Eighth Grade Internships
The reading from Big Picture: p. 127
No matter how many successes we have at The Met, there are still a lot of critics who don’t see how focusing a student’s entire curriculum around internships is the right way to make learning real. The criticism comes from people who are caught up in the word “academic”: Intern- ships don’t seem as academic. What they mean is, internships don’t involve kids sitting quietly in a classroom vigorously staring at approved textbooks, which is some people’s definition of the “right” learning environment. Critics, too, focus on the inevitable “downtime” in an internship, forgetting how much downtime kids experience inside schools every day. If a kid is interning at the zoo, yes, she might observe the animals for hours before she starts to record data. It might take a week for a kid to figure out a computer program he needs to start his internship project, and it might take him an hour by bus each day to get to his internship site. Our critics focus on the lack of “seat time” in a class. For some reason, though, they don’t seem to factor in the value of the seat time at the internship— at a hospital, at the State House, at a violence prevention program.
The work we do at The Met is definitely more amorphous than what you find in traditional schools, but rather than see it as “truly integrated,” some see it as “soft.” What’s funny to me is that what we do is very similar to how medical schools use internships and residencies to train doc- tors. I’ve never heard anyone condemn those programs as being soft.
Of course, another kind of resistance to internships comes from the big schools that can’t imagine setting up internships for all 2,000 of their students. Because I don’t believe in big schools, I would reply that the first step is to personalize the place and break it down into small schools. Then, I would point out that my hunch is if you’ve got a school with 2,000 kids, you’re probably in an area that has plenty of places where kids can do internships. When we first started The Met, we were told we’d never find 50 internships for our first 50 students. Good thing they weren’t bet- ting. By June 2002, 310 students had come through The Met and more than 900 businesses and organizations had served as internship sites. All anyone who is concerned about a lack of internship possibilities needs to do is look at the statistics. According to the 2000 Census and Kids Count, in tiny Rhode Island there were 500,731 adults in the workforce and only 40,651 high school–age students. That works out to 12 potential mentors for each kid!
1. Why do so many students describe their educational experiences as boring?
2. If you could have an internship in any area, built around any interest, what would it be and who would you want to have as a mentor? Why?
3. Tell about a time when you (as a student or a teacher) were working on or teaching an assignment that you now realize was “fake real.”
4. Name five people and five resources in your community that the schools could tap to help make students’ learning and work real.