People frequently ask me why I like teaching high school. Often, this question comes from my students. I actually enjoy witnessing the cognitive development that takes place during the teenage years. Prior to this time in their lives the majority of their views and opinions come from one of two places: either they have heard it from their parents, so it must be right, or they heard it from their parents, so it must be wrong. However, as they get more involved in high school, expand their circle of friends and influences and begin having individual experiences apart from their families, they begin to form actual opinions on their own. For the first time they build their belief system based on their own experiences and not only those of their parents. Obviously, the influence of their parents is still most significant and gives these young people the starting point for everything they will ever believe, but now they get to add to that the influence of others and their own development.
The other day, in my geometry class, we had the opportunity to go off topic a little and discuss some current events and issues that will affect us all. Fortunately, I have created an environment of trust and freedom in my classroom where students may feel safe in expressing their opinions. I was impressed with the courtesy that was displayed and the respect that the students had for each other and their differing points of view. This was no light weight discussion. Topics moved quickly form the current scandals facing our federal government to gun control, abortion and the death penalty. We have students with polar opposite opinions and everywhere in between.
The most important task facing educators is teaching our students to boldly express themselves with kindness and respect for others and to form those opinions from informed positions.
Truth be told, some of the most significant learning happens when we step away from the curriculum and let the students express themselves and apply what we have been teaching them in a real way… and the students learn then too.