My in box is full of links people send me when they have nowhere else to turn in frustration. Some days I think the failings of school are so predictable that I can’t believe people even bother to write about it anymore.
But then I read a post by Carol Black on Schooling the World And I’m surprised by how many new ways she gave me for being appalled at what kids do in school all day. Here’s an except from the full post:
While your kids are very busy toiling over algebra and chemistry, international trade agreements are being forged and currencies are being manipulated by entities that most Americans don’t even know the names of, much less the inner workings of.
Kids are compelled to solve quadratic equations and write essays on Shakespeare, and they graduate without understanding how to calculate the interest on credit card debt or decode a mortgage agreement.
They learn an old fable called “How a Bill Becomes Law,” while corporate lobbyists draft legislation that will pollute their air and water, deny them health care and unemployment benefits, and put barely tested drugs on the market and genetically modified organisms in their food system.
Our kids are so overburdened with endless homework and tests that they have little time or energy to pay attention to what’s happening in the world around them. They are taught to focus on competing with each other and gaming the system rather than on gaining a deep understanding of the way power flows through their world.
The most academically “gifted” students excel at obedience, instinctively shaping their thinking to the prescribed curriculum and unconsciously framing out of their awareness ideas that won’t earn the praise of their superiors. Those who resist sitting still for this process are marginalized, labeled as less intelligent or even as mildly brain-damaged, and, increasingly, drugged into compliance.
What I take from Black’s writing is that schools systematically train kids to give someone else power in the world. Kids who can free themselves from this sort of thinking end up running the world. Sometimes those were the kids with dyslexia and couldn’t keep up in school. Or maybe they were the kids who played videos games instead of doing homework. Kids who refuse to do what they are told are the kids who are training themselves to do something groundbreaking.
When I took this photo of my son I had not thought about school in terms of undermining a child’s access to power. But I look at the photo and realize that my son’s pose is iconic – all kids intuitively climb to the top of what’s in front of them, stretch their arms and relish the view. People intuitively reach for power over what matters to them and childhood is a time to practice that.
Yet we have no curriculum for teaching kids how to navigate power structures. The reason for this is that if kids start to explore who holds power and why, then the kids will almost immediately start challenging the teacher, and the school routines, and the common core. The student:teacher ratios are too imbalanced for kids to be questioning power in the classroom. It would be mayhem.
So kids graduate from school with no idea about how the world works. In the worst case, young adults are frightened by power and they end up staying in school for ten more years learning skills that don’t make them employable. In the best case, kids spend their 20s finally learning how power flows in the adult world.
It’s insulting to kids that they should be so isolated from the annals of power. There are media mogul teens, a Nobel Prize winner in high school. If we give kids the chance to use their power, they can do great things. But school as we do it now doesn’t provide any such opportunities.