The three words most used by high school students to describe their school experience are: tired, stressed, and bored.
This is according to a poll that surveyed 22,000 high school students published in 2015 and reported in USA Today. As Laurence Steinberg, Temple University professor and leading adolescent development scholar, explains, the magnitude of the dysfunction of our current high school model is immense. America’s high schools are failing our students academically, and more importantly, they are doing little to address their human development.
But high school does not have to be this way. It has the possibility to be meaningful, transformative, and yes - even fun. Our core belief is that students need to feel a sense of meaning and purpose, and understand why they are doing what they are doing. Project Wayfinder was born as a way to help students develop this sense of meaning and purpose.
When we started our project, we were inspired by the Polynesian navigators who use the sun, stars, and swells to navigate thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. These navigators are called wayfinders.
We believe the wayfinder is a perfect metaphor for the type of student we want to create: a dedicated, self-aware, purposeful person going on a meaningful journey through life.
The wayfinder tradition
Instead of using industrialized navigation equipment, wayfinders use their deep understanding of the natural navigation instruments: stars, tides, winds, birds, and the sun. Through their training and vision, they are able to lead journeys of nearly 5,000 miles – from Hawaii to New Zealand – on double-hulled canoes. Wayfinders do not look at a map and go in a straight line from place to place; instead they follow the natural rhythms of the ocean to lead them to their destination.
Over the past quarter century, the wayfinding tradition has made a global revival including its current, first-ever worldwide tour. Voyaging is driven by curiosity, adventure, and a spirit of exploration. On their current tour, Polynesian voyagers have traveled from Australia to South Africa and over to Brazil to share their message and values: a respect for the earth, the interconnectedness of people and resources on our planet, and a sense of wonder. These are values every young person should feel - a sense of adventure, caring deeply for the earth, and a sense of hopeful possibility about their future.
Wayfinders tune themselves to be self-reliant instruments, capable of charting and navigating whatever path they chose…
What if students could calmly and confidently navigate their learning journey and future path through the world in a similar way?
SELF-RELIANT NAVIGATORS VS. LINEAR PATHtakers
We imagine student wayfinders to take on many purposeful “voyages” over the course of their lifetime. They may not be linear, or neatly connect, but they each represent a sustained investment of energy and effort into a project or career chapter for a period of time.
This image of many arcs or trajectories over one’s life is much more in line with the trends in the modern workplace, where the notion that you’ll do one career for your life is already a thing of the distant past. It’s estimated that at the time of graduation for a high school student, 65% of jobs they might one day hold don’t yet exist.
We want to prepare young people to become wayfinders on their own journey through life, not linear path takers who are being prepared for how the world worked a century ago.
Banner image: Eia Hawai‘i! (Behold Hawai‘i!) Sighting Mauna Kea. Painting by Herb Kawainui Kane.