What is school for?

Published by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 12:43 AM

Seth Godin wrote a post called What is school for? and here are some of the things he came up with:

6. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas

7. Give kids something to do while parents work

8. Teach future citizens how to conform

9. Teach future consumers how to desire

It’s an interesting list, with items that, as Seth points out, contradict each other. Take a look and tell me what you think.

(And … does school = education here?)


    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 12:58 AM

    I’ll start ...

    2. Be able to read for pleasure

    Is that why we teach children how to read, so they can read for pleasure? There is very little time available during a typical school day to read for pleasure, and reading in school is usually used to do assigned tasks.

    Numbers 8 and 9 -- how to conform and how to desire material goods .. have to say that seems generally true.

    14. Help people become interesting and productive

    Does school really help people become interesting? I think education should help people find their interests, talents, and work — which would make them interesting! — but does school do that? How?

    24. Increase emotional intelligence

    Mmmm... lol.

    Comment by amy on February 5, 2009 at 01:41 AM

    This list seems to confuse "school" with "education." Or perhaps it's an idealized list of what school could be? I don't know anything about this person's background (and have no time to figure it out!!) so I'm not sure where he's coming from. Several items on the list struck me as absurd, the reading one right off the bat. School DESTROYS reading for pleasure for many kids. When the natural range of learning to read is larger than when the school says everyone should know how to read, you're going to create kids who hate to read simply because they were (wrongly) made to feel they couldn't do it. School has no patience for the outliers.

    Also, I mentioned you on my blog: http://live-learn-knit.blogspot.com/2009/02/catching-up-with-alala.html

    Thanks for the work you do here!!

    Comment by Kat on February 5, 2009 at 02:49 AM

    This is relevant - sort of - to your question of whether school = education, or rather, whether education = school ;)

    A couple of days ago I heard a fantastic interview on On Point with John Ashbrook, on (Boston) NPR, about the ethics of healthy people taking "cognitive enhancers" (Ritalin, Adderal) to boost their academic and otherwise cognitive performance. Apparently there was an article in Nature in December in which the authors set forth several reasons why this is a good idea. One of them was that taking these enhancers is no different from a good night's sleep or getting an education.

    Now one of the detractors on the show said (I paraphrase) that if we let kids take these enhancers before they take a big test, we give them several messages: 1) that they don't need to work to succeed (the pill will do it for you) and 2) that cramming and test score are all that matters in education.

    In effect, he said, popping pills at school thus goes against everything that education should stand for: that making an effort makes you stronger (enhances you) in many more ways than just your cognitive development, that we want you to be an autonomous person...

    Well, you can listen to the interview here: http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2009/02/mind-enhancing-drugs/?autostart=true

    Comment by jess on February 5, 2009 at 03:01 AM

    13. Learn for the sake of learning

    Um... you mean "Learn for the sake of passing standardized tests"?

    18. Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems

    Exactly when is this supposed to happen? Between the fatty fried cafeteria lunch and the recess that's being skipped so Sally can catch up on math?

    21. Increase appreciation for art and culture

    This would be great. If they actually did anything artistic or creative in schools anymore. (No time! No money!)

    22. Teach creativity and problem solving

    'Cause you can get really creative filling in those little circles on multiple choice tests.

    Sorry. Am I too bitter?

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 03:48 AM

    i think this list points out some of the contradictory goals of education .. we want kids to do A, but we also want B; we want them to develop like C, but also like D...

    amy, seth’s a marketing guru .. i think his main point -- that we should think about what school is for, and communicate with our schools to let them know what we want -- is a good one.

    thank you for the mention! :^)

    kat, thank you so much for sharing that. this is like athletes using science (drugs or medical procedures) to perform better. i assume the author in nature wasn’t condoning kids using drugs to do better on the SAT. sigh.

    jess, i think #18 is an excellent one to pull apart -- i mean, we do teach kids the food pyramid (or whatever its equivalent is in 2009) and in illinois we still mandate p.e. for all students .. but there are soda machines in the hallways, nachos are served for lunch, and many, many schools are cutting back or eliminating recess. i remember in susan o'hanian's book one atlanta superintendent saying there would be no playground at a new school (for young students!) because there's no room for recess anymore -- kids have to be learning all the time (to do well on standardized tests).

    re: #21, i just had a call this week from a teacher friend who told me students in her town don’t have art at all -- except for six weeks in sixth grade.

    this would make a great documentary — just ask a thousand random parents, politicians, and educators “what is education for?”

    Comment by Mary on February 5, 2009 at 03:53 AM

    #9 is what my 10 year old told me the other day. He was talking about consumer math problems (if you have $x and get this, this, and this, how much will you have left) and said "they just teach you how to spend money but not how to make it or how to save". And he was talking about the reward/bribe systems often used in elementary ed. This conversation was in the context of listening to and discussing Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace program, but I thought it was an interesting assessment.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 04:19 AM

    mary, awesome that he put it together himself. financial management is one of the things we feel really strongly about teaching to our children. consumer math needs some word problems about compound interest. ;^)

    Comment by Alice on February 5, 2009 at 09:02 AM

    I have had some interesting conversations recently about the pupose of school, and in particular school trips (because my daughter refused to participate).

    -socialisation - what I see is the promotion of teasing, bullying, competition, intollerence
    - because children have to learn to do things they don't want to do - as if life doesn't throw enough of those opportunities in your path
    - because we have to learn to get up early and get to school on time in order to prepare ourselves for work-life - isn't a pay-cheque enough incentive (or an interesting job)? Do we need years of practice?
    - so that less fortunate children can learn things from the more fortunate ones - this was a reply to my criticsm that my daughter would do interesting things with her time, like read books about marine life or play board games like chess and checkers. The teacher replied that the less fortunate (the board games were cheap and the books from the public library) child would benefit from my daughter's knowledge - wouldn't this be true if the same child came to play at our house, or at the park? I was so happy last summer when another girl at the park learnt to ride on my daughters' bike (she really was less fortunate, not just because she didn't have her own bike, but because her mother didn't even notice that her daughter had taught herself to ride one:()

    and as for the class trip - the teacher said that it was like a rite of initiation (!?).

    I wish that school would go back to its more humble origins and intentions - teaching children the three R's because their parents are too busy working on the farm (or in the office) to help them.

    I would be quite happy about sending my daughter to school (her choice, she enjoys it) if there weren't so many pretences. I don't need someone else to teach my daughter what to eat, how to sit on a chair to avoid back problems (what if we eliminated the chair ? I suggested that and was told that the class would go out of control if the children were allowed to move! I have to bring a medical certificate to allow my daughter to stand up when she wants to - she has been complaining of a sore back and she is only 7), nor do I need to oblige my daughter to go on a school outing because it will teach her to be independent.

    What my daughter is learning at school at the moment is negotiating her rights - we are spending a lot of time negotiating her rights (and every child's) with her school. I try and look on the positive side:)


    Comment by Candy Cook on February 5, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    I don't disagree that the *PURPOSE* of school, in the minds of many folks, is very much close to the list presented. But, that the