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Achievement Vs. Exploration In Education

With class back in session, going back to school has me thinking about my time in high school.

Bob Jones High School, the high school I attended. Good times.

The American education system (and its broader culture) prioritizes achievement over any other student trait. I was fortunate to be able to do well in school due to my personal drive and (decent for high school) study habits.

Yet, what enabled me to achieve so much in school was my natural curiosity to explore.

Exploration was the foundation for my achievement.

Teachers who encouraged me to explore when I was in high school set me up for lifelong success. One teacher in particular who encouraged me to explore my passions and love of learning was Ben Johnston.

Ben Johnston was my Advanced Placement Environment Science (APES) teacher in 10th grade. I don't remember much about the subject (I got a 5 on the AP Exam!), but I do remember how much of a fantastic teacher he was when I was a sophomore.

Every Friday in class, we were required to print out a news article on a recent event tied to Environmental Science. We then had to spend a couple of minutes per class sharing what we learned to our classmates.

It was fun. I enjoyed researching and finding new things to talk about. I tended to talk a lot about my topics, much to the annoyance of some of my peers who just wanted to get through the class.

But Mr. Johnston was OK with my antics. He encouraged them. I think he saw my passion for sharing these articles, thus giving me extra time to share more than one to the class.

By doing that, he not only cultivated my need to explore, but I started to participate more in class. (Before that, I generally wouldn't. Not that I was shy, but I just never felt the urge to speak unless called on to answer a question by the teacher in a given class.)

It's small acts like Mr. Johnston that made school so fun for me. And when you enjoy what you explore, achievement comes naturally.

I can't help but think what American education (and society as a whole) would look like if we cared more for exploration than achievement.

I think we would have a happier society. One that's less stressed out about getting into the right college, securing the right job, and succeeding in every facet of life to feel ok about themselves.

Imagine tomorrow that American schools focused on cultivating a student's sense of exploration instead of their capacity for achievement. The focus would be individuals exploring what they find meaningful. Then they develop their life around what they discover and share it with others.

That would be a type of school I'd want to achieve great things in.


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