Thus, it should be the pursuit of your local high school to place support behind the idea of giving more students access to a rigorous curriculum, rather than reserving it for the so-called best and brightest select few. School communities should respond to community concerns that students are not being challenged, and are not provided the opportunity and access appropriate to their abilities. Can 97% of each graduating class attend college? Can your high school become a college preparatory school? Can students successfully participate in rigorous academic experiences, co-curricular activities, learn to drive, have a social life, commit to time with the family and get the requisite sleep required without undue stress?
Must the solution to the dilemma presented by the movie be an Either/Or proposition? More students enrolling in college preparatory courses with “college-level” work can present a paradox. As your high school develops into an academically rigorous school, community concern will focus on stress and pressure. Is there too much of it here? Is stress created by taking too many honors classes? Is there pressure from peers, parents, teachers and counselors to engage in multiple levels of AP classes before graduation? As the school creates greater Equity and Access to a college preparatory learning experience, how will the school address the increased levels of stress? What does it mean to be a normal student in the context of an academically rigorous high school? If students experience a college-level course before graduating from high school, would it raise their stress level? If your high school became less rigorous, would it diminish the level of stress and anxiety for students? Is the only answer to "too much stress" - diminish access and opportunities for students?
Kerry Patterson in Crucial Conversations, refers to this type of thinking as a “suckerʼs choice” and challenges the reader to consider setting up new choices. For example he states: "First, clarify what you really want":
“What I want is for my child to attend an academically rigorous high school that will prepare him or her for the college of their choice.”
Second, "Clarify what you donʼt want":
“What I donʼt want is for my child to feel undue stress and pressure while in high school and for the high school experience not to be enjoyable.”
Third, "Present your brain with a more complex problem":
“How can I encourage my child to access an academically rigorous and appropriate high school curriculum experience and avoid creating inordinate stress and pressure that could be placed on my child?”
Patterson refers to this as the elusive AND. Is it possible to achieve Academic rigor AND be mindful of appropriate levels of stress?
This question should be at the heart of any community dialogue in followup to the Race to Nowhere movie. All educational stakeholders must address how the issues of the movie can be placed into an AND proposition context. One must not be the evil of the other.
Can you find the elusive AND for your child and your high school? Based on my experience as Superintendent and the hard work of the Stevenson Community, the answer appears to be “yes”. To achieve this equilibrium, parents must work in partnership with their son or daughter and the school; specifically their counselor. Parents are the experts when it comes to knowing their own child. Parents have a sense of how much work their student can handle before they feel too much stress, and they are in the best position to monitor their childʼs well being. Thus, the high school, should maintain its position to invite but not coerce students to pursue a more rigorous curriculum and should work persistently and passionately to advise parents as to the best choices.
For students, the solution appears to be understanding how to provide balance in their lives and in their school schedule and how to make the best choices. The school must be aware of how to help each child pursue rigor and maintain a healthy lens on life.
In 2000, my predecessor Richard DuFour, captured the ideal of the "elusive and" when he stated to our students:
“You should maintain a balance. High school is more than an accumulation of credits and the pursuit of class rank. Look for ways to connect with others. Find and pursue things you enjoy. If you are feeling stressed by the academic and co-curricular load you have taken upon yourself, meet with your counselor to discuss ways to lighten the load. Stevenson offers unlimited opportunities and very few restrictions for pursuing them. Challenge yourself but donʼt take on so much that you become overwhelmed.”
This advice serves you as well today as it did in 2000. It is my hope that all stakeholders will use the film to partner with the school community in search for this elusive AND. The equilibrium desired in the pursuit of a curriculum that is rigorous and challenging, and includes numerous opportunities for college-level experiences appropriate for each individual student, lies in creating stronger working partnerships between the parents, the students and the school community.
Your search for the future, should be to answer the "It depends" balancing level of response for your child or student. The pursuit of that internal balance is for another blog entry on another day.