Teaching kids to think for themselves

"Photo: Award winning teacher Scott Mauk shares a light moment with a pair of his Bayview High School students, Piper Travis (left) and Colleen Schmidt.Jim Larsen/staff photoA brief look at Scott MaukScott Mauk graduated from college in 1989 with a bachelor of science in anthropology, adding a masters in teaching in 1994 from The Evergreen State College. Among his other achievements:* Bayview HIgh School teacher, 1996 to present* Men's rugby head coach, The Evergreen State College* President, South Whidbey Education Association* Teacher Excellence Committee, South Whidbey School District* Traveled through Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe* Outback Safety and Bushcraft Course, Perth, Australia* Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, Crested Butte, Colorado.Watching the WTO riot in Seattle was just another day in the life of Scott Mauk's history class at Bayview High School.Our eyes started to water a little bit, said Piper Travis, recounting the memorable educational and tear gas experience in the streets of Seattle.Mauk, not wanting a visitor to misunderstand the situation, emphasized, We were observers -- we did not protest. The 10 students he took to Seattle that day last fall learned a lot about America, free speech, unions, world trade, and environmentalists -- all without cracking a book. That came later, when the students tried to understand what they had seen.And that's one reason Scott Mauk was recently announced as the statewide first place winner of the VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award. The Veterans of Foreign Wars launched the national contest this year to recognize outstanding teachers. As a state winner, Mauk will advance to the national finals.Mauk received a plaque for himself and one to hang on the wall at Bayview High School, which is South Whidbey School District's alternative school. In sincere appreciation of your valuable contribution in instilling national pride in our country's students, states the plaque, presented by Glenn Nichols of the South Whidbey VFW. Mauk was also lauded for his accomplishment at a recent school board meeting.Mauk was nominated for the award by his student, Piper Travis, 17. I have never had a teacher like Scott, she wrote. Scott not only teaches history, he teaches responsibility, patriotism, and pride in our country.In describing his educational philosophy, Mauk said his goal is to empower students to take responsibility for themselves and understand their rights and responsibility in a democracy, in the context of the community.But Mauk doesn't achieve that goal by standing in front of the class and lecturing. He encourages students to ask questions, and lots of them -- of himself, each other, and members of the community. I'm not someone who dumps information into somebody's head, he said.When he took students to the WTO march in Seattle, they began at the union gathering in a stadium where students questioned the participants. It was so perfect, to see what people were doing and thinking, Mauk said.They followed the marchers downtown, only to be caught up in the near-riot as police used tear gas to disperse crowds, and a small minority started breaking windows in downtown businesses.It was scary, Mauk admitted. We thought, 'Wow, this is big!'Mauk ordered his students to leave immediately, but not before they had absorbed first-hand a piece of Seattle and world history. It's different than going through a history textbook, he said.Piper Travis wrote about the lessons she learned from the WTO experience. Scott wants his students to grasp the idea of how protest works. He wants each of his students to know what it means to make a decision, and to realize what the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble truly means.Of course, most of Mauk's lessons aren't as dramatic as the WTO experience. But he even makes education lively inside the old walls at Bayview High School, according to Travis. Students act out skits so they can experience history first hand, and to learn the legal system, they conducted a mock trial.Another student summed up the experience of having Mauk as a teacher. He lets you think for yourself, said Colleen Schmidt. He's completely different than all the other history teachers."

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