Real Life Education

LIVING FOR CHANGE    Real Life Education

By Gloria Lowe Michigan  Citizen, May 1-7, 2011

         Look forward to more articles by Gloria Lowe,   veteran community activist who participated in the 1968 Northern High School strike.—-GLB

 The Catherine Ferguson Academy, is a success story all over the country.  This new vision of real life education, being shared among students and teachers (more like mentors) is an example of place-based education.  Education that intersects the student with real life situations and develops creative problem-solving skills, learned through working with the Earth, farm animals and green energy innovations.  Young, unwed mothers with little chance to finish high school, given a chance to fulfill their educational goals… a 97% graduation rate, moving on to college.

 The Catherine Ferguson Academy is just one example of what place-based education could look like.  It is a model that is working for these young women and will work for other marginalized students attending traditional schools.  This is well-known to the students and supporters involved in this paradigm shift in education. Hence, the importance of the young people’s resistance to its closing, a fact not understood by Bing, Bobb & Co.  because they do not relate to young people as real people.

They see them only as numbers.

 Why does an alternative education model work?  I have a 15-year old friend, Edmund, who attends a traditional school in Dearborn. Edmund has not done well in his school.  He is very bright but not motivated in class.  The classroom information is given to him without sufficient explanation.  It makes no sense to him and his questions are not answered. There is no relationship between him, the teachers or the information.  When testing time comes, he can’t regurgitate the information. He becomes frustrated, loses interest,  and there is very little to talk about in his day.

 Last week was spring vacation in the schools.  Edmund was invited to attend Feedom Freedom Growers initial training at the garden site on Manistique by founders Wayne and Myrtle Curtis, who  had him mentored by one of their board members.  Edmund has since attended two food conferences as a youth member.  At each conference he engaged with attendees and communicated the need for marketing strategy at the garden.  He was respected, involved and motivated because there was inclusion.  He returned home full of excitement and motivation because he was listened to, able to ask questions and his questions were answered. 

 All of this conversation from a young man fully engaged, in a learning program, involving him in place-based learning, developing real life solutions to real life situations. 

When I asked Edmund what was different in his learning this week from the learning experience at his regular school, he replied  “ I was treated like I was being interviewed.  Everyone listened to my suggestions, even looking at me as I was talking.  In school, they don’t allow you to ask questions and don’t look at you when you are talking.” 

 Edmund has attended several food community trainings and has been chosen to take part in mentoring younger people in food security.  He is the first youth member of the Food Justice Youth Program.  He plans to take his excitement back to school and enlist  other students in food security programs.

 This is only one story out of thousands, maybe millions, in the USA.

 The way we create conversations and engage our young people to creatively problem solve in real life situations, helps to establish their  cognitive ability to freely create a new vision that develops relationships between all people, species and the planet.  These interdependent relationships are essential to creating sustainable shifts in education for the 21st century.