If you find yourself questioning the way Brookline’s education system is structured, you aren’t alone.
Ted Dintersmith, an advocate of innovation in education and author of What School Could Be, visited the high school on Sept. 20 during G-block. The visit was organized by the Brookline High School Innovation Fund, and it gave Dintersmith and 15 students an opportunity to discuss whether BHS is doing a good job for its students. Later that evening, Dintersmith led a second similar conversation, facilitated by WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti, in the Roberts-Dubbs Auditorium.
In discussing improvements needed in Brookline’s education system, Dintersmith and students focused specifically on the way students approached the college application process. In the conversation, Dintersmith and the students believed that the education system should do a better job of letting students explore options other than college and follow their interests more freely.
Dintersmith shared that an alternative to college – a gap year – can be a great idea, financially speaking.
listen “The gap year is for most kids, freshman year in college, where they spend 70,000 dollars to go to a bunch of parties and figure it out,” Dintersmith said. “I would say that most people think that a gap year is expensive; I’ve talked to kids that take a gap year who actually make money during the year, and for some reason people are just really reluctant to even think about that.”
According to junior Jasmine Benitich, with going to college as a norm, it can be difficult to approach alternatives such as a gap year.
“I grew up in a really strict household, so a gap year is never an option we have. It’s kind of a bridge to giving up,” Benitich said. “I don’t think I was ever taught in high school that a gap year is okay.”
Senior Ben Haber added that attending college is commonly what one has to do to succeed.
“There is the rare exception, like Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of college, but it is so rare and it’s so hard to ask students, ‘Why don’t you do something bolder, why don’t you do something different,’” Haber said. “I’d love to live in a world where we can all explore what we want to do, but we were born into a world where our education system has so much power.”
Dintersmith emphasized that if students are to go to college, it is important for them to know what they want to get out of their experience.
listen “It’s really easy to say, ‘I’m going to spend all college so that I can get the right job or graduate program. Then I’m going to spend those years so that I get into the right promotion,’” Dintersmith said. “You can do that for year after year after year and end up at my age and say, ‘I never did what I wanted to do.’”
Another area in which schools could improve, according to senior Eva Stanley, is encouraging students to follow their passions.
“Third grade onwards, we start to snap students into formulas, like ‘memorize this verb tense,’” Stanley said. “You get less and less flexibility up until the point in high school where you do have options to explore, but you become so afraid of how that’s going to impact your chances of getting into college, so you’re not going to take risks.”
Dintersmith believes that although college admissions tend to push towards the “routine and formulaic,” students should still remember to follow their interests instead of what everyone else is doing.
“Would you rather do the things you are passionate about and bring that to life in an essay or just keep checking off all those boxes?” Dintersmith said.