A colleague of mine at PSCS called in sick today and left his lesson plans with me. For his Constitutional Law class, he wanted students to watch a video titled, “The Rehnquist Revolution,” which documents the influence of the four judges appointed to the Supreme Court during the Nixon Administration.
We set up a projector, and one of the students in the class offered use of his personal laptop computer to play the DVD. Then—with no teacher sitting the classroom with them—a half dozen kids ranging in age from 12-19 sat together and took notes about key Supreme Court decisions from the late 20th century.
* * *
For 10 years, I was a classroom teacher in a traditional classroom. When I got sick, I would typically leave painstakingly detailed notes to the substitute on what I wanted the class to do in my absence. Frequently, I would return the next day to discover that only a small fraction of the lesson plan had been delivered.
On one occasion, I was so determined to make sure the substitute delivered the entire lesson plan that I wrote a script and printed it out on an overhead projector sheet. That way, the entire class could read the directions together with the substitute. There would be no misunderstanding about what needed to be done.
When I returned the next day, the students triumphantly informed me that they had succeeded in getting the substitute off track by engaging him in a conversation about The Grateful Dead, then persuaded him to allow the class to watch a DVD of one of the band’s concerts.
When people are in an environment in which they have no autonomy, any crack in the power hierarchy is going to be exploited.
* * *
A visitor came to PSCS last month and made an interesting observation. “I noticed that when there are only five minutes remaining in the class period, none of the students were fidgeting, zipping up their jacket, and stuffing materials into their backpack. They remained focused on the teacher the entire time, right up until the point when class ended.”
She said she was impressed. To me it’s become normal, something I barely notice anymore. PSCS does not require students to take a specific academic program. When they sign up for a class, they are choosing that class over every other possible activity. That means, when they sign up for Constitutional Law they’re prioritizing that class over watching YouTube videos, socializing with friends, or grabbing coffee from Starbucks.
Of course they’re not zipping up their backbacks and shuffling towards the door. They are in charge of their own education. Having internalized this message, they have discovered what everyone knows to be true: learning is interesting.