Make Connections, Not Compartments — Julie Bennett (’03)

This article is part of our series of alumni articles in which we invite BIC alumni to contribute articles connecting their own work, education, experiences, or interests to their BIC education. Today’s contribution is from Julie Bennett (’03), a high school social studies teacher in Humble, Texas. We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in contributing an article, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.

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Beginning in kindergarten we are taught history, science, math, reading, music, art, etc… in separate classes. The day is broken into units of time and each unit is filled with one subject. Compartmentalization is stressed as a manner of organization, time management, and as a study strategy. The Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, breaks that mold. As an undergraduate, I, for the first time was taught about the world in the manner that the world actually works: through connections.

All I was told at summer orientation was that BIC “is great for people who love history” and was sold. I am a history buff who wanted to become a Social Studies teacher. So, it sounded perfect. It didn’t occur to me until halfway through my first semester that this massive shift in approach made so much more sense to me than all of my previous twelve years of schooling. My notes looked like spider webs tracking the connections across my pages. To others they looked messy and illegible, but to me it was like opening my eyes for the first time. This approach changed the way I learn. It also changed the way I view the education system in our country.

It has been fifteen years since I graduated from BIC. Of those, ten have been spent as a high school Social Studies teacher. The other five were spent getting my Master’s degree and working at the college level. Through all of them I have been frustrated. High school freshmen are lovable, but challenging. Parents, coworkers, malfunctioning copy machines, and of course administrators are also guilty of causing clenched fists and gnashed teeth. However, the true root of my frustration has always been the archaic clinging of our nation’s education system to the neat, little boxes.

My students have been trained since they were six to think about math as totally separate from English which is separate from physical education. Their brains have literally been wired to compartmentalize information. I teach World Geography. At least three times a day, I hear, “Why do we have to learn about (insert place name)? They have nothing to do with us!” when introducing a new regional unit. I also teach U.S. Government and regularly hear similar questions from my seniors. They do not understand that they need to know math in order to calculate their taxes which are levied by our Congress which is elected by us. They do not understand how studying astronomy helped explorers cross the oceans spreading disease (biology), religion (social studies), and plants such as tomatoes (agriculture and culinary arts). Nor do they understand the impact of those exchanges. They genuinely do not understand the connections between the world around them and themselves.

As Disney so eloquently put it, “it is a small world after all.” Globalization and cultural diffusion have made us more connected to and dependent on the world around us than ever before. This can be daunting for a young person searching for his or her place in it. Admittedly, it is difficult to simultaneously contemplate how “small” each of us is and how dramatic our impact can be. I strive to help my students do just that. I want them to know that the world does not revolve around them, which most teenagers believe, and that each one of them has the power to make significant positive changes. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to reprogram 8-11 years of education in the time I have with them. How, are they going to change the world if they don’t fully understand it? How are they going to fully understand it, if they are only able to think in screen shots rather than in panorama?

I was lucky enough to experience an education that broke through the boxes and encouraged me to see the big picture. It is my prayer that someday our K-12 system will do the same for my daughter and students. Fellow BICers, as parents, educators, and up-in-coming movers and shakers, I ask that you use your influence to advocate for this cause. Just imagine how powerful the next generation could be if they were taught to make connections instead of categories.

Julie Bennett (’03) is a high school social studies teacher in Humble, Texas.

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