I’ve decided that all passions count in education. They not only count but should drive every education.
As a high school student, my obsession was flying airplanes. Being the guy in the front of the 737, trusted to get the passengers where they needed to go safely, in command of himself, his crew, and a pair of screaming jet engines. A pretty typical boy’s dream. I pursued it relentlessly, walking dogs, delivering papers, and bagging groceries to pay for one flight lesson at a time at Boeing Field, $170 each. At the height of this phase, school was an irritation that I had to get through, something that had nothing to do with where I saw myself going and who I was.
In the end, the passion ran its course. I flew solo and felt proud, but not like this was what I needed to do for the rest of my life. A bit later I had a seizure, which would disqualify me from flying professionally – but I was off to college and other interests anyway. In a social work class I learned about educational inequity in our country and decided that I wanted to do something about it. In 2006, I found myself in South Central Los Angeles teaching middle school English.
Were the years I spent obsessing about airplanes a waste, then? An unfortunate adolescent sidetrack? In one way, definitely not: what I learned, both in terms of concrete “content” and more abstract “personal qualities” was immeasurable: math, science, aviation literature… goal-setting, courage, financial management… it was all there. The waste, however, was a missed opportunity to connect this to my formal education. My passion at that time was a burning fire that could have fueled so much more learning. What if my literature class was funneled through the lens of aviation? If I had an advisor who knew me well and coached me to connect high school physics to the laws of aerodynamics? A mentor who helped me begin to see the authentic connections between the world of education and the world of work? Instead I sleepwalked through a lot of high school academically – doing fine, but never fully investing myself. For me at that time school, not aviation, was the sideshow.
Reflecting on this revealed to me what I had to do as an educator.
From my point of view, we owe students nothing less than the best: an education experience that prepares them for any future they want and that is built on their interests. Where once I dreamed of delivering passengers safely to their destinations, my passion is now ensuring that the students I’m responsible for arrive at their destinations: all 193 unique, interest-driven post-high school plans. And after they graduate, those plans may change again. But they will graduate with the tools they need to fulfill their new dreams. By not only encouraging students to follow their interests, but actually supporting those interests as avenues to meaningful learning, we are enabling them to follow the next “side track” that might appear--knowing that, for many of us, the thing we decide to make our “main track” in life originally started out as a “side track.”