The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


Redefining the purpose of education with Shona Schwartz

Michaela Miller

Shona Schwartz is a new History teacher, teaching AT U.S. History and 9th graders in Connecting History to Community. Talking to her was enriching: I got to learn about the intricacies of the Elon Musk biography and her deep-seated love for teaching.


Who was your favorite of your teachers when you were a student? What impact did they have on you? 


My favorite teacher was a sub that I had in the fourth grade. She was in her very first year of teaching. I had never experienced such a learning environment where the teacher just brought everything to life. There was lots of experiential learning, a student-centered approach to teaching and an energy and an authenticity to the learning experience. [She] completely changed my relationship with my learning, with the classroom and the way of seeing education. 


What books are on your nightstand and/or coffee table right now?


I’m usually in the middle of two or three books. I just yesterday wrapped up the new Elon Musk [biography] by Walter Isaacson. It was not my favorite Walter Isaacson book, actually. I love Elon Musk as an innovator and as a forward thinker. I don’t know that the book provided so much more analytical insight into the Elon Musk that we all know. And so therefore, it was a little bit less exciting. If you’ve lived in Palo Alto over the last 20 years you’ve seen it happen live and there wasn’t much more depth or analysis to it.


What is the most impactful interaction you’ve had with a student? 


I’m a big believer in the fact that schools are not just a place to come to gather information, but a place that you get to grow and develop as a human being. Some of the most impactful relationships and experiences were from students who saw learning as a conduit for personal growth. Development in a way that they really maximize the opportunities. Students, for example, who came in obsessed with perfection and grades and left understanding that there is value in the process. I can think of a couple students offhand who really went through that. 


What is a “fan-favorite” part of your teaching style? In other words, what is it about your classes that students love? 


I think the other feature is that it’s always really important for me to build connections with the world around us. Even as far back as ancient history or politics or whatever it is we’re learning, we always bring it and make it relevant to students’ experiences in life. 


When you were a little kid what did you want to be when you grew up?  


A teacher! Literally, from the time I could remember thinking, I played school with my little siblings. 


What is your favorite piece of media and why? What impact did it have on you? 


I read “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” which was a book that really set me on my journey when I was in college. It stayed in my mind and it set me on my journey in college to learn more about history, how we think about history and what historical thinking means. Through that I learned about the work of Sam Weinberg at Stanford and ever since I’ve been building upon that way of thinking. So that book that I read, probably when I was in high school, was really impactful in the way that I think about the study of history.


What is one thing you are obsessed with right now? 


I’m obsessed with criticizing cancel culture. If you’re in my class, you hear a lot about it. I’m super obsessed with the idea that our polarizing community actually hinders intellectual rigor and development in young people. It may even create some kind of political crisis in the near future where people forget how to have dialogue and debate, where people forget that they can be friends with people who politically or socially disagree with them in some ways.

This story is part of the series “Q&Avery” by Counterpoint on new teachers around the circle this school year.


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About the Contributors
Avery Neuner
Avery Neuner, Editor of Opinions
Avery Neuner ‘24 is the Editor of Opinions for Counterpoint. She has been writing for Counterpoint for three  years and has been a writer her whole life. In addition to journalism, she is a published author in short story and poetry.

Michaela Miller
Michaela Miller, Photographer
Michaela Miller ‘27 is a photographer for Counterpoint. When she is not taking photos, or editing photos, she's probably playing tennis, playing video games or eating Trader Joe’s Takis.

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