The New York Times has a parenting advice columnist who answers a letter from a parent whose kid thinks school is boring.
The advice to the parent is amazing. First of all, the kid should talk to the teacher directly. Really? What will the kid be able to accomplish that The Gates Foundation has not been able to accomplish after $9 million in funding? Is there some secret to making school interesting that the world does not know about?
Any child whose curiosity and passion has not been crushed will find school boring because school is about putting your own curiosity and passion aside in order to meet national standards for your age group. Or maybe the standards for your gifted program. Or (God forbid) your not-gifted program.
The only thing more pathetic than parents thinking their activism can make school work is parents thinking they can dump the project on their kids.
It is a really, really broken system. When parents put their kids in school—even private schools—parents accept the limitations of putting twenty kids in a classroom with one teacher. If you have a kid smart enough to tell you that school is boring and stupid, you should not punish that kid further by making that kid tell the teacher or the principal.
Teachers and principals do not live under a rock. They know that mandatory schooling is not working for this country. They don’t need your kid to tell them.
Here’s a touching blog post from a girl who entered the Teach for America program. The unsaid hypothesis of Teach for America is, of course, that the current teachers are incompetent and Teach for America will save the day, one disadvantaged classroom at a time.
But this girl points out that the majority of a teacher’s job is discipline, so experience rather than innovation is what you need for classroom discipline. This is true for both rich kids and poor kids. Because if your kid is at such a great school that there is self-directed learning, then the teacher can just stay out of the way. I know, because I do self-directed learning at home and the only thing my kids need me for during the day is a a computer and a clean pair of boots.
So the best teachers are the ones who can keep the discipline problems from ruining everyone’s day. This makes sense. It’s a reason why school reform doesn’t work, and it’s a reason why Teach for America insults our intelligence.
Parents who encourage their kids to talk to the teachers and principals about how school isn’t working actually encourage those kids to be discipline problems. Because any kid who speaks up against the school system during school is a trouble maker. How could one teacher deal with twenty kids doing that?
And this is a microcosm of why all school reform doesn’t work: because the system is so fundamentally flawed that dealing with any single problem only creates more problems. This is true of putting smart motivated teachers in a classroom and it’s true of telling smart motivated students to ask for a more stimulating environment.