The Challenge of Independence & Accountability

Perhaps the biggest difference between LiHigh School and more traditional schools is that we don’t have regular classes with regular teachers and regular homework assignments. While we do have a morning seminar three times a week, as well as an afternoon skills workshop three times a week, both of which might be confused for regular classes, the truth is that it’s usually just me (or another member of LiHigh School), with our limited knowledge, leading the students in a Socratic dialogue where we discuss what we don’t know about a given topic, look up what we need to know, and try, as a group, to come to some kind of deep understanding that opens our minds and perspectives so that we can become more curious about the ways of the universe.

If that sounds a bit too “out there,” you should know that one of the goals of these seminars and workshops is to get the students to think about something they’ve never thought about before or doing something they’ve never done before, such that their curiosity is piqued enough to pursue an independent project based on what we’ve discussed.

Because that’s what LiHigh School is all about: not the seminar or the workshop, but the independent project.

The challenge with the independent projects is that students don’t always complete them. They start the projects with big ideas and a ton of motivation, but as the project goes on, and the obstacles accumulate, and the day-to-day reality becomes less about excitement and more about work, the students’ drive often falters.

In addition to the daily slough of work is the knowledge that, at the end of the project, they won’t be receiving a grade from their teacher. They’ll be receiving a write up about it in their narrative evaluation, as well as having a conversation about it with their learning-plan team, but they won’t be “getting an F” or “losing credit” or (on the other side) “getting an A” or “gaining credit.” The only external repercussion for completing or abandoning a project looks remarkably similar to having a conversation with their parents and peers about something they did or didn’t do.

The question becomes, then, to what is the student accountable? And the answer is: themselves. The students are accountable to themselves. While it’s my job as the advisor to guide them to better and more mature decisions in the quality and quantity of their work, at the end of the day, the only person to whom they are accountable is themselves.

They’re the ones who have to decide what projects to take on. They’re the ones who have to decide how much effort they’re going to put into it. And they’re ones who have to decide if they can accept not achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves.

That’s a lot to ask of a teenager. It’s not the easiest thing to teach, and the students will definitely find themselves struggling along the way, but if we do our jobs correctly, every student from LiHigh School will graduate with a strong sense of independence and accountability, and that, I think, makes it all worth it.

One thought on “The Challenge of Independence & Accountability

  1. Greg Rosenthal

    At what point in our life do we shift from being extrinsically motivated by rewards or punishment to being intrisically motivated by our own personal sense of accomplishment. Setting personal goals, persevering through the inevitable challenges and sometimes not measuring up to our idealized version of ourselves. Such an incredibly important and difficult evolution in our journey. I salute LiHigh’s students as they courageously walk the path less chosen.

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