Why do high school students like participating sports and theater? Sure, part of it is intrinsic to the specific activity: they like running around, they like winning, and they like being on stage. However, part of it is the fact that such activities, unfortunately, are one of the few times in school where – instead of working individually towards a high-stakes grade under a perceived critical gaze — you are rather: (1) working together as a team; (2) towards a shared goal; (3) under an adult mentor.
So here’s a proposal: what if there were civic problem-solving teams that you could join in high school? What if they weren’t just run-of-the-mill clubs, but designed with an added heft, like sports teams are? Think about it: add a coach, have tryouts to be on either Varsity or Junior Varsity, have an inter-school league that has routine conferences, have a schedule of benchmarks you have to hit, have a team captain, have uniforms, etc.
Imagine kids walking down the hall and being like “I’m thinking of trying out for Varsity Environment” or “Yah, I have Junior Varsity Public Health practice that day, so you’re going to have to pick me up at five today, Mom” or “I heard Mason High School’s junior varsity poverty reduction team won regionals last year. Congrats to Coach R and all the Mustangs for their hard work this season.”
Though it adds some goofy frills (uniforms, faux ‘competition’, ‘seasons’), this would be a step towards putting students in situations that resemble actual public problem-solving work: being in a group, having intergenerational mentorship, and working towards a shared goal for a long period of time.