While our education system is still learning how to be versatile and adaptive to multiple intelligences and modes of learning, still the overall curricular structure is designed with abstract, academic knowledge in mind. I was a really good student in high school, but never really loved or even liked science. Why? All the fragments of knowledge we learned never quite added up to a whole world view. I believe, like the UK scientist Rupert Sheldrake, that science should be taught in community. We should be testing our water and checking our soil, and getting high school and junior high or middle school students out of the classroom and into the community doing science is a great way to teach applied science, but on a deeper level it is teaching civics and respect for being a part of something bigger than the individual or her/his household.
As a school trustee, I believe there is a lot of work to be done as a liaison between schools/teachers and community. We can set up cooperative structures that benefit student, school and community at once. How?
Gardening on School Grounds
For one thing, students need to learn more with their hands. Younger students can be taught to be stewards of the Earth. They can become the school composters, learning that life is based in decay, and that the cycle of Life can be supported with their help. Decomposition can teach so many curricular outcomes in biology all through the act of composting. But why stop at composting? Students will want to know that the fixing of all that N (nitrogen) is the creation of a potent addition to soil, the basis of organic gardening and agriculture.
So many teachers and administrators I have spoken with have said that when they start a garden or compost, the problem is that in summer they get abandoned. News flash: surrounding each school is the existing community that can play a roll in maintaining gardens throughout summer and sharing in the harvest late summer / early autumn.
In my previous post I discussed food security. The basis of food security is seeing the whole nutrient cycle in action, from compost until a ripe tomato which can be seen, smelled, eaten, tasted. Community gardens hosted by schools creates such an opportunity. At the same time, during clearly demarcated hours like after 6pm and on weekends and in summer, what was school space can become communal space. The most talented, creative and communicative gardeners in the community can be asked to present to students on their techniques and to share in the practice of ecological, local food production.
And when the schools sit empty late into the weeknight evenings in fall, what better time than to hold pickling and canning workshops for students and community members alike to learn old, often-forgotten skills we will need to survive if we wish to endure a carbon tax and get beyond carbon-intensive food transportation in the name of preserving a climate balance on Earth. But nothing is as rewarding for a child to bite into a tomato that not only she grew but that she helped grow from ‘scratch’ through composting.
And High School Students???
We all know some secondary students alienated from the communities and societies in which they are embedded, not to mention the ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. For some, this sense of being ‘left out’ or ‘not belonging’ can become quite dangerous and for extreme cases can persist for the whole of one’s life.
Not all students can score great at academics then go on to university, and even many of those who do go to university do not have clear goals or pathways in life.
It is time we help students focus by developing their skills through community-based cooperative opportunities. Whether as apprentices, or interns, job-shadowing or training, teaching meaingful hands-on skills can have two important effects:
i) students leave high school with some experience on their resumes. Those who don’t go to university may often, without practical skills, end up in minimum wage jobs. Some do not leave, at least not for many years, all the while losing meaning and feeling increasingly helpless, depressed and alienated from society, especially seeing some of their friends succeed with their higher education. Some turn to drugs, or live with their parents well beyond age 30. This trend is unhealthy and opposite of the best practices of human development;
ii) students, feeling proud to spend a day a week in the community, leave high school with a renewed sense of belonging. Let’s get grade 11 students into the community – embedded within non-profit organization small businesses, job shadowing public workers, and picking up tangible skills that are transferable to their next career choices. By feeling part of the community, they are empowered as citizens, develop confidence as part of the work force, and generally can move beyond the minimum wage work in which so many get stuck, often curtailing their human development.
We need to invest in our youths and send them a message that they are not only the future of our society, that they are the present. They belong to the broader society and the community is theirs in trust.
As a school trustee, I would aim to bring forward a progressive policy for skills training and experience that builds upon the creative work already begun to give students meaningful learning experiences beyond the classroom walls. We will recognize that a dynamic school division is one that works with all students’ strengths instead of applying a singular model to how they are educated and who and what they will become.