The Important Lessons: Can you be graded on community?

Malka Howley student
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I am, at the moment, preparing to take the GED in a couple of months.  The General Education Development Test, the passing of which is the equivalent to a high school diploma, is supposed to reflect “the major and lasting outcomes normally acquired in a four-year high school program.”  So, theoretically, you can acquire an entire four-year high school education by studying a 572-page book, right?  Not that I don’t already, but this has prompted me to think about what the most important things are to learn in high school.  And much of what we learn at Woolman or that I learned at Thorton are not contained in the test, and vice versa.

The GED covers all the usual subjects: math, science, writing, reading, and social studies.  A first thought is, does that stuff really matter?  Does it depend on your chosen career, or are the things taught in school things that everyone should know?  My chemistry teacher, David [at Thorton], always used to say that the actual content that he was teaching us wouldn’t be useful to the vast majority of us, since we weren’t all going to become  chemists or even scientists.  The important thing that we were learning is how to learn.  Is that what school is for?  Does the studying for the GED teach you to learn, or does it teach you to memorize from a book for a test?  But maybe normal high school just does the same.  And maybe the GED teaches you to learn more effectively that high school does, because you do it on your own.

My next question: is what we learn at Woolman more important?  I guess we think so, or we wouldn’t be here.  All the classes here teach things that aren’t taught in most normal schools, and much of it won’t be in the GED.  We learn things here that are particularly relevant to the world right now.  The world is facing multiple environmental crises, as most of us have lost touch with the natural world and our place in it.  So we talk Environmental Studies, because those crises will have to be confronted somehow.  The relevance of Global issues is obvious too; we live in an increasingly globalized world and we need to pay attention to it, because what we do (or don’t do) can affect far-away places.  The social studies section of the GED is almost certainly biased, since it sticks to the very standard versions of history.  In Peace Studies, though, we learn about lesser-known but powerful and successful movements for change that are often left out of the usual narratives.  We also learn how to work together in Shared Work, how to clean together in Chores and Dish Crew, Non-Violent Communication, how to live together.

A good school, I think, also teaches non-academic things, those often ineffable lessons about love, acceptance, support, bravery, community.  In a high school, you should have a safe place to learn about yourself, to live in a community, and to overcome challenges.  High school should be about more than what the GED tests.  I wonder what will really last from my high school education.

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