While having lunch with my son the other day, I brought up the subject of school because the start date was only a few of days away and he was about to enter middle school. The whole notion of middle school is somewhat unreal to me... where did the little baby who fit into the palm of my hand go? Was he really ready for middle school? Am I ready for middle school? Would he be successful in middle school? Would kids be nice to him in middle school? There were literally dozens of questions swirling in my mind - most of them stressing me out a little bit - so I wanted to see what he was thinking and feeling about the whole situation.
I started by asking him what he was most excited about and he said... "Seeing my friends! That is definitely the best part of school - getting to see all my friends in one place." He went on to explain that he wasn't particularly stressed out about starting middle school but in general was sad about the summer ending, which I guess is consistent with the way that many kids at this point in the year feel... dreading the end of summer and the start of school and all that comes with it.
Still, as the educator who loves school and has devoted much of my life to learning and teaching, I had to push the conversation further. After an exchange that was somewhat like pulling teeth Paul finally said, "Dad, I know you are a principal and you like school and everything but I am a kid and I just don't love it. I feel like I can learn a lot more while I am not in school. The truth is, I don't understand the point of school. What's the point? Everything that I am interested in and connects to my world doesn't ever come up in school, so what's the point?"
Needless to say, I was kind of speechless (which, if you know me, doesn't happen often). I didn't know what to say or how to respond. I didn't want to be that parent who simply said... "School matters because I said so and you have to go to school because that is the law...blah, blah, blah!" or something along those lines. That would not work with Paul. Would he accept the answer and shrug his shoulders in passive agreement? Yes, but would he really have the answer to his critical question... what's the point? No. That was a hard thing for me to accept because I believe a good education is the gateway to whatever it is an individual wants to pursue in life but if Paul fancies himself a YouTuber right now (his current obsession - check out his two channels here and here) or a future movie director (or chef depending on the day you ask him), then I am not quite sure that I can give him the best answer to his simple question... what's the point?
As I reflect on this experience it made me think about the work that we do each and everyday within our schools and how we go about helping our learners understand the point so they can answer the question (what's the point?) themselves. The truth is, I am not sure if we have given that as much thought as it deserves. Yes, we can talk about project based learning and growth mindset and "real life" learning situations but maybe for one minute we just pause and think to ourselves... what's the point? What's the point of the lesson? What's the point of our teaching? What's the point of the learning? What's the point? Maybe instead of trying to come up with fancy exit slips for the purposes of formative assessment, at the end of the lesson we just ask our kids... what was the point of that learning experience? If we can push them to reflect critically on a learning experience maybe they won't be left scratching their heads and wondering themselves... what's the point?