Can a Gap Year Make Up for a Bad Education?

by Shai Rosenfeld
April 09, 2019

Can a Gap Year Make Up for a Bad Education?

A gap year provides a way for young people to figure out who they are and what matters to them before taking on their next adventure, be it college or other. Gap at Glen Brook specifically is a communal experience of connecting to one’s self following 13 years of schooling. During a Gap Year participants have agency over their education, have the time to understand themselves and engage with others in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences. The existence of such programs suggests that for many their schooling experience up until this point hasn’t provide these things.

While we believe the gap experience can be priceless for a graduating senior, we at Glen Brook often find ourselves wondering what our world needs to have agency, engagement and creativity be part of everyone’s education from Kindergarten to 12th grade?

In recent years some of the principles of Waldorf education are being adopted in public schools, according to Waldorf Today. Waldorf education has many of these qualities, engaging students in more open ways to invite creativity and exploration. There are over 150 Waldorf schools in the USA, some of them public schools. The philosophy encourages a longer view of education, allowing children to develop through doing together and discovering what comes naturally to them. It puts less stock in data, tests and hard math and more in the spirit of each student, as said by the creator of the Waldorf pedagogy Rudolf Steiner.

Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able, of themselves, to impart purpose and direction to their lives.

— Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)  

I’d wager that this doesn’t sound like the experience many of us have had in schools. The XQ Institute had a similar concern a few years ago when they released an open call for people to redesign High Schools and send in their ideas. They asked: Why have our high schools remained unchanged since the 1900s? The problems they found are more easily described by the solutions their ‘super schools’ offer:

  • Learn by doing.

  • Focus on the future.

  • Spark curiosity.

  • Build community.

  • Unleash potential.

  • Solve real world problems.

  • Ask questions.

  • Listen to students.

Our challenge to meet the complexity of our times with our education system is compounded by the very language we want to use to describe it: these things have become buzz words. You can find them everywhere, from mission statements to soap advertisements. Organizations like XQ are doing important work with a timely mission, but it is very hard to deliver on these promises. It is not enough to say we are promoting creativity, building community and listening to our students. It is the daily work of teachers, parents, educators and every one of us to make sure this happens in reality, even if it mean walking off the path of least resistance.

Shai Rosenfeld, Outdoor Educator