Jenny, Mother of 3, School Board Member & EdTech Worker, CA
Jenny is the mother of three children, ages 12, 10, and 5. She works in the education technology sector and lives with her husband and children in California. She was interviewed by Erin.
What is it you want for your children?
What always has been most important for me thinking about education is my five year old bounding into kindergarten and how insatiable their curiosity is. It’s our duty and our obligation, for anybody in education, to only encourage that curiosity and keep it alive and stoked. What I hope for my kids when they graduate and are out in the world is that they continue to see themselves as learners forever. That means learning about people. Open to people they might meet. Open to education, whatever shape and form that might take. And always seeking to learn about whatever it is – their profession, their interests.
I hope they find something engaging and meaningful for them, but that they never stop. I hope they never think, “once I do x,y,z, I’ve arrived and it’s done”. I hope they always keep that thirst for learning alive.
What is the role of schooling in getting there?
It’s scaffolding and teaching them along the way to become responsible for their own learning. Which is kind of a radical change from, at least the way I was educated. Traditionally you show up and the teachers tell you what you’re going to learn today and tomorrow, and then again the next day. As you get older you might get to choose your classes, but the teacher still tells you what you’ll do. You have very little ownership.
What schools should be doing is teaching students that they need to understand why they’re in school and how what they’re doing today and tomorrow connects with that. So if they’re here to become curious, creative, and collaborate well then students need to understand that is the goal and be practicing those things every day so by the time they leave they’re experts.
Content in this way of thinking about it becomes the conduit for practicing all of these skills, mindsets, and character strengths we hope they’ll build. If a student feels ownership and connection to why they’re in school, then they’re more motivated and whatever they do learn in terms of content will be more deeply experienced and thus more enduring.
What is one of your most empowering learning experiences?
I think it was the modeling and teaching of my mom. She dropped out of high school when she had my sister, and became a single mom when my father passed away. But she was always telling me “you can learn anything”. It just really affected me. I had a parent who had a growth mindset back in the 70s. It’s super powerful to have someone in your life telling you that you can do anything and be anyone you want to be.
You’re doing a lot of thinking about learning experiences, what is one question you’re grappling with?
We are constantly trying to find balance between student agency and obligations and requirements of the school and the teachers. There are certain things that we would be remiss or neglectful to not have students learn or do or experience before they leave. But trying to always couch that within the context of students still feeling like they have ownership of their education, and responsibility for what they’re doing, but really trying to make sure it comes within the context of “ we do believe this is important for you” and not feel empty. Not “you have to learn algebra because I said”. You’re going ot have to trust we know some things that are going to be important to you, so let’s find some ways that are engaging for you to learn the material.
Do you think people agree with you?
I think all parents want their kids to be happy. But sometimes that means they think their child will only be happy if they go to an Ivy League or highly selective college and have every opportunity they either did or didn’t have. Parents always want what’s best for their kid but we have trouble seeing that sometimes those heavy-handed goals towards what’s “best” have negative mental and emotional ramifications for the kids. But people have such different life experiences and motivations. If you’re coming from a context where you didn’t have opportunities it’s hard to say you shouldn’t push your child toward the only path you know out of it. I just hope that we can provide paths towards a meaningful, self-sustaining and content life that aren’t wrought with such high pressure and stress so early in life.
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