Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on 27th July 2008
The e-Bay auction ended. The selling price? Just under $384,000. Without getting all metaphysical, $384,000ish was the value of Ian Usher’s life. You see, after the guy’s marriage turned sour, Usher decided that he would end it all. No, not suicide. This Australian immigrant decided to auction off his life on e-Bay. His life included the following: car, house, skydiving gear, friends (he promised an introduction to them), and even a job (his boss assured a trial period in his sales position for the top bidder). The guy even sold his jet skis. Amazing.
So, with $384,000ish in his pocket, Usher hopped on a plane and away he went–to his brand spankin’ new life filled with, well, with nothing, I suppose.
It all sounds refreshing somehow. When the children have just finished an Olympian hair-pulling competition over whether they will watch Sportscenter or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, when the breakfast bowls that are still heaped in the sink (from yesterday?) now require a chisel to scrape off the Life Cereal, when the stuffed animals piled into baskets officially outnumber the children in the neighborhood, when the garden that was so exquisite when first purchasing the house now has a tangle of weeds with just an occasional flower, well, the ultimate e-Bay sale does not sound half bad.
And then when, with two weeks left of summer, my eight-year-old son pulls out his official Summer Cursive Practice packet, I begin thinking that maybe tossing curriculum on an e-Bay auction might not be a bad idea either. I mean, cursive? Out of 90 eighth grade students that I taught last year, two of them wrote in cursive. Let my boy learn how to read cursive and how to sign his name and, bingo, as a parent, I’m happy. Instead, let my third grade son spend that time researching, keyboarding, composing persuasive letters, understanding the basics of our dependence on oil, knowing who Condolezzi Rice is and what she does for a living, thinking critically about issues. “Mommy, will you help me with my cursive?” he asked yesterday. Help you? Jeez, I have not used cursive in years, my boy, but I do remember that that capital Q is a rather strange-looking fellow.
So, barring any compelling research to suggest that writing in cursive is a valuable 21st century skill (please send me some, by the way, if you know of any), I say we auction cursive off to the highest bidder.
But let’s not stop there. What if educators put their whole curriculum, that’s right, the whole kit-n-kaboodle on the auction block and let the competitive bidding begin? Why not? Wouldn’t that be exciting to start with nothing and then to rebuild, piece by piece? To celebrate what works well (maybe we could buy that back) and to not be afraid to say, hey, this part may actually not be the best that there is, especially given the demands of the future? Maybe this would allow those who work on middle school interdisciplinary teams, for example, to quit trying to forge connections between, say, Of Mice and Men and the ancient river civilizations. We could design units that provide much more powerful connections for students through stronger bridges between Language Arts and Social Studies and between other disciplines as well.
When is the last time that the teachers in your school district got together (K-12), yanked apart the curriculum, and wrestled with poignant questions dealing with where, when, how, and why oh why do you teach what you teach? Imagine that an acceptable answer could not be, “because that’s what the state mandates” or “because that is the sequence in the textbooks that we last adopted.”
What would you fight to keep? To what would you willingly wave goodbye? What would you realign?
It’s all a dream, I know, but there’s still a few weeks left of summer, still time to dream. Time. That commodity. Rethinking, of course, takes barrels of it, and so maybe we just need to tell our students, “Your teachers are thinking. Just stay home and read books for a year or two. Yes, audiobooks are fine. We’ll call you when we’re ready for you again.” It can be so hard to let go of summer, don’t you think?
I recently read about a project where teams of students in Washington designed a state-of-the-art high school for the year 2050. I envy those students, working collectively, building from scratch, debating the real needs for the future.
Just like, on some days, I even envy ol’ Ian Usher.