…and when he found out I’m a teacher, he had a lot to say. (That’s one of the things about being a teacher; everyone has an opinion, because everyone’s spent a significant amount of time inside of schools.)
I told him I teach world history, and he said that he hated world history, because he “didn’t need any of that stuff–the Middle East, all of that. I didn’t need it.”
He explained that he was required to take a year of basic math for the program he was in, but after that, he lost all motivation in math. He failed every math test he took because he didn’t feel like it was necessary to learn.
“But they just let me pass anyway,” he shrugged. “I hated school, I really did. I couldn’t wait to graduate. I wanted to get my diploma and that’s it.”
• • •
I’ve been asked a few times recently to explain the idea that education should be authentic and relevant. “What do you mean by that?” one student asked me today.
It means that what we do in our classrooms needs to connect to kids’ lived experiences. They need to see that, when they walk out of our rooms, they don’t leave world history or math or Spanish behind, waiting inside the room for them to come back the next day. World history and math and Spanish live out in the world with them. Authentic, relevant education is helping students see the ways in which what they learn in school connects to their real lives.
There are so many ways to do that. We can choose books, written by diverse authors, that reflect and speak to kids’ experiences. We can design projects that ask students to apply their learning to real-world situations or solve actual problems in their communities. (One of my first exposures to this was when I saw a math teacher using the idea of slope to help her students understand safety codes for staircases.) We can literally just ask kids, “How does this connect to your life?” and give them some space to talk or write about that.
But if we don’t try to do that at all, we’re dooming a bunch of our kids to think that they “don’t need that stuff,” like my Lyft driver.
He lamented, by the way, that his life could have taken a different path. “If I liked school I could have been a lawyer today,” he told me. “I would have been a good lawyer. But you gotta really like school to be a lawyer.”
That’s what happens when we don’t work to make education relevant and authentic. We pass kids on even though they haven’t shown us that they’ve learned anything, and what they learn instead is that school doesn’t matter.
We can start small in this work, like in anything else we do. We can start with one small thing. But that might be enough to catalyze a major change.