Tween Hunger

Our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

I’m working virtually as a middle grade teacher these days. Teachers and students alike are expected to perform their respective roles as per pre-COVID protocol: showing up for class on time, paying attention, staying engaged, testing…testing…testing.

There is no doubt that we are all craving a return to normal, but when it comes to our educational system, do we really want to maintain the academic world we left in March of 2020? The bell ringing-standardized-test-taking-one-size-fits-all-remnant of the Industrial Revolution American educational system is past its expiration date and in need of a reboot.

Today’s educational system was literally designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober.” (Source: Quartz, Reporter: Allison Schrager). Before that, an education was considered only something reserved for the elite. And while two-hundred years ago, the factory-model of education may have served its purpose, in our 21st century, the same system that helped future factory workers learn punctuality and obedience in order to do what their managers told them, no longer works for our post-industrial era.

The pandemic highlights the cracks and fissures in our educational system. American education is a sinking ship and we are sending our children on a veritable Titanic, stopping up the ever-growing gaping holes with standardized tests. If we were sinking before COVID, our educational system is already on its way to full submersion. 

As an English teacher, I have the fortune of connecting to the tweens I work with through creative writing and open discussions regarding their respective connection to texts we read. This past week alone, the following comments, whether in writing or articulated verbally, were shared with me:

“I’m so stressed.”

“I’m having a mini heart attack.” (regarding testing/assignments)

“I am so insecure. I struggle with that.”

“My uncle died of COVID this summer. It’s been really hard.”

Here’s the crux of the problem, as I see it, with education: We are steaming ahead with a system that has not changed yet society has DRASTICALLY changed. We wouldn’t treat a diabetic with asthma medication, but that is exactly what we are doing to our children.

Our students are hungry for engagement, compassion, and challenges that help them grow academically, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But such growth is hard to come by when it is based in a world that relies on a battery of tests, when the educators which comprise this nucleus are bombarded with a barrage of to-do’s that are all about politics; veritable academic dog-and-pony shows that leave little time to actually engage in authentic student assessment and lesson planning. 

If you are a parent, give your child a much-needed hug; pay attention to what they are saying, how they are behaving. Based on these first six weeks of school with them and almost a decade of time in the classroom, I see that our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

What is the solution? Elon Musk created the Astra Nova (New Star, in Latin) School that focuses on learning “simulations, case studies, fabrication and design projects, labs, and corporate collaboration….We redesign each year based on our students. We apply the lessons learned from every project, lab, and discussion to inform our next move.” (Interesting Engineering Source: Oleksandr Pupko)

Redesign…that’s the key word that is missing from our current system. We need to rethink, reflect, and redesign the antiquated world of education like Elon Musk has and does. 

In the meantime, I will continue to carve out lessons that inspire our students, reminding them that they matter, feeding their hunger to make a difference. To educators everywhere, I thank you. 

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