Some of the most brilliant, creative people I know did not do well at school. Many of them didn’t really discover what they could do–and who they really were–until they’d left school and recovered from their education.
Sir Ken Robinson in The Element
I am doing my Masters in Education at the moment. Specifically, I’m on campus at University of British Columbia Okanagan taking two courses, each three hours a day, for three extremely intensive and exhausting weeks. As I write, I am exactly half way through my degree. In another week and a half I will have completed 6 of 9 courses. I am presently trying to determine what I will do for a project to reflect the research I do around my question which explores passion-based learning and teaching in a high school.
I come to this research because since I have fulfilled my passions as an author and poet, it has completely changed the way I teach. I am happier. I believe my students are happier because of it. I suspect they learn better because I bring my outside passions (as a writer) into my class room.
Unlike the people Robinson knew, I did do well in school, in the classes I loved like English, History, and Choral, at least. I didn’t do as well in math and sciences. I knew I wanted to be a writer even back in high school. I was in the yearbook (publishing a book each year!), newspaper (publishing a column each month!), as well as musical theatre (applause!). Back then, all three of those were extra-curricular activities. How great would it have been to have been earning English and art credits for all that learning? Our kids today do.
I was so jealous of Sue Hinton who’d written The Outsiders while she was in grade eleven! Consider: she failed English that year. What a travesty! Next year, I have 2 students who are planning to do Independent Directed Studies writing novels (or perhaps novellas) for credit. Sue Hinton would have loved English in my school.
I may have known my passion, but I didn’t leap in and start (well, finish) writing that novel in my head until 25 years after leaving high school. That’s a long time to have a fire smoored, awaiting the flash of flame and burning of achievement!
How about you? What’s your passion? Is it smoored or burning? Did formal school help or hinder development of your passion?
For me as a kid going to high school in the ’70s, the system would have smothered me but I resisted it fiercely. In those days that meant expulsion from school. The model was still very much a kind of British lower class school run by ex-military types even though we were in the backwoods of BC, in Canada.
But a friend put me onto a new alternative school called Aspire that was happening in Nelson (this is about 1975). No desks in rows, no angry, pacing teacher waiting to pounce—literally or figuratively. Two teachers full-time for about 15 kids.
We were the spectrum—from those bored with the system but still able to get high marks barely trying, to the slow ones, to some with various handicaps. Sometimes it was just a repository for kids who’d been in trouble and they didn’t know what to do with. Poor bewildered souls, many of them. But basically good kids.
My teacher at Aspire, Perry Long, was a bit of a beatnik himself, and was a drama major at university and an actor. Plus he loved poetry, and by reciting Dylan Thomas to me blew my 15-year-old mind. I fell in love with poetry instantly. When we did Shakespeare, he would get up and act out the whole scene from memory. Another mind-blower.
It literally reclaimed my desire to learn. Had this not happened, it’s unlikely I’d have become an author and poet. Aspire allowed me to take the reins, set my own pace, and to some extent even design my curriculum. (We still had to pass certain standard tests to get our grades.) Once I knew the remote was in my hands, all resistance melted and I took off like a rocket. I’ve never looked back 40 years later. On average I probably read 30 books a year. If not a natural autodidact, I’ve learned the skill by developing a focused attention on what I read so that my retention rate is very high. If you want to write, first read, read, read. Know your craft.
So, for me at least, without an alternative path to high school, and some extent to the rest of my lifelong learning, I’d probably have given up. Instead I live a rich intellectual life, constantly spilling over with ideas and in some cases last least, finding venues to publish my writing. As Shawn says, that’s a very fulfilling thing. Writing with or without some external grade of “success” is nourishing to the soul. In this world, that’s rare and precious.
That program sounds like it shares the spirit with what we do. I was at a lecture here at UNBCO yesterday with Nel Noddings, professor emerita from Stanford, who writes about caring and nurturing in schools. She said in the 60s they had a flowering of these notions, but that it all fell away in the wake of standardized tests. Aspire would be an example. Do you know what happened to the program? Was its success dependent on the teachers?
My education has been pulling me in a completely different position from my passion. I think Robinson ‘ s quote applies to a different educational system that is around entirely or it isn’t true to some extent. Cos most of the creative people I’ve met or read about are always smart. They are just not bothered by school.
With me, the Internet has always been a facilitator. Helping me explore different platforms and opportunities to create and also learn.
Ah, you are young.
For some of us, there was not internet when we began. 🙂
Guess I am lucky 🙂
In many ways, probably. Though there were many benefits of non-connectediveness, as a grad student, I sure appreciate how quickly I can access resources as I’m downloading journal articles from the university library at midnight! 🙂 It was a pain having to visit the library and book time with things left ‘on reserve’ for students in classes.
