One of the great controversies in public education is whether our schools should place more emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills, also known as 21st century learning skills. It’s a discussion worth having.
Learning by rote is not without its benefits and its ardent advocates. A healthy balance that combines both of those pedagogies—learning by rote and by critical thinking—makes the most sense.
Every year in this season of diplomas and mortarboards, the local charity we host in memory of our son—Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation—awards a scholarship to an elite high school senior whose well-rounded pursuit of excellence echoes Harrison’s. He was born with a rare form of dwarfism, but his 3-foot, 38-pound frame was the only thing small about him. In his 15 years, Harrison lived life large. When you lose a child, you gain the privilege of helping others in your child’s name.
As part of the Harrison Apar award’s application process, we ask candidates to write an essay to assess their—you guessed it—critical thinking skills.
This year’s essay assignment was: “Tennessee is one of the first states to offers its high school graduates free community college, with no tuition, just like our public school system. Should more states and cities adopt the same policy of publicly-funded community college for all?”
The 2017 recipient of our award, Samantha Drysdale, was lauded by one of her teachers as “the perfect student… as good as it gets.” We agreed. She is headed to Boston University in the fall to study journalism. Whether or not you agree with her reasoning and conclusion, there’s no doubt the critical thinking skills apparent in Samantha’s humanistic analysis will serve well both her and consumers of her future work.
Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Scholarship Essay
By Samantha Drysdale
“Can I borrow a piece of paper?”
I heard this sentence during third period every day of my sophomore year. The student next to me traveled an hour and a half to get to my high school every morning, where he came with nothing more than a pencil and a willingness to learn. All year I provided him with loose leaf in exchange for the much greater gift of his assistance in a subject I was struggling in. It never seemed like a fair trade, but for a kid who could barely afford the transportation to attend my school far from his home, my loose-leaf paper, which I had never given much thought to before, made a difference in his academic career.
I owe my passing grade in that class to the help I received from this student. I haven’t spoken to him after that year when the expenses to transport him here every day became too much for his family, and I recently heard he won’t be attending college this fall. The injustice of it strikes me; that a brighter student than I could have a dimmer future because of the poverty he was born into. America needs these kids.
They’re the ones who might one day change the world if they stop falling victim to it.
Unfortunately, in a country where the “American Dream” is one of self-made success for those willing to work for it, the system can be stacked against those who work even harder than others.
Recently, Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota began to offer tuition-free community college to those in their state whose income is below a certain level.
These programs have faced both positive and negative feedback. Our public education system is one of the most important programs our country can offer to better society. This system has been working effectively since 1635, when public schools began to educate American children.
The successes and advancements can be seen tenfold in the Nordic model of education. The Nordic countries offer free education from elementary to graduate. As a result, their lifespan and prosperity are increasing, while their economies boom from a better-trained workforce.
The programs in Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota have only been instituted for a few years, and therefore it’s more difficult to see the long-term projection of their success. However, by studying the Nordic model, we can predict the propitious effects of tuition-free community college in America.
Tuition-free public education provides opportunities for underprivileged children who wouldn’t otherwise be available. It also strengthens our economy.
The “paperless” boy whom I was fortunate enough to be placed next to in 10th grade taught me more than the subject I struggled in. I learned that the American Dream will stay a dream for some unless we make a change. It’s time for us to embrace a better-educated America.