12 Bright Students + 1 Talented Teacher = 1 Impressed Editor

A visit with Harwich High School’s AP government class


   (Left to right) Harwich High School AP Government Class:  Teacher John Dickson, Jen Gonsalves, Una Doherty, Meghan Van Hoose, John O'Connor, Luz Arregoces, Tyler Kane, Colin Hamilton, Jackson Van Dyck.  (Also in the class, but not in the picture:  Gardy Kevin Ligonde, Amanda De Oliveira, Lizzie Ray). Photo by Walter Brooks.

By Walter Brooks

Last month CapeCodToday.com published an article in which Harwich High School’s Advanced Placement government class compared the Cape’s high schools.  This article was written in response to accusations of "cherry picking" by the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis.

As most of our regular readers are aware, I have worked in media and journalism for over 50 years.  I have seen many submissions by "student journalists".  Mostly, news media publish student-submitted material by hiding it discreetly somewhere "in the back, below the fold".  That’s because student-generated stories usually aren’t that good.  Not so with the piece submitted by John Dickson’s AP government students!

Quite simply, Dickson’s students’ submission is the best piece of student journalism I have ever seen.

While not everyone may agree with their conclusions, even the director of Sturgis praised the students for "challenging assumptions and building their own analysis and interpretation."

Curious about the students who did such meticulous research and wrote from a critical perspective, I asked their teacher, John Dickson, if I could meet the class and share a few words with them.  Alas, it turns out they had all graduated the previous week.

Dickson thought this important enough that he contacted all twelve students in the class and arranged for eight of them to meet with me on June 7.

I drove over to Harwich High School that sunny Thursday morning and enjoyed a wonderful meeting with a group of bright, enthusiastic young men and women.

We spoke about the quality of their work.  I shared a few anecdotes of my half-century in media.  I told the kids about driving past a drug bust on the way home from Hyannis the night before, stopping for a picture and having the whole story published within minutes of arriving home.  Where a story as simple as this might languish for twelve to forty-eight hours before it hits a daily print newspaper, web news makes it available immediately.

We discussed how this instant news cycle changes the way a story evolves and also the way public officials and other subjects of a story must change the way they respond to a developing story.

I mentioned the current headline about employers demanding the Facebook user name/password of prospective employees so they could snoop around in their social media account.  Ironically, these freshly minted alumni were still being "taught" by Mr. Dickson, as he fell right into his Socratic mode and questioned the kids on how the courts might rule in this matter.

My visit with these young people left me on a true "high" for the love of learning I witnessed with some of Harwich’s finest students.  It was the highlight of a day that started with this octogenarian on my daily five-mile bike ride and ended in the Cape Cod Hospital Cardiac Unit ICU (and that’s a story for another day).

That was almost seven weeks ago, so I’ve had a long time to think about what I took away from meeting with those kids.

First, I am pleased to find the quality of teaching at Harwich to be just as excellent as it was when my two sons attended HHS over 30 years ago.  Many times have I told friends that my boys’ education in Harwich was equal to my own prep school education.

Second, I ponder the environment that spawned these young lovers of learning.  These kids are the "end product" of thirteen years in Harwich schools.  They are curious, enthusiastic, well-mannered and bring great credit to their teachers.

What I observed with this teacher and his students is the very antithesis of the "edifice complex" that has hit our schools, most recently exemplified by the proposed $63 million regional school that will soon replace the old Harwich High School.   John Dickson and these students thrived in that worn out old school.  They would have thrived in a one-room cabin, sitting around a campfire or in the highest new order of school architecture.

Let’s all remember that learning takes place wherever curious students and talented teachers come together.  It’s not about the "edifice".

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