3 ways school kills a kid’s ability to get a job

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q]

I just listened to a speech by Astra Taylor, who was homeschooled as a child. It’s significant that we are finally hearing from kids who were homeschooled about what it was like. I like that Taylor is honest enough to admit that each of the kids in her family asked to go to school for a year or two in order to see what they were missing.  I like that she sees this as a part of homeschooling—the idea that curiosity is most important, even when it is school that kids are curious about.

The biggest thing I took away from her speech is that school undermines the natural preparedness each kid has for the workforce, so by the end of eighteen years of schooling, a kid’s natural, salable talents are demolished. Here are three points she makes:

Schools crush divergent thinking.
This is different than creativity. Divergent thinking is seeing lots of possible solutions for a problem. It’s the kind of problem solving that companies pay a lot of money for so they can be sure they’ve explored enough options to choose the best option. But school discourages divergent thinking because it’s so difficult to test. And even if you can test it, it’s very time consuming to grade. (This is especially important when schools are trying to figure out how to decrease the cost of grading tests.)

I write this word mostly as a joke. Because we know that it’s meaningless and only enters the conversation when someone wants to know why you aren’t sending your kid to school to be psychologically crushed by the least common denominator.

The real test for whether you get along with others is if you can work well with others. And Taylor points out that school doesn’t encourage you to work well with others. It only encourages kids to follow a proscribed set of rules to keep kids in line so teachers can cope with being outnumbered and provide test scores to prove teacher effectiveness.

My favorite example is copying: Copying outside school is called collaboration. Copying inside school is called cheating.

The real point here, though, is that school is about ranking, and so you are always competing with the people next to you. At work, though, the competition is to keep your learning curve high. If your learning curve is high it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. Which makes learning outside of school much more collaborative and social than learning inside of school.

Schools teach you to be bored.
Being bored at school is accepted. Our culture makes joke after joke about how boring school is. However we do not accept that work is boring. When we are bored at work we feel crushed and hopeless and like a failure. When I do career coaching, the number-one problem I see is that people are bored in their work and don’t know how to solve the problem.

But how can we expect adults to solve their boredom problem when they were taught as kids to accept boredom? Taylor says that her homeschooling mom used to tell her kids, “When you are bored you are boring.” And I’ve got news for you: This is true for adults, too. If you’re bored at work it’s because you are boring yourself. You haven’t learned enough about yourself to know where you fit. You don’t know enough about yourself to know what would be fulfilling. You are not doing things that interest you outside of work and you want work to pick up all the slack.

None of those options are open to a homeschooler because homeschoolers spend all day figuring out what it interesting to them.


19 replies
  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    My adult son just mentioned Astra Taylor to me the other day and how much he appreciates her viewpoint. I LOVED hearing him discuss her thoughts, as I’d read about her a couple of years ago. We ran into her life from different aspects of life. I hope our family helps produce generations of interesting and creative people.
    Raising creative kids is such a wonderful thought and the sponsor – Walker Art Center – sounds cool and innovative.
    You might be interested in The War on Kids, that is showing on the Documentary Channel this Sunday evening. I just ran into the documentary. It’s been out since 2009, but has apparently been kept under wraps. (More info is on my blog)

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Susan, or anybody, is there a way to see this if you don’t have Dish or Direct TV? Other than the buy it for $25 option. I have been trying to figure out how to see it.

      Excited that I just got tix to see Race to Nowhere in a month. Have had a hard time because all the local venues were for students and families at each respective locale, but a YMCA is finally hosting it so anybody can go.

      Astra Taylor is amazing. Examine Life is a much see ;-)

  2. Helena
    Helena says:

    I love your writing Penelope. I a mom to 2 life Learners boys and I find that it is so incredibly difficult to get through people’s minds– they are so incredibly brainwashed about school that telling them about the benefits and even showing evidence that HS is best is like trying to get a soccer ball through a pinhole.

    I think they don’t want see it because it would require a rearranging of their whole entire lives and priorities.

    Thank you for such honest writing– a breath of fresh air amongst so much ‘mommy writing cliches’ online

  3. Meg
    Meg says:

    Disclaimer: I am a bone-picker.
    Copying and collaboration are not the same thing. Blindly copying someone else’s ideas because you yourself couldn’t come up with anything is not collaboration, which requires two creative minds (or more) coming together and each offering something of positive value to the outcome. Copying is fear-driven, in order to fulfill the mandate to present the Correct Answer, when that is valued in exclusion of ideas and dialogue.

    I get the gist of what you are saying, but still think it’s worthwhile to note the differences between copying, and collaboration.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Meg, I can be described as Type A, so I mean you no disrespect for making a note on specificity. You might want to peak at the 2006 famed TedTalk given by Sir Ken Robinson on this one though. Ummmmm, like 400 million have viewed it and it is really well known to homeschool/unschoolers. So it is a little inside joke (to us 400 million that is), but I promise, you will giggle and totally catch the ref.

      • Meg
        Meg says:

        Thanks, CJ! Saw that and loved it (Ken Robinson on TedTalk) and I take your point; it is a valuable meme, on how convergent and divergent thinking is valued, in schooling, and in life in general (which encompasses what we call ‘unschooling’) and how those modalities aim for opposing goals. It’s not cheating if you acknowledge the source as an inspiration.

