The Tin Man

“Mine is not a story to pass on,” the student offers, resigned, yet knowing full well that I will.

How can I, an American educator, not?

“Who will listen, anyway?” the perennial American student continues.

Plenty. What is this story you don’t want passed on?

“Well . . . ”

I’m listening.

“Ok, it’s like this. Well, um, you may not want . . . whatever. School is really boring.”

I roll my eyes.

That is your story? C’mon.

“I know, I know, I’ve been saying it since compulsory education began, much more since the early 1990s, but in the last fifteen years, when I enter school, it seems increasingly like I’m entering a parallel universe.

“As if becoming marionettes, teachers point me toward one thing while my head and heart point me toward something else.

“I am human, you know.”

Yes, of course.

“I am born with curiosity: I want to know.”

I know.

“I really do want to know who I am. I really do want to know how I fit into this world, this universe. I really do want to know about others — their histories, cultures, languages. My language. I really do want to know how things work, the science and math of it all.

“If you will . . . please . . . I really am born intelligent.

“When I take courses in school, most of them really do want to engage my curiosity and intelligence, even my creativity. And then, it’s just that, well, all of a sudden those courses start pointing at something other than answers to my natural curiosity, the connections that my brain wants to make between the things I’m learning. My head and heart then start disconnecting from where the courses are pointing. I get really bored. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Then, sometimes, I act like I hate school.”

You know, there are people who think you’re not very curious, much less intelligent, and that you really do dislike learning.

And, if I can be really honest, sometimes you act like you’re not very curious. It’s nothing personal, but sometimes you can be so irreverent to adults, so mean to peers, and, lordy, so distracted by those phones.

“I know. That’s why my story is not to be passed on. Other students and I haven’t always earned the right to be heard. Sometimes, we play the fool — but, we’re really good at that!” Sly smile.

Yeah. And that’s why lots of schools want to control you, your behavior.

“Yeah, sure, but that approach to learning doesn’t seem to be working so well.”

Well—

“Ok, ok, so maybe some students do respond to social control models. But tons don’t.

“Here’s the thing: we really do want to learn.

“But, see, what had happened was that the emphasis on testing has really altered how we learn in schools, making school more and more disconnected from our natural curiosity. Sometimes, really disconnected. With teachers being evaluated based on how we score, teachers in many schools have become like marionettes to the test. I get it. Their jobs depend on it. Except that classes, sometimes weeks or even months at a time, can feel like test prep, not answers to all the things I’m curious about. Can I learn the things that I’m curious about — at least connect those things to what I’m tested on? Then, fine, test me on those things.”

Hmmm. What are you so curious about?

“I don’t know . . . just about everything, I guess.”

“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man
That he didn’t, didn’t already have . . .
So please believe in me
When I say I’m spinning round, round, round, round”
— America