Thursday, July 5, 2012

Duke School is the Route 1 of Education

I just returned from a trip to California where Claudia and I drove from San  Francisco to Los Angeles using Route 1.  While driving south, it struck me that  Route 1 is a completely impractical road.  It twists and turns reducing speeds; it is surrounded by sheer rock walls, making it very difficult to build.  For many miles it is nowhere near civilization.  Fog often rolls in off the Pacific reducing visibility. It is a mess, except for this--it is spectacular.  The road runs along the Pacific coast providing amazing vistas of clear blue water.  Seals lounge on rocks and it is hard not to stop at every vista and snap pictures.  The smell of the sea surrounds you, especially if you are driving a rented convertible.  (Hey, I can be impractical, plus it was fun.)  The road helps you remember the majesty of life.

I worry that we are becoming a people that no longer builds figurative Route 1's.  We are so worried about being practical and logical that we are losing all abilities to take risks, to be bold.  Edgar Allen Poe in his poem, Eldorado,  reminds us to "ride boldly ride if you seek for Eldorado."  I fear we are settling for the mundane rather than risk greatness.

Education in particular has become predictable and pedestrian. Students are prepped for standardized tests rather than being asked to pursue their passions.  These tests have become the end rather than growing and developing full well rounded human beings.

I like to think that Duke School is the Route 1 of education.  We strive to create bold thinkers and encourage students to be engaged passionate learners.   The recent 8th grade projects give a great example of students following their passions.   The 8th grade project is the culmination of a Duke School student's experience. It is an individual project that is worked on for about four months.   Students are mentored by teachers and a professional in the field they are studying and includes a hands-on practical element.  Many of this year's projects had the advantage of also helping solve societal problems.  For instance, one student raised money so pediatric cancer patients could get highly nutritious foods, another hosted a Special Olympics basketball tournament at Duke School.  Another had a weekend benefit to raise money to create libraries in rural, poor Sri Lanka while another edited an existing app to allow pediatric cancer patients to track their care.  Each of these students boldly pursued a field worthy of study and made a contribution to the greater good. 

I loved traveling on Route 1 and love being involved with a school that allows students to boldly travel along their own paths while getting a spectacular education.