Love of Learning - Fear of School

Texas and Corporal PunishmentI've loved learning all my life. I wrote my first computer program on an Atari 400 in Atari Basic at about 9 years old. It was a downhill skiing game. Growing up in Houston, Texas, a snow-covered mountain might as well have been outer space, so I really fantasized about the experience. I found a book that was way above my comprehension and copied lines of code day after day until I understood what they did (somewhat). The game would crash after the "skier", who was really just two lowercase letter "l"s, got about ten centimeters down the hill. To this day, it stands as one of the most amazing gaming experiences in my life.

But I had really unpleasant experiences with teachers growing up in Houston, where they still allowed corporal punishment because... Texas, I guess. I was generally afraid of teachers, and eventually I just started to avoid school altogether.

By the time I was in high school, I was skipping school on a weekly basis. I would go to a museum, read a book alone on a park bench, write stories, or play my guitar. It was the most profitable time in my educational career since Atari downhill.

Hacking the College Experience

College was a much better educational experience for me. I enrolled in a Bauhaus modeled fine art program at VCU in Richmond, Virginia. The broad exposure to art, craft and problem solving was revolutionary. The cattle-call lecture halls, illogical grading scales, and whole-group pace was not. So, I started exchanging course work for internships with the local FOX TV studio and Richmond's first start-up ISP, Internet Creations; then left Richmond altogether to move to Miami Florida.

I ended up in Miami for Spring Break, earning my room and board working for an inner city non-profit, New City Miami. A one-week trip turned into several months as I decided to stay on and learn something about poverty and injustice in America. I lived in the Haitian community of Miami's upper east side and worked three jobs in addition to the non-profit. It was eye-opening, heartbreaking, and the most valuable educational experience in my life thus far. But I was only 19 and lacked the context and maturity required to affect real change. So I returned to Richmond and my internships-over-course work plan for college education.

By my final year at VCU, I'd won the Virginia Local TV Commercial of the Year Award, produced a TV spot for Bob Dylan, became the design director at Internet Creations, and was co-teaching a senior computer graphics course with my professor.

School's Out, But Not Forever

Within two years after graduation, I'd become the top designer and project Jason and Frandymanager at two design firms, Internet Creations and DNDS.com, as well as my own successful internet design practice, Olive Tree Studios. Richmond Magazine called me "the City's Young Dot-Com-er to watch." It was a fantastic time - I drove a sports car and went surfing on the weekends.

Around the same time I reconnected with New City Miami and began a program, funded by my business, that sent college students to Miami for spring break, recreating (more formally now) my original experience for other college students. This time I paired each of them with an inner city teacher at the elementary school in "Little Haiti.” With every trip, the school's principal would tell me it was only a matter of time until I quit my job and became a teacher. Usually I'd tell her there was as much chance of that happening as there was of me becoming a downhill skier. To which I would add a politely inappropriate, "no offense."

As it turns out, I was mistaken. My business was succesful, but not fulfilling. My trips to Miami, which had now grown to several per year with over 100 college students, were now an essential part of my life. I began teaching computer science at the Richmond Boys and Girls Club as well as the downtown YMCA.

Inevitably, I sold the business and left Richmond for James Madison University to pursue a masters degree in education. I brought my "Alternative Spring Break" project to the university, where it was given a permanant home. I was later honored with the university's All Together One Award, placing my name in stone alongside other noteworthy alumni on the university commons, and I moved to Washington DC to begin my teaching career.

Cruel Poetic Justice

Jason Pittman at Holland Meadows, Washington PostI found a wonderful school in the Washington DC area to begin my teaching career. So wonderful, in fact, I spent my entire elementary teaching career there. For someone who held a deep dislike for teachers for so long, I really loved being a teacher. I poured myself into teaching. My students and I went on an adventure in learning, creating our own movies, building robots and rockets, and exploring the city's museums and landmarks. We created our own TV shows, and broadcasted to the rest of the school every day. We wrote video games intended to help teach younger students. We wrote smartphone apps and funny stories to entertain each other. We played music and danced after particularly rigourous days.On multiple occasions we were invited by first lady Michelle Obama to plant and harvest in the White House gardens. Mrs. Obama also joined us in our own school gardens for science lessons, a press conference and a healthy lunch in 2009. I was also invited by Dr. Robert Ballard, finder of Titanic, to join his Corps of Explorations aboard his ship the E/V Nautilus and serve as Educator at Sea, broadcasting live educational commentary during his deep sea expeditaions, and I brought my students along via the internet.

Jason Pittman - Story LeagueI resisted the tenants of tradional education that focus on memorization and compliance, instead encouraged inquiry, experimentation, and experience. I taught the way I wish I had been educated. And I earned a few recognitions:

A Difficult Decision

Despite a great deal of success, the district's budget became increasingly tight and the decision was made to cut teacher salaries in some of the district's lowest income schools (including mine). After a number of pay cuts and increasing pressure to conform to more traditional educational systems, I made the very difficult decision to leave the classroom.

Since leaving the classroom, I've begun teaching in the masters degree program at American University, helping to prepare a new generation of science teachers and pass on what I believe are my most successful practices and methods in science instruction.

I am committed to revolutionizing eduction. I want to educate in ways that I wish I had been educated; student driven, rich, rigorous, inquiry education that promotes success, empowerment and a lifelong love of learning.