I first saw the RSA Animation of Sir Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms” a few years ago. The image of students being pushed through schools on a conveyor belt resonated with me. In response, I have spent years challenging myself to create a learning environment that does more than just move my students along an industrialized system. However, upon watching this video again, I now see that the belief systems behind the current educational paradigms presented in Robinson’s talk clearly relate to my entire campus.
At San Pasqual Academy, our classrooms are filled with products/students that should be headed to the outlet mall by this point in production. Most students enroll in our school with missing parts (significant gaps in their academic skills) and extra parts (traumatic experiences). However, we quickly toss them right back onto the conveyor belt--regardless of their abilities or even transcripts--and put them in grade level classes based on their age. We quickly help move them along through our factory to fill in missing graduation requirement courses and even add in A-G requirements. Along the way, we are attempting to fill in the missing parts just enough to get them through and teach them to cover up the extra parts so that they do not slow down the process.
It works. Our alumni go to college. Special college admissions criteria for foster youth, financial aid, and well-written personal statements highlighting resiliency and motivation lead to acceptance letters. Multiple scholarships are awarded to every single student on stage during our elaborate graduation ceremony. The adults applaud and clap--congratulating the youth and ourselves for moving another batch of students with missing and extra parts out of the factory.
Though we are all well-intending it seems that the invested adults on my campus view people in the popular way Robinson identifies: academic and non-academic. We want our students to be successful, so we push them to become academic adults. The students internalize our beliefs and see college as their only route to success. How could they think otherwise? Almost every single teacher, houseparent, clinician, social worker, judge, lawyer, educational rights holder, mentor, court appointed student advocate, coach, and staff send the message that college should be their goal and that it can provide a path out of the poverty levels and abuse cycles they were born into. Even if we don’t say it, the scholarships bestowed upon them at graduation show it.
It’s not working. Robinson is right. The world has changed. The industrialized factory model of education is ineffective. College is not a ticket to success. However, our residential campus is refusing to accept it. This year, we celebrated three recent college graduates during our commencement ceremony. Yes, we are challenging national statistics for foster youth, but we are also contributing to them. Many more of our alumni are unemployed, on public assistance, homeless, incarcerated, or dead.
In order to sincerely prepare our students for life after graduation and emancipation, our innovative “first-in-the-nation residential facility for foster youth” needs to challenge the education paradigm that exists on our campus. We are a small, but we have many resourceful, passionate, and creative adults. We have the potential to create a learning environment that teaches students in a way that prepares them for the world they are entering into instead of preparing them for a world that no longer exists. We just need to figure out how.
Robinsion, K. (2010, October 14). RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved July 25, 2015.