Columnist ponders the problems rooted in some student’s disinterest in Idea Day

By Hallie Underwood, ’20.

This was long after the 3:05 dismissal bell rung through the learning center.  It was Thursday night, March 21, 7:30 p.m. in the Active Learning Lab, and the UA Idea Day team was still hustling to finish last-minute tasks between bites of now cold Donato’s pizza and sips of Sprite that had long lost its bubble.

I was selected as one of UA Idea Day’s co-chairs at the beginning of this year but had been interested in joining the team since sophomore year. I came to the team with a very enthusiastic perspective of the project?, but I had also heard firsthand the criticisms of last year’s event. As co-chairs, Dylan Carlson Sirvent, Winston Bassoon-Shinker and I were told to “pick up the missing pieces” as good leaders do. To our surprise, the role was extremely humbling and extremely inspiring. We worked with an incredible team full of passion and creativity and were able to converse with volunteers, speakers, sponsors and community members to make the day possible.

During the day, I woke up at 4 a.m. bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I rushed to school and hung up last-minute decorations and blew up last-minute balloons. One of the best experiences of my life must have been rushing around the welcome desk, shaking hands with speakers from around the state and seeing everything finally start to come to fruition.

Our team made sure not to focus on the absences on the hot pink attendance cards. As we ran around putting out little fires all day, we tried not to upset ourselves when we had to yell down hallways to students headed for the parking lot. We focused our attention on the participants who were smiling, and laughing, and leaping beautifully out of their comfort zone. We gave ourselves to the open minds rather than the complainers.

And it was awesome.

But I couldn’t help but feel defensive when we clicked through petty Finsta posts. We don’t know how many students were sick that day or had actually planned college visits long in advance. But because I have seen members of my team stray from the confidence in the day due to the opposers, I felt it necessary I take to Arlingtonian’s opinion section to share my arguments, and hope to start a conversation.

There is no reason Idea Day should not be for everyone. People tried to encourage us with the argument that we can’t please everyone. To some extent, that is true. But I don’t think with this should be a valid excuse. Since last April, we strived to create a day that was for everyone. Considering the wide selection of speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders, I’d say we came pretty dang close.

We had sessions in dance and literature and sessions focused on the maths and sciences. Sessions as broad and applicable to everyone’s life as ‘positive psychology’ and ‘mental health’ and ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question.’ The only commonality between our sessions were that they were meant to inspire.

If you wanted to, you could spend three hours drawing with chalk. But you got to learn from a professional chalk muralist. Or instead of studying legislative issues from your AP Government textbook, you could sit next to city councilmen and women and ask them the hard-hitting questions yourself.

I won’t say Idea Day is perfect, but I will say it’s concerning that to some students, the idea of it is a day off rather than a day of possibility and a challenge of innovation. There might be a larger issue here that we need to address immediately. We’re always talking about education in the future. And this kind of education is harder to articulate than imagine, but everyone can agree it’s something bigger and better than these standardized desks, and long days, and short class periods and memorizing for test after test. In my opinion, Idea Day is the most tangible form of this new education Upper Arlington High School has seen in recent years. With the new school coming and innovation labs being imagined, there will be more opportunities than ever before for students to think outside the box. But we need to make sure that before we spend all this time and money, we’re starting discussions about the lack of inspiration among students in the classroom setting, and get to the real roots of this issue: not just buy into success with the students who were lucky enough not to lose that spark. In practice, this shiny happy education is only working for some.

Maybe the education we’re waiting for is going to need to be pulled up from under not only the standardized desks and memorizing for tests. I think the education we’re waiting for is not simply the institutionalized educational system in UA, but also the students who have been asked to comply to these standardized systems for so long they’re not quite sure what taking educational risks looks like.

In my eyes, when we have one student who is not excited to challenge themselves, try something new, develop an idea that they are passionate about, and other ideals that the UAID team accomplished with the careful choosing of its speakers, sessions, and experiences, we have a problem. A problem that can perhaps be addressed with the student.

But when we see a trend like we saw at Idea Day 2019, although a minority group, we must look past the “unmotivated student” cliche, or the “Idea Day is not for everyone” argument and notice that while there are opportunities at UAHS, we are surrounded by forces that allow us to stray from these shiny new educational values. Maybe it’s college, and we’re not ready to give ourselves time to explore something unless it’ll look good on a resume. Maybe it’s how we define work and play, or maybe we’re all just afraid of change. Who knows?

All I know is that we’ve been filling in multiple choice bubbles so long we forgot how to color outside them.

Graphic by Hallie Underwood.