Teaching in Transition, Discovery of Self
This is an unprecedented time to be a student. It is a remarkable time to be an educator. And, it is a somewhat disconcerting time to be a parent. The world is rapidly changing, and the social, economic, and demographic implications of this change are extraordinary. Our students are growing up in a world that will look much different when they enter adulthood than when their parents did. It is estimated that by the time a student today is 38 years old, he or she will have had 10-14 different jobs. If the trends from the past decade continue, the jobs that will be most in demand when today’s high school student enters the workforce did not exist when that student entered high school. At the same time, 15% of the school-age population that is educated in India represents a greater number than the entire United States workforce. While no one can accurately predict the future, it is prudent to anticipate that the pace of change that has defined the recent past will continue to shape the future.
What are the challenges for schools to prepare students for this future? In addition to creating a foundation of academic knowledge, it is incumbent upon schools to also strongly emphasize those skills that will be necessary in this rapidly changing world: critical thinking, collaborative leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship and initiative, written and oral communication, analysis, and problem solving. In a world characterized by the ubiquity of technology and automation, these skills are representative of what cannot be easily replicated. It is the goal of Trinity-Pawling to deliberately highlight these skills in the curriculum because they garner greater individualized value in college and career. None of these skills, however, will be useful, unless the student also develops a deep sense of self-awareness of their own gifts, talents, and potential. The critical job of the educator today, therefore, is to build the skills that will provide value for our students from a foundation of developing self-awareness and autonomy. I believe that Trinity-Pawling is distinctively and deliberately poised to prepare our students for an ever-changing world as leaders.
In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks wrote of the need for schools to help students channel their energy and focus toward emerging interests. His argument is that a learning culture driven by the prominence of the G.P.A. forces students to spread their energy and focus across a wide spectrum of areas, instead of challenging student interest toward an exploration of their passions. While schools today do not live in an “either-or” choice between emphasizing G.P.A. or individual student interests, I do believe that many schools do not do enough to help young people discover their gifts, talents, and passions. The learning environment at Trinity-Pawling guides students toward greater self-awareness through the relational trust that characterizes its community. Here, there is room for boys to explore interests and pursue passions in a learning environment that encourages healthy risks and supports them in this process.
In the newly developed Practicum for Civic Leadership, Trinity-Pawling students will be afforded the time and resources to explore their interests on a deeper level, strengthening their foundation of self-awareness. Each rising senior is asked to ponder and select an area of personal interest they would like to pursue further. The School will help channel this exploration and, ideally, team each student with a mentor who has experience in this field. Each student will begin this independent exploration during the summer before his senior year. When he returns in the fall, the senior will be charged with creating an artifact that captures what he has learned through his exploration. For example, a boy interested in film may produce a screenplay; a boy interested in poetry may choose to create an anthology of original works; a boy interested in engineering may produce a schematic design for a new bridge; or, a boy interested in music may build his own instrument or piece of music. Students, in short, will be challenged to dig deep into an area of emerging interest so that they can discover something more about it and themselves.
In The Element, Sir Kenneth Robinson argues that self-discovery and self-awareness forge a skill set of productivity and maneuverability that will enable young people to better navigate the turbulent waters of the rapidly changing world. The “element,” according to Robinson, is “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.” People who are in “their element” are “doing the thing they love, and in doing it they feel like their most authentic selves….Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they’re really meant to be doing with their lives.” The Trinity-Pawling learning environment will continue to search for those spaces where a boy can immerse himself into self-awareness and discovery. In a culture in which girls outnumber boys in colleges by almost a margin of 20%, this type of discovery and awareness could be a game-changer in the life of a young man. As I said, it is an exciting time to be an educator at Trinity-Pawling!
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