Last night, I watched the PBS Frontline program and saw “Fast Times at West Philly High.” It is a wonderful documentary about the teachers and students at this inner-city high school who entered an international competition to create a hybrid car. It follows them as they build their models, then take them to the competition. Theirs is the only team of high school students. All the others in the competition are adults, and many are professionals.
This is real reform, unlike the phony schemes to privatize public schools and hand them over to for-profit entrepreneurs. This is real curriculum, instruction, teaching and learning, where students are eagerly learning and applying what they learn. This is real teaching, where the teachers are fully invested in what they are teaching and respect their students as partners in the learning.
When people ask why it is so hard to motivate high school students to care about their work, tell them to watch this documentary. These students are highly motivated. They are learning the “soft skills” that employers say they want. They are learning self-discipline, teamwork, cooperation, initiative, responsibility, and hard work. They show up on time. They care. They are using computers. They are learning and practicing reading, math, science, technology and engineering.
The title of this post is ironic. I bet these same students would be turned off if the same amount of time was devoted to test prep for the next state exams.
Yet in this endeavor, they are all super stars.
And so are their teachers.
PS: A reader points out that the Chicago Board of Education recently killed the automotive tech program at Lane High School. Perhaps Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Board member Penny Pritzker might arrange a showing of “Fast Times at West Philly High” for the members of the Board.