lunch is over-rated. (I am kidding.) The fact that many students choose not to take a lunch in favor of advanced course-work is a classic collision of free choice, scheduling constraints, and our district values. I wish there was an easy solution, but I am reminded of one student who recently told me that he wouldn’t take a lunch even if we forced it upon him. Instead, he would use the time to study and reduce the overall anxiety he feels about completing his homework. It sounds eminently reasonable, doesn’t it?
My personal opinion is that we need to educate everyone about the health benefits of a little down time. There ARE long-term cognitive and social consequences associated with being unable to relax (and laugh!). It is a balancing act. We want students to look back at their high school experience and say they struck the right balance between pursuing academics and making memories with friends.
Just a few things to think about...
Paul Finch, Superintendent