To My Education,
My first memory of education didn’t occur in a traditional, formal sense of the word, like school. Instead, for me, it came about in a defiant act of rebellion against a far too early bedtime. Education for me, came in the form of hiding under the covers with a headlamp strapped to my head, determined to finish the final chapter in “Tuck Everlasting”, or to find out if the Ingalls family survived the harsh winter in “Little House on the Prairie “. Reading was my first teacher, and the amazing thing was that I had complete control over it. I choose to continue reading after my bedtime; I choose which books to read, and I made the decision to continue reading after school, when it wasn’t enforced. I had this enthusiasm to learn and discover that wasn’t yet tainted by the education system.
From first to eighth grade, I attended a Montessori based charter school, The River Valley Charter School. A Montessori school is usually differentiated from other schools because of its emphasis on respecting a student’s natural development. So, that development could be social, physical or academic, it is all about starting where the individual student is, and building up. To give you an idea of the environment of this school, there is a lot of crisscross-applesauce, we wear slippers instead of shoes, and the walls are painted bright, friendly colors. We learn math with hands-on methods, and we are pushed to eat lunch with new people each day to learn social skills. My classes got up to 24 students, and each classroom had three teachers at least, so one-on-ones were frequent and almost necessary to follow through with this type of education. My peers and I had individual learning plans, so my education started where I was. If I hadn’t fully grasped long division, I had one-on-one time with teachers until I was 100% ready. Being wrong didn’t mean failure; it meant you learned the material in a different way until you fully understood it. You couldn’t fail, because there wasn’t one type of success. Between the ages of 7 to 14, I was more motivated to learn than any other time in my life. I learned as much from my peers and self-motivated work as I did from the work my teachers provided. And reading became my teacher outside of school.
Traditionally at the River Valley Charter School, the 8th graders give a presentation right before they graduate. It is called a COL, Celebration of Learning. It is a unique opportunity to take a moment and look back at my past 14 years, and pick out the moments of learning that I felt had greatly influenced me. Whether the learning happened in school or at home, it allowed me to look at my education with a critical eye, and really look at why certain moments had stood out more than others. But when I became a 9th grader at Newburyport Public High School, I no longer had the option of picking and choosing what worked for me. I was now part of a larger group, with one form of success, and a format that I no longer fit into.
In “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire describes a type of teaching that he calls the “banking method”. It is far too easy to relate this method of teaching to my high school education, a place where teachers know everything and students know nothing, and a system where the students who fit in and don’t question the system succeeded. It is where knowledge is given only to those who already posses a certain level of knowledge. High school was nothing like my Montessori education, the walls of my new school were all painted similar shades of white, shoes were a necessity, and it didn’t matter who we sat with at lunch, but it usually was the same people. In high school, there were rows of desks, and still only 24 students to a class, but now with one teacher instead of three. I no longer had that one-on-one time with my teachers, and being wrong meant you weren’t as smart. And if you weren’t as smart, than you couldn’t succeed, and if you didn’t fit into this system, you failed. I came into this system with the wrong mindset, or rather a mindset that would fail because of this “banking method” that was in place. I was scared to ask my teachers for help, worrying that I would say something st
It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I felt like I finally had complete control over my education. I could attend university, and I could choose a small school or a big school, a liberal arts school or a more focused program. Or, I could take complete and total control and take a gap year. It felt like a big deal for me to choose to spend a year traveling around the world instead of taking the traditional approach to education. But I guess I’ve just never been a fan of the traditional approach to education. I feel now like I really do have control. I have been taught how to question and how to say no to what I don’t agree with. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had gone straight from high school to university. I guess I would have had to find a way to succeed in a system that would have been far too easy for me to fail in. So I guess, Education, I am writing a letter to you to thank you for allowing me to see you in so many different lights. I was very lucky to have been able to experience education in such opposite extremes. For me to able to take a year off and study around the world was an immense privilege. I am excited to return in the spring and to continue learning, but I now feel like I can learn without the traditional education system in place. I can return to my original idea of education, but maybe this time I don’t need to hide under a blanket with a headlamp.