By Hipolito Navarrete, Managing Editor/Publisher
“Have a sit quietly, open your books and read the next several pages. Any one has any questions? Please raise your hands and do not talk out of turn.” This is what our children hear every day when they go to class. This may seem like an opening salvo to our schools, but its not. Go ahead and gather 30 children from the ages of 5 years old or 18 year olds in a room and try to teach them anything. If you are not properly prepared, this will be a momentous task. With the new project based learning initiatives as one of the foundation of the Common Core, http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/, the challenge is in slowly giving the students back a small amount of control over their day and allowing the teacher to really delve deeper into knowledge so that the child/young adult can really begin to get a deeper and richer understanding of the subjects that seem to be necessary for their success in life. For teachers and districts, this is the reality, opinions are not law.
Losing control is one of the most fearful challenges classroom teachers face. Having the kids doing something outside of their desks and the teacher not being the expert is terribly intimidating, especially because teachers are still being held accountable. One of the most difficult “experiments” I execute, is taking the students out of the classroom for the first time. They respond as any child who finally experiences a new sense of freedom. The wander off, they can’t stop talking and since their main experience outside of the classroom during instruction time is to go to the bathroom, suddenly being outside in the playground, they play. They run around, their emotions overwhelm them. This happens every time, in every school where I teach film. To an administrator it looks like we are trying to herd cats, to someone that looks deeper, they realize that we are leading cats. We are using the curiosity and the desire of these young filmmakers to create and complete a project they have designed. It is so difficult to explain that to folks that feel that youth, especially youth of color, are not prepared for the roughness and the responsibilities of the “real world.”
Considering that some of these youth are surviving based on their own willingness to challenge rough situations and love learning, it is difficult to believe that adults still do not have confidence in their skills and work ethic. They have off days, just like adults, but adults are less forgiving, probably because we see ourselves in them. We need to have them see themselves in us, and believe that they can feel safe to fail because we are there to guide them through these challenges. It takes very special teachers to understand and respect those lives that are under their charge. We must teach our students to be persistent, to be mentally strong, to keep on trying; to develop grit.
When the children feel that exhilarating feeling of freedom, they also feel the overwhelming sense of purpose. With time, and through repeated ventures, they then generally start becoming self-guided and self monitored. However, most folks will focus on the one child or young adult who just is not able to embrace the new found responsibility this freedom comes with.
We are in a world that is being experienced very differently by the youth than by the adults. The chasm that has been created because of the lack of time and resources in many communities, especially poor communities, needs to be addressed by transferring control to the youth. We can not become more obsessed in handing over control to adults but transfer it to an environment where trust of others, and especially trust on self must be engendered, fostered and experienced. Telling students what to do without experiential guidance, will continue to create the environment of fear, and it is just not working. School is for learning and only fostering of self governance skills, is going to give youth, especially those that come from low income areas, a fighting chance in an economy that is less friendly to workers and needs creators. We teach them motivation by giving them a space to fail and giving them the ability to recuperate. Most of us learn perseverance by failing and overcoming.