How many speeches by graduating high school seniors have you heard in your career? Tens? Dozens? There are three varieties. One offers insight into the heart of the speaker. The second suggests that the class should go out and do wonderful things with their lives and talents. The third looks back and summarizes the yearbook or the class record in words, phrases, and anecdotes. We need to embrace what this last type of speech is telling us about K-12 education.
Students remember people and experiences, not stuff. This has always been the case. Their speeches and yearbooks are colorful, dramatic descriptions of what our customers value about our organizations. This is what they pay for (in the case of private schools) or why they attend (in the case of public schools). This is what will stick with them for years and decades, long after they have forgotten everything we tested them on.
Some of these experiences are mere pastimes of youth and would happen whether or not our school existed. Others are directly a function of how we choose to educate. We create an experience in the classroom, the stage, the ball field, the field trip, the soup kitchen, or the robotics competition that brings together a small handful of key ingredients. Almost all include: teams of students and adults; they are risking something, even if it is just time (they have sweat in the game); they created the activity or choose to be a part of it; some adult took time and energy beyond the normal routine to help out.
Any school can deliver knowledge so our kids can get into college. Today, and certainly in the future, alternative delivery mechanisms are available and getting better. Students do not see value in content delivery mechanisms like they do in experiences and mentors. They see real, life-changing, memorable value when we mix those key ingredients together. The only real question we have to ask is: “why are these the exception and not the rule?”
Tony Wagner in “Creating Innovators” quotes a lot of adults and bright students and arrives at pretty much this same place. Our students have been screaming this at us for as long as we can remember. All we have to do is combine these few ingredients and students will find their passions, and when the are passionate they succeed. Those sometimes tedious, but always heartfelt, graduation speeches are telling us just that.