Is it to help our children get into a good institution of higher learning, where their studies eventually result in a successful career? If true, what guarantee is there that a targeted and planned specialty will be a viable life career at the end of four years, let alone twelve? I think that our real goal is to help develop lifelong learners—people who are involved in an ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge. Hopefully we (adults and youth) are actively engaged both mentally and physically on a daily basis. In much the same way that cross training in our exercise routine strengthens the whole body, I am advocating that the Choice Program can help build lifelong learners by providing a diverse education that encourages young people to flex lots of different mental muscles.
When determining the Choice offerings for each session, we often try to answer the question, “What are the participants interested in?” A common wish of the young people is to make or create something real and useful. This wish might be expressed in the woodshop by building a boat, a stool, or a bench. It might be in the kitchen exploring Jamaican cuisine by preparing ackee and salt fish or curried goat. Each week in the clay studio young people are introduced to a new skill and then have the option to utilize the new technique in their work or create on their own. They have used the slab roller to build bowls, houses, and mugs and used pinch techniques to create sculptures of both real and fantasy creatures. All of these environments can serve as forums for pragmatic creativity.
The Choice Program offerings develop from topics in which the young people and/or the Facilitators have expressed interest. In the past these have included topics such as Pirates, Mammals, and Greek Mythology. One of the offerings this fall was Superheroes. I facilitated Superheroes and to be honest, I don’t know a lot about superheroes and I have never wished to create a comic strip. What I do have as a self-identified lifelong learner is an attribute that I wish to cultivate in the young people I facilitate: I am intellectually curious. So in Superheroes, I started with what I am curious about and then I brought that interest to the young people.
• If Superman can purportedly leap tall buildings in a single bound, who are the super-jumpers of the animal kingdom? We attempted to look at this at OC by asking,”How far can the grasshoppers at OC jump?” Once we had collected the data by measuring their leaps, we examined the data by considering the mean, median, and mode of our measurements.
• Superman reportedly has X-ray vision. Yet there are animals with more than one hundred eyes, eyes that can look in two directions at once, or eyeballs the size of a basketball. Young people looked at these fascinating creatures and researched more information to share with the others in the group. We also learned about the internal structure of our own eyes by looking at a diagram, creating an eye from Model Magic, and dissecting sheep eyes.
• Even Superman had trouble bringing Lois Lane back to life, but we can all learn a potentially life-saving super power: CPR. We went over the Heimlich maneuver, practiced hands-only CPR on mannequins, and discussed emergency scenarios.
In addition to developing academic topics, I am also interested in the young people’s personal and emotional development. The platform of the superheroes topic has given me a wide berth to work in far-ranging topics.
• We started by identifying each young person’s superpower. Individuals listed three superpowers they wish they had, such as telekinesis or the ability to fly, to teleport, or to instantly grow a moustache. Then they recorded at least three “superpowers” they possessed. The ability to recognize your own talents is important in a world where it is easy to get bogged down with areas in which you need development and forget to recognize and celebrate your own talents and strengths.
• We also looked at a variety of moral-dilemma scenarios, including the trolley scenario, wherein a trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by an evil villain. Fortunately, you can flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to avoid the five people. Unfortunately, there is a person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing? We discussed whether our answer would change if the one person was our mother. These philosophical discussions were intended to help the young people see that sometimes there is not an easy good-versus-bad answer to choose.
For a moment, I would like you to compare a single sport athlete to the individual who plays multiple sports; the multiple-sport athlete is developing whole-body skills like balance, quickness, and core strength. In addition, and most importantly, he or she is practicing a far more useful skill: how to learn. Choice’s diverse offerings are a form of cross-training for the mind and body, helping young people learn to adapt to different situations, make connections, and take true ownership over the improvement process: to develop into life-long learners.