"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." - Joseph Campbell
Like many parents with children approaching a school transition (middle school for our son), I've been wrestling a lot with both the specific school options we have available to us, as well as the more philosophical question of what I think is the ideal educational environment. I didn't love school growing up. I was a kid who did well enough to never raise a flag, and I would excel in any class that truly caught my interest. I'm sure there were comments from teachers about how much better I could be doing if I applied myself more, but I attended a large public school, and clearly they had bigger concerns than me not meeting my full potential. Somehow I managed to get into great schools for college and grad school, but I was never a straight-A student, though that was largely my group of friends. I always felt guilty that I didn't jump through all of the hoops that I was supposed to. I do sometimes wish I'd been able to connect the short-term mundane with the longer-term opportunities, but I think in some ways my inability to do that was the result of so many years of feeling a disconnection from the relevance and the lack of magic that I experienced in much of traditional education. I was then who I am now, in the sense of having a hard time performing for the sake of external approval or the gold star, but an easy time excelling when I saw meaning and relevance in the work or when I was working in line with my passions.
When I was in the working world, I was lucky enough to be doing work I found meaningful that was aligned with my passions and for that reason was able to perform at a high level. I do realize now that it can be important to do the mundane or less passion-filled work because sometimes it does serve a larger purpose (and sometimes just needs to get done). But what I really want for my son is an education experience filled with passion and meaning (or at least clarity of how the mundane connects with a larger meaning and purpose). He does well in school and while he seems far more capable than I was of having a desire to do the required, he also questions things in a way that reminds me of myself.
And so in some ways I suppose I'm looking for the education for him that I wish I'd had - a place to become more himself, to explore and discover his passions, to follow his curiosities and interests where they take him, and to be challenged and encounter struggles in these explorations. As much as I always felt unable to conform to expectations, I also resented the burden of those that stopped me from feeling okay with my way of being, of who I was, since I felt so out of sync with expectations. Reading a dear friend's blog about her own experience with this has made me aware that both people who do jump through all of the hoops (her) and those who didn't (me) can be left with a deep sense of disconnection from who they truly are after so many years of being asked to conform.
I'm lucky enough to be connected with a fair number of people who are deeply involved in the world of education and through them and my own research I've discovered so much exciting innovation happening in education. But I'm also left with the unsettling certainty that moving the ship of education is so much harder than upending other traditional industries as so many technology companies have done over the past 15 or so years. I also struggle with the awareness that my hopes for my son’s education are not fully aligned in many ways with the changes I see being adopted and lauded by more mainstream education.
It's easy to look at our country's test scores and freak out. I know that's my first reaction. It seems that the response to that is to create more aggressive, but still traditional academic institutions that seem to adhere to a do more faster philosophy. I look at a charter system like BASIS - that achieves consistently high test scores, and while impressed with how they've addressed some aspects of learning, I also wonder about what is lost in this pursuit of traditional achievement and our hyper focus on what is quanitifable. While my child is very strong in math and I want him to be challenged and have opportunities to take that as far as he's able and interested, I also struggle with the idea of programs that seem so hell bent on a pedal-to-the-metal approach to see how fast kids can get through content or how many AP tests they can take. I can't help but pull back with a sense of "at what cost?"
As I've researched different innovative education approaches, I came across a website of a school in Texas that spoke of their dedication to inspire each child to see life as a Hero's Journey. As a Joseph Campbell fan, this terminology immediately spoke to me. While I don’t think there is only one right approach or perfect solution to the problems in education, the idea of each child being on a Hero’s Journey so completely captured my hopes for our son's education, and so encapsulated what I wish every child could experience. The thought of him spending so much time in school on a set and narrow path full of hoops to jump through and pre-defined boxes to check breaks my heart. I want him to be filled with hopes and dreams and have space for curiosity and wonder. I want him to be a thoughtful, creative and critical thinker because that is what's going to allow him to truly create positive change in the world. My son wrote an application essay about how he wants to be a thermonuclear astrophysicist and make the world a better place. The former amused but did not surprise me - coming from a 10 year old who has long had a deep interest in all things space-related - though he has yet to set foot in a physics class, but it warmed my heart to see the latter, and I want him in an environment that will encourage and support him in his quest for both goals.