A Purposeful Education
I enjoyed both Jason’s and William’s takes on the cruelty of high school (of course, any grade can be a cruel one – my fifth grade in Catholic school in Canada was fairly cruel, and middle school was worse than high school by far).
I think William stumbles on a very important component of a good school experience; namely, that we need a sense of purpose there if it is to be a human experience at all. If I could remake high school entirely, it would be along those lines. I was in theatre in high school, involved in a play either as an actor or director every single semester of high school except the first. These were after school plays, and we were involved in rehearsal, set design, and other preparations pretty much every afternoon and many weekends. When we weren’t doing a play for school, we would take on our own projects. We filmed a documentary on the side. Two of my friends and I rehearsed and put on The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) completely on our own, for no reason other than because it was fun, a challenge. We wrote plays and performed them.
(Later, in college, I convinced my Shakespeare Literature class to write and perform a musical version of Hamlet to be performed alongside Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which, incidentally, runs a striking parallel to that play, actually – in place of the class final. On the day of the final we informed our professor that we would not be taking the test, but would instead put on said play. It was a gamble which, astonishingly, worked…)
In other words, the busier we were doing something creative and purposeful for the school-sanctioned after school theatre program, the busier we kept ourselves when the regular plays were not running. And this filtered down into every other aspect of my school experience. I worked harder in history class and trig because I had something else in school that was important to me. None of this would have happened if we went to high school a few short years later, when the funding for theatre was pulled entirely.
Looking back on it all, I can honestly say that my high school experience was quite wonderful, but I really can’t imagine where an alternative experience devoid of these moments and challenges would have left me. Honestly, there was very little else to propel me through those years, and when high school drew to a close, and college loomed like some vast, dreadful obligation, I very nearly disintegrated. That’s another tale altogether, for another time. Suffice to say, my first forays into higher education ended painfully and I stumbled through life for a while, aimless, purposeless – searching, I think, for that sense of community, camaraderie, and purpose that I had once had and then lost.
Finding a sense of purpose again has been one of my great struggles, actually, but I think it helps enormously to have been involved in something like theatre, something that gives me a marker of what a purposeful existence should feel like. Without it, I’m not sure where I’d be now. And I worry that our endless quest to make education better, to foist standardized tests and endless evaluations on our students and teachers, will crowd out these far more important things from the lives of our youth. That our children will go to school simply to learn.