Yesterday, we had a fencing match. It was a good match for my third-year players, and moderately challenging to them, but not for the first- and second-year foilists. The second-year foilists were heavily challenged, and the first-years were absolutely smoked aside from a few lucky points here and there.
During one of these matches, I chatted with one of the coaches of the other team, and gently inquired why their second-year fencers were so handily keeping up with my third-year fencers, and why their first-year fencers were so much better than my first year fencers. After all, we practice every day, and they practice twice a week, and we started at the same time.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, yeah. All these kids are in private lessons, all the time. That one goes to ICONN Fencing club in Middletown, and his parents take him to Danbury, and she goes up to Boston to the BFC once a month or so, and they’re down at the Thames River Fencing Club, and…” the list went on. Out of forty-three students on the team, a good thirty or so were getting additional instruction from one or more additional instructors besides their coaches. About twenty were taking private lessons, one-on-one, for an hour or more a week. Two had practice fencing strips set up in their garages, and other kids would hang out there to fence.
We were only in one gymnasium; usually at this venue we’re in two. However, the Boy Scouts had the other room, where a bunch of Webelos scouts were setting up and taking down tents, laying logs in a simulated fire, practicing knotwork, and experimenting with pinewood derby cars. The adults on the sidelines there were interested, but most of the skill activities were being taught by older scouts, who were instructing without doing for the kids… who were all interested and involved.
An interested and involved student seeks out the necessary teachers. A teacher knows the material, and loves conveying it… but the interest and passion doesn’t come from them. It has to come from the student. If it doesn’t come from the student, the skill set languishes. If it comes from the teacher, or if the simulacrum of it is enforced by the teacher, the skill languishes. Students with time and patronage (parent interest, involvement, and money/time) get farther, and provide more value to fellow students on the same path.
How alien this all is to the standard school model. How do we capture it?