They also each undertook an “individual endeavor,” learning to play the piano or to cook, writing a novel or making a 13)podcast about domestic violence. At the end of the term, they performed these new skills in front of the entire 14)student body and 15)faculty.
Finally, they 16)embarked on a collective endeavor, which they agreed had to have social significance. Because they felt the whole experience had been so life-changing, they ended up making a film showing how other students could start and run their own schools.
The results of their experiment have been17)transformative. An Independence Project student who had once considered dropping out of school found he couldn't bear to stop focusing on his current history question but didn't want to miss out on exploring a new one. When he asked the group if it would be okay to pursue both, another student answered, “Yeah, I think that's what they call learning.”
One student who had failed all of his previous math courses spent three weeks teaching the others about probability. Another said: “I did well before. But I had forgotten what I actually like doing.” They have all returned to the conventional curriculum and are doing well. Two of the seniors are applying to highly selective 18)liberal arts colleges.
The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school 19)experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school 20)capitalizes on rather than 21)thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.
Schools everywhere could initiate an Independent Project. All it takes are serious, committed students and a supportive faculty. These projects might not be exactly alike: students might 22)apportion their time differently, or add another discipline to the mix. But if the Independent Project students are any indication, participants will end up more accomplished, more engaged and more knowledgeable than they would have been taking regular courses.
We have tried making the school day longer and 23)blanketing students with standardized tests. But perhaps children don't need another reform imposed on them. Instead, they need to be the authors of their own education.