What is School For? I Dare You to Answer


Watch this video.  I dare you.  It will take 17 minutes of your day, but it will change the way you look at school in 2015.  

Why the dare?  Well, when someone challenges our thinking, better yet our entire way of life (professionally speaking), we often want to avoid looking the devil in the eye and admitting that he may be right.  Did I just call Seth Godin the devil?  Yes, but I really don’t mean it.  However, he sure does present some devilish thoughts about the current state of American education and why it is failing.  

For those of us who are deep into our careers as educators, listening to Godin speak is uncomfortable.  He challenges us with this simple question – What is School For?

How do you answer that question?  How might you answer that question after watching the video?

As Godin states, school was about teaching obedience and the #2 pencil.  The first American public schools were designed by Horace Mann to prepare workers for the industrial age.  Public education’s sole intent was to train people to work in a factory, to be obedient, to fit in, to become “interchangeable people” like assembly line parts.  Schools were the factories to build workers for the factories.  Is that the case today?

Think about what we ask kids to do in school on a daily basis:  Stand, face the flag, and state the Pledge of Allegiance in unison.  Talk about teaching obedience!  I am all for patriotism, and I love my country as much as the next principal, but maybe it is time to give kids a choice as to how they show their feelings about America.

And this is just the start to my thinking on this topic.  How many teachers are requiring kids to memorize facts that they can easily look up on any Internet-connected device?  BTW – what is the capital of Vermont?

Picture this  scenario – It is Tuesday morning, Period 2 English class. 27 high school freshman sitting in rows facing the teacher who is up at the front of the class.

Teacher:  Take out your #2 pencils, please.  You have exactly 30 minutes to complete this grammar test.  When you are finished, start reading chapter 11 of The Catcher in the Rye.  Remember, the test on the first 12 chapters is this Thursday.

Student:  Do we need to annotate this chapter?

When we associate reading a book with taking a test, we take all of the joy out of reading.  Is that what school is for?

According to Godin, when we have put kids in schools-like-factories we encourage work, not art.  I am starting to agree.  When our goal is to train people to become productive workers we are squashing their passion for learning, investigating, trying and failing.  The previous conversation from that high school English class, and thousands like it, are taking place in schools all over the country under the guise of good teaching.

Now that I have seen this video a few times, I have started reading Godin’s “Manifesto” Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?).  After the first few sections, I have a feeling I may be blogging about this topic some more in the near future.

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