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Lessons Learned - What I Learned About Learning: Grades 9-12

What we didn’t learn in High School.

Here are some things that happened in the world during my grade 11 year:

  • Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978.

  • Cardinal Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II on September 28.

  • Jim Jones initiated a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in November of 1978.

  • Vietnam attacked Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge on December 25, 1978.

  • The Sandinistas, a socialist political party, established a revolutionary government in Nicaragua in early 1979.

  • On March 28, 1979, there was a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania.

  • SALT II – the United States and the Soviet Union finalized the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks that began in 1969 and concluded in June 1979.

  • The Irish Liberation Army was very active, killing Lord Mountbatten with a bomb in August of 1979.

These are just a few of the events we watched unfold in 1978/79. And we had a lot of questions. In class, we studied the American Revolution.

In my senior year, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and there was a revolution in Iran. The Iranian revolutionaries took fifty-two Americans hostage for 444 days. I was in high school in the states, and the big question the students were asking was, “Why do the Iranians hate America so much.” Although not completely irrelevant to the current events of the day, in class, we studied the Cold War. Did we even get as far as 1972?

Right now, those who were in high school at the same time as I was are now in charge of the world. Men and women in their 50s and 60s are in the most powerful positions in government, business and entertainment. We raised a generation of children that is ready to take over. And we make up 20% of eligible voters.

What if my generation had dug into the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in 1979? Then all the power and influence we currently possess would be backed up by a far better understanding of the world. We’d know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims. We’d understand the desire for a country to nationalize its resources. We’d understand the compulsion for and the effects of secularization. We’d have a glimmer of understanding our own cultural imperialism.

And a lot more.

Instead, what we’ve known of Iran are simplistic images that we saw on Saturday morning cartoons and the movies that featured battles with curved swords, sheiks on pillows, deserts, and harems. These images are still foundational to how we think of the so-called "Middle East." So, caricatures lie behind our opinions. We have voted and talked to our children from an extremely limited understanding of the world.

When I was in high school, we learned about what the teachers knew about and what was in the textbooks, which was usually the same thing. The Iran stuff and all the other current events were too current for us to learn about. The teachers and the texts didn’t know about them yet.

But things have changed. Students now have all the information they need in their pockets. Actually, they have too much information, and much of it is as reliable as the cartoons from which we learned. This truth necessarily changes the role of teachers. We are no longer needed for our expertise; we are called upon to serve as guides, equipping students to navigate the wonderful and dangerous paths through the forests of information in the search for answers.

What are our students wondering about?

I asked my grade 9 and 12 students about their big questions. They are asking about nuclear war, mental health, gender issues, the war in Ukraine, Refugee Crises, GMOs, the intersection of life and faith, and a lot more.

If they dig into these questions now, how much better prepared will they be to face what their future holds when they are the world's leaders or when they raise a generation and makeup 20% of eligible voters?

Lesson Learned

  • Students have questions for which they desire answers. Exploring these questions motivates, therefore, deeper learning.


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