Jacob Pactor, ’04
High schools are the McDonald’s restaurants of the education system. Ubiquitous and nearly monolithic, high schools are, as John Updike explained, “where you go between when your parents can’t take you and industry can’t take you.” Not caring for the offered value meal, parents and others created private schools: think more upscale (Applebees $9.99 meals) or specific (Hardee’s thickburgers). Still unhappy with perpetual boring hamburgers, parents and businesses created charter schools. Those schools—for the most part, but certainly in Marion County where I teach—still serve boring hamburgers, but their burgers might be cooked for an extended time or customers might receive a friendlier smile or orders can be placed online.
No matter the dining experience, it’s still a burger on a bun or a pre-made salad from a bag.
The critical issue with education is not too much testing or teaching to the test. It neither is Common Core State Standards nor politically-motivated teacher evaluations. And it certainly is not misbegotten budgets or teacher salaries. We have too many McDonald’s restaurants; that’s the problem.
We should untether schools from their ten-foot chains. We should free them to teach students to become engaged citizens, intelligent consumers, and critical thinkers.
Imagine a high school where geometry students practice their crafts via experiences in interior design, architecture, and neighborhood planning. Imagine a high school where government exists not in a 400-page textbook, but in interviewing elected officials, participating in city council meetings, and serving on the local school board. Imagine a high school where an English class sharpens its skills by creating marketing materials for local nonprofits or a psychology class that tracks behaviors at a local museum or sporting event and then develops and offers an improvement plan.
High schools cannot be interested in marketing how many students they’ve served. High schools must send forward graduates eager to explore the world they will one day lead.
That’s the beauty of learning, practicing, and deciphering how to teach in the Education Studies Department at Wabash College. Students immerse themselves in the practice of teaching (I spent 180 hours in classrooms before I ever student taught), in the implementation of pedagogy, and in the conversations of improving our classrooms, schools, and communities for the real challenges of educating all students for the 21st Century.
***** Jacob Pactor ‘04 teaches English at Speedway High School in Speedway, Indiana. He also is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. He can reached at email@example.com