I don’t know how to help you. I know what you need but I don’t know how to get it for you. You’re an artist. You see the world through a cartoon lens. While I talk, you draw crazy creatures. You should be in an art class, all day, every day. Instead you are slotted here to study what you’re not interested in.
Next to you sits your friend who loves to dance. She skips class often, finding it unbearable to sit for long hours each day. I don’t know how to help her either. I wish I could have her submit a dance instead of an essay on what it means to be Canadian.
Every now and then I find a fissure within the restrictions of the curriculum into which I can slip assignments that allow you to creatively show what you know. But those fissures are few and far between, crowded out by what has to be done to prepare you for the mandatory government exam.
I know that you want to learn. I know you want to think about more than what’s in the textbook. I know you want to be able to create the things that roam around in your imagination.
I know you are numbed by the mediocrity of daily routines in the classroom.
I would love more than anything to be able to completely change them for you. To redraw the boundaries, or perhaps to erase them.
But it doesn’t matter how innovative I can be with what I teach, we are both still caught in a system that resists transformation. Its very structure stifles.
The San Diego zoo is the most innovative in the world, recreating natural habits for the animals, but it is still a zoo. There are still walls that restrict and confine. No matter how innovative teachers are in classrooms, for as long as you are examined and tested and age-batched, nothing has really changed.
If I could design your learning experiences, I’d have you spending time with all kinds of artists, shadowing them through their day, helping when you can. I’d have you teaching younger children what you know. I’d have you sharing what you know with other students, with parents, with your community. And every now and then I’d have you tell me what you’ve learned about yourself through all that you did so that together we could plan what you should do next.
You once asked me why teachers asked so many questions, why you had to answer so many textbook questions. I used to have an answer for that. I used to say that you needed to know the answers so that you could be an informed citizen, understanding why things are the way they are today.
But I realized that that is impossible. How are you supposed to memorize all that has happened in the past, from all the different points of view that are witness to today’s news? Your brain is simply not designed to do that. If you wanted to understand anything at all happening in the world today, there are a myriad ways you could find out. A few swipes on the device in your pocket can take you anywhere that human knowledge is.
So my answer to your question is that I don’t know why you are asked so many questions. I don’t know why teachers ask you questions whose answers they already know.
What I do know is that you’re going to have to know the stuff we adults don’t know: how to live in a world of climate change; how to have an economy that does not destroy the environment; how to make a living in a way that feeds your soul; how to find love, and how to find where you belong.
You certainly don’t belong here, sitting in classrooms for six hours each day, desperately trying to feign interest in what a teacher is saying.
Where you do belong is in a school that is more like a library, a place you would go to exchange information with others, a place of conversation and connection, a place where teachers are like midwives, supporting students to become who they are meant to be, helping them to find their place in the world.
Just as you turn those images in your mind into pictures on a page, I wish I could transform my ideas of what schools should be into reality.
I wish I could draw the way you do.