Though many of my students have expressed their appreciation for less stress in the P-180 classroom, it is not an environment without pressure. It’s just different pressure. In a traditional classroom setting, pressure generally exists in the form of compliance, often manifesting itself in the form of consequences for non-compliance, which frequently, then, becomes the basis for a grade, thus the ensuing stress. I see it in my class everyday in both overt and covert expressions of stress.
Overtly, the kids tell me directly or I overhear their out-loud stories of stress. Covertly, they–against my better wishes and policies–try to sneakily get their homework from other classes done during mine. One young man attempts this every day. Every day, despite our near-daily disputes over it, he attempts to do his math homework. I don’t believe that he is doing it out of spite or disrespect; he is doing it out of necessity. He has to get it done, so he tries, even at the risk of creating conflict in my class. I try not to take it personally; my class just happens to come the period before his math class. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. Stress makes us do crazy things. Even cheat. Copying is another covert operation that kids try to get away with. Of course copying is nothing new. It’s a practice as old as the tradition of a compliance-based classroom. I, too, under pressure back in the day, on occasion, borrowed someone’s homework. It was survival.
And so, it makes me wonder, then. Is that what the traditional approach perpetuates? Survive? Is that what it’s about? Can’t we have a more noble goal for our kids? Is a perpetual state of stress really best for them in the short or the long term? Are we really creating environments where kids can grow? If they only strive to survive, will they ever thrive? The bet in the traditional classroom seems to suggest that we teach them to survive now so they can thrive later. I wonder if it really plays out like that? This is a wonder I have had for a long time, so I placed my own bet, challenged conventional wisdom, and attempted to create a culture where thriving, not surviving, was the goal. And though the odds are certainly against me, I went all in–no folding or filching now.
As I mentioned above, there is no lack of pressure in the 180 classroom. It just presents itself differently. At the center of the 180 classroom are freedom, ownership, and responsibility. But these ideals come at a cost. They require commitment. To oneself. In truth, it may be that compliance and commitment are only separated by a thin line, and maybe in the end, it’s only semantics that separate the two. But I believe there is a difference, even if it is subtle. Compliance in the classroom is students doing for the teacher. Commitment in the classroom is students doing for themselves. And that I believe is the necessary, albeit hard to achieve, difference in the 180 classroom, the difference that creates a do-to-thrive instead of a do-to-survive environment. But this does not happen overnight. It is, as the image above suggests, a climb. It does not come easily and it does not come cheaply. It is no easy climb. But it is a climb worth making. And this is a lot of pressure to put on kids. But is it any less pressure than that created in a traditional classroom? I don’t know, but my heart tells me the kids can make the climb.
I said I would spare the details from last week’s contentious conference, and for the most part I will, but one comment in particular stuck with me, and I have been turning it over for days. Among a litany of complaints, I was accused of putting too much pressure on 15 year-olds by making them take responsibility and ownership of their learning, and as such I was setting them up for failure. And that if I cared about kids, I would return to a traditional approach because that is how kids learn. They are not mature enough to take on such responsibilities. I don’t believe that. In my heart, I don’t believe that. I think there is wisdom to be found at the top of the ladder. I think there is benefit for our society when our citizenry reaches the top rung. I think it is shared wisdom among adults who finally find their purpose and passion in life. But why does that have to happen late? Why cannot it not happen early? I believe it can. I do not want my kids to simply get along with life. I want them to engage life. I want them to find the flow. But they have to commit. I can only show them the river. They have to find the courage to make the jump. Yes, that’s pressure, but I believe they can swim. They just have to believe it.
Happy Monday, all.