        This was an incredible lecture, and I really look forward to more from her and others like her. These are conversations we as a society need to be having. Really glad I checked Penelope’s site tonight, and I’m still a bone-picker, but a friendly one.

        • CJ
          CJ says:

          Awesome Meg! If you indulge me just once more, check out the RSA video of his on Changing Edu Paradigms. It is on YouTube too. You will giggle some more!

          Meeeee toooo (on the friendly side) I so wish there was like an inflection to posting, so people would know when we are just having a conversation, like how we can “hear” smiles over the phone. So bone picker, Type A+ saying have a great weekend and collaborate ;-)~

  4. Monica
    Monica says:

    Thanks for making my very bad day better. I was beginning to question myself and like manna you dropped from the sky with the affirmation I needed. Bless you.

  5. JKB
    JKB says:

    “In spite of the fact that schools exist for the sake of education, there is many a school whose pupils show a peculiar “school helplessness”; that is, they are capable of less initiative in connection with their school tasks than they commonly exhibit in the accomplishment of other tasks.”

    Sadly, that quote is from a book published in 1909. So it is quite evident that in regards to public education, we really aren’t making a lot of progress. I first read about the ‘school helplessness’ from research related in a book published in 1886. The research keeps getting repeated with similar results but there seems to be little done to overcome the damage the classroom inflicts.

    One attempt by the city schools of Manitowoc, WI in 1919 seems to have fallen by the wayside. The ‘problem method’ as it was called is very much like home schooling. A lot less lecture with hand feeding and a lot more student participation in the capturing the knowledge from the wild, so to speak.

    “How is initiative developed? Certainly not by having the teacher take all the initiative and responsibility in the conduct of the class period. To develop initiative, the pupils must exercise initiative, and the class period must provide this opportunity. To secure this initiative, there must be a change in the conduct of the class period.


    “The way pupils study, depends on what is emphasized. The methods that are best to develop a sound knowledge of geography in pupils, will, as a rule, be the best to teach them how to study geography. The reason that mechanical memorizing is the main part of study in the elementary school, high school and university, is that reproduction is the primary thing required. If boys and girls find that the teachers’ questions ask for a reproduction of the text, they will memorize before thinking and without thinking. If, however, there is a thought question, it will cause them to organize and analyze the subject matter of the book, and then mechanical memorizing can not occupy such a prominent part.”

    Note: McMurry’s book is an excellent argument as to why elementary students can and should be taught the factors of studying, essentially critical thinking. Why wait to drop a couple hundred grand on a liberal arts education when you can teach a child to be a self-learner by 3rd grade.

    How to Study and Teaching How to Study (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

    Teaching Boys and Girls How to Study’ (1919) by Peter Jeremiah Zimmers, Superintendent of City Schools, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There was a time when you wrote for and were tested in school by your teacher. Now people (young and older) are using social media to post their ideas and thoughts to get feedback from their writing from a wide spectrum of people. So please explain to me how AES (automated essay scoring) is close to or equal to a human that grades writing. It’s a computer tool to measure grammar and style that doesn’t know creative writing or even when a nonsensical sentence is handed to it. And what’s the incentive to write for a computer? What worthless and sterile feedback can I hope to get back?

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Mark, I apoligize straight form the gate that I cannot remember the guys name and already deleted it from my DVR,,,there was a man interviewed on Charlie Rose within the last week speaking to just this exact thing. How can we expect a computer to know/grade/examine another humans creativity when the computer cannot even tell (his exact example) the diff between a glass half full, full, empty, etc. etc. it can tell there is a cup, in fornt of it and that it is a cup or cup shaped and that there “appears to be liquid or solid in it” BUT, What kind of cup? Is it glass? See through? Plastic? Paper?

      And then we are so ignorant as a society that we leave a population of human animals by machines. WTF? Right???? As if artistic minds can be judged like that. No wonder Van Gogh had a tortured mind. He was the sane one. Peace, CJ

      • CJ
        CJ says:

        Human animals judged by machines (obviously, I am not not the iPad typist in my house)

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Thanks CJ. I think I found the Charlie Rose show online to which you refer to above at http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12321 . It’s Sebastian Thrun, Founder and head of Google X, and former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. The glass/cup of water or coffee example starts at 3:30 into the video. Presently, computers have been programmed to better humans at chess and Jeopardy but they have a long ways to go on some other things. Sebastian Thrunon starts talking about his online University project called Udacity and online learning in general at the 10 minute mark. That’s where I thought it got very interesting. Thanks for the heads up!

  7. CJ
    CJ says:

    Heartcrushed today over the announcement for the Time to Succeed Coalition. Calls for longer school year calendar, longer school days/classroom time AND more testing. Insists that this all shows higher achievement.

    I understand the mission comes from the pure intent to help and raise up the underprivileged children and their future prospects. But, my gosh, will we ever recognize that children should be allowed to be kids with wandering glorious minds? This is just another mass corporatizing

  8. CJ
    CJ says:

    Of our kids. Tuning them more and more into machines everyday. UGH!!!! I can’t believe the support this is already getting.

  9. Andi
    Andi says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece, Penelope. I had been considering homeschooling my daughter for quite some time, but my hubz is always concerned about the social aspect so I never pursued the issue beyond a passing fancy. I will share this with him & see if I can get him to open his mind to the possibility, because the more I read, the more frustrated I become with our public schools & how little they prepare kids for “real” life.


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