I’m not sure, probably hindered, since I didn’t do well in some subjects and even less when it came to social contacts. Worst of all, though, were my fear and doubts about myself and what I could do.
“Wherever you go, there you are” as they say. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
(I’m full of cliches today!) 😉 Thanks for stopping by.
Especially in the earlier stages of school, the approach is to encourage children/students to try as wide as possible a range of activities in school time and at after-school sessions. Many find a latent talent as a result.
Is it being implied as an objective that everyone discovers their passion while at school? Or should we accept as inevitable that some will have to wait until they are old enough to be wholly outside formal education?
The quote suggests the opposite, that many will not discover it until after school. In my school, we try to help kids find their passion sooner.
My passions have always been music and writing. I was a pro musician for much of my life and still play. It’s reduced to several times a year, not several times a week. Formal schooling was in the way. I quit college to go on the road and make a living.
Writing has been a lifelong journey. My first novel will be published next January. I’ve published several poems and short stories in literary journals. Reading has been the foundation of that. School helped some, made me read things I probably would not have picked up on my own. But in the big picture, I learned more of what I know on my own rather than in a formal school setting. Nowadays, I participate in writing workshops and have learned more there than I did in school.
I earned a piece of paper in my early thirties, which enabled me to get off the road and be a full-time dad. I’ve been fortunate to have had a long career as a technical writer/editor. It allows me to earn a living manipulating my native language, something I am profoundly grateful for. I’m on the cusp of being able to embrace creative writing full time. Formal schooling has been both in the way and quite helpful. I suspect that’s true for many people who write.
Thanks for sharing your journey!
Hinton failed because she was too busy to do her homework! She was learning to write, and while I loathed those books, damn, what an accomplishment for a kid. I always like to describe my collegiate experience as “meteoric”–I entered in a blaze of light, shining briefing before a long, gradual descent that terminated when i fell to earth as a scorched grain of dust.
Let’s be serious. A person who can write a novel with a theme, developed characters, and an engaging plot has demonstrated all the skills that are the purpose of English class. Not doing pointless homework assignments that are far below the abilities and thought processes is completely reasonable. I would have passed her. I have often wondered if her English teacher was short-sighted or just jealous. Someday, I’d love to ask her! (Or perhaps one day she’ll comment when I mention this on Twitter. She seems to only respond to Thomas Howell (who played Ponyboy). 😉
The Outsiders is still a huge favourite with the grade 8s. In grade 12 when I ask about favourite books, this will frequently be named.
S.L. Hinton is a prime example of how talented youth is wasted in our school system. As a teacher, I was not the greatest at instructing “by the program”, but I encouraged the children to follow their passions. As for mine, the passions are coming out of smoordom and showing up, blog by blog and action by action-day by day.
I’m so glad systems are changing for the better.
My current passion, in my fifties, is poetry. Interestingly, I first wrote poetry as a tween because of school and an amazing teacher, but then didn’t write much again until recently. I pursued music in high school and college, again aided by some great teachers. I was also a good student and enjoyed a full range of studies – I was very liberal-artsy! What I didn’t realize was that I was really learning how to learn and that is the gift that has kept on giving and made my adult life fulfilling.
A lovely story about the value of liberal arts. Thanks for sharing.
I’m really exciting to see the breaking down of subject silos even in universities and the benefits of collaborating between specialties in problem solving is embraced. Stanford University, Quest University, and Rutgers (? I think) offer this. This fall Okanagan College will as well.
I agree that it is good that there is so much more cross-discipline work now. I see this in my daughters’ education. Both are now in master’s degree programs.
I found a lot of ken robinson’s talks to be informative and they reinforced my attitude to learning and teaching. As a teacher of the creative arts, drama, I saw during my career the benefits kids gained from whatever study of the creative arts those chose.
For me it allowed me to delve into the creation of performance. I wrote a few musicals and some plays each for the particular students I taught at the time.
In my education system drama became a subject within its own right and that opened so many doors for me in the writing and creation of performance pieces penned with often specific students in mind. In doing so I encouraged each student to take my words and create their own performance thus achieving a sense of ownership which I believe is so important in achieving a successful performance .
Good luck Shawn, I hope all goes well for you.
Isn’t drama amazing?
I’ve been bringing drama/music/fun into all my presentations in grad school and it’s good to see the enthusiastic reception from the other students. (Not to mention the high marks, because of engagement plus content).
Yes indeed never a dull moment and seeing students achieve at levels they never thought was possible makes it all so worthwhile.
Burning. My passion for writing flowered in college and I went to college late in life. I was 36 and graduated at age 43. Worked full-time and went to college part-time. Then I discovered my gift. Actually my professors did and they encouraged me. One day I hope to publish a book of my poetry complimented by various photos I have taken over several years.
Good luck achieving that dream!