The role of public schools, according to students

The Hechinger Report, in conjunction with the Atlantic, recently published an extensive series of reports about the public schools in America; their angle was to ask students what they actually thought schools were for, and many of the answers are eye-opening.

  • In the Atlantic, a few brief responses to the prompt, “What do you think the teacher’s role should be in students’ lives?
  • The complete “Student Voices” series on the Hechinger Report

For example, 11th grader Emilia Olson at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston, South Carolina, answers a question briefly as follows:

What do you think the teacher’s role should be in students’ lives?

I think the teacher’s role is to engage the student and find what makes the student interested in the subject. It’s about finding passion, and I think this school does a really good job of that—allowing you to really search out what you want to do and find your passion. They don’t care if that’s in academics or art or sports. If you can’t find something that you’re actually interested in, you’re going to be living a life of lack, just going by. It’s the same with how I think the public-school system really fails with standardized testing. You’re just learning to take a test. You’re not learning to actually be happy.

Voxitatis has been writing about happiness in students for years. Quite frankly, it has become tiring hearing companies talk about how not enough girls study this or that subject in college, how music and fine arts programs are being cut in elementary, middle, and high schools across the country, and how there’s a great—even a civil rights—need to test students ad infinitum.

The reason I’m weary of such news is that I, unlike many corporate executives pushing their latest tech tools on K-12 schools or many education reporters, have actually been talking to kids for years.

What matters is that they find happiness, that they do what they love. If a girl doesn’t want to pursue a career as a scientist, that should be fine. If what makes a young boy happy doesn’t involve calculus, I don’t want schools pushing people into calculus just because some politician or corporation wants more African-American or female math majors.

Each kid has to find his or her own passion, their own happiness, and schools can—and do—help tens of millions of them with that endeavor every day, no matter what the tests tell us.

I invite our readers to head over to the Hechinger Report to read the complete, and ongoing, series involving student voices. Hats off to the online publication for excellent reporting about the schools.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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