Ooooh, ho ho… lookee at this piece about the real reasons that school exists as it does today. Guess what, he’s right. School is working as intended.
I don’t think that the whole “closing the achievement gap” talk is an intentional smoke screen around the true reasons that we need school – to keep kids off the streets and out of the work force. But it works really well. By keeping consumers’ focus on the impossible task of making sure everyone who goes to school performs up to a certain level, it keeps attention off the fact that kids don’t need to be in school to learn things, but to keep them busy.
Sounds harsh? Well, it is. Because it’s true. That’s not to say that there aren’t good things to be found in school. And that’s not to say that school is bad or that all kids are doomed to failure there. However, our current system was never designed to actually create a place for learning. If it was, then we would have no emphasis on standards – standards wouldn’t matter in fact. The emphasis would be – do the kids want to be there? Are the kids allowed to choose what is important to learn? Are the kids given the freedom to say, “I’m not getting anything from this, I want to do something else?” Are the kids who show proficiency early, and who are obviously very bright, and clearly ready to enter the work force, start an apprenticeship, or even go on to a higher education, encouraged to do so? No, every kid, no matter where they are, what they need, what they want in life, and what they are capable of, must be in a school classroom doing what the school/district/NCLB deems important. Period.
Why? Why, I ask a million times?
Because, they have to learn, says the social outcry.
But, learn what exactly? What are they learning that they so desperately need that they can’t get by having a job, or being an apprentice, or going to community college or focusing on real world projects?
Kids who are young, are being taught things they would learn anyway. Kids that are older are being taught things they won’t need or use. This is not a place where preparing for life, for work or for adulthood is important. School is a holding pattern. A holding pattern that our society can’t live without. That we depend on. That we can never “fix” because, it’s already exactly how we want it to be.
If we truly wanted school to prepare kids for adulthood, it would look different from what it looks like now. If we changed school to be for adulthood preparedness, it would look so different, it would completely rock our world, and there would be mayhem. No, the important thing is not learning, it’s keeping kids in line, busy and out of the way until they can enter the workforce themselves and still be out of the way.
Now, that said, I don’t think we should give up on changing our schools, adding new school options, or trying things. But we are fooling ourselves every time we talk about the achievement gap, standards, better curriculum, better teachers or any of these other details that never seem to make much of a difference. We are fooling ourselves because we don’t really want the system to be radically different. And as it is, it won’t ever be radically different.
And that’s OK, if it doesn’t change much. Because it’s obviously filling a need. Before it can change, our needs have to change. Our needs, right now, as a society, is to have a place where kids go during the day, parents work, and in the meantime, kids have at least some exposure to the world while they are being held out of the mainstream.
As a society, we don’t need every child to be ready to go to college. In fact, that would make our whole system crash. We need diversity in our children’s abilities and interests. We need the achievement gap. If we didn’t have it, then we would have a whole set of kids who are leaving school, wanting to enter the workforce at the place, doing similar kinds of jobs. And since everyone can’t do the same thing, we’ll have kids who are fully capable of doing higher paying jobs, but choose lower paying jobs anyway because there is nothing else. So instead of having a bunch of kids all doing better in life, we’ll end up with a bunch of over-educated, non-trade trained kids taking jobs they are over-qualified for, wasting all that effort that went to educating them. (Wait, isn’t this already happening with college grads?)
If we face the fact that there will always be an achievement gap, and focus on what the kids can do, and are willing to do, and start from there, rather than trying to get them to go somewhere, then our schools will be closer to a place for learning. But as it stands, we don’t even know if the schools educated people at all. Once kids are no longer in school, no matter how we change the results of all the tests and make kids “smarter”, we have the same jobs waiting for them, the same social rules and the same choices they have to make. And we have no idea what people choose.
The only thing we know is how many kids go to college. But again, once they are out of school, where do they go? Did all that schooling make a difference? Or did it just hold off the inevitable diversity of where people go in the workforce?
People say that school is broken. People like me. But they aren’t. Because the people who really want change are going against the social desire of what school is even for in the first place. And the vast majority of us in this country like school just the way it is. It will have to get to the point where the benefits of having a place for kids to go no longer outweigh the frustration that parents and children feel in not getting what they need in order to be successful and ready for life as an adult.
That’s starting to happen a little more now, with an increase in homeschooling, charter schools, virtual schools and private schools. At least, it seems like these things are on the rise. But until that balance tips over significantly, any little tweaks, trials and changes we make to the school system, even things as serious as punishing schools for not being good enough, we won’t ever see a system that truly readies our kids for adulthood.
Not until, as a society, we change what we really see as the purpose of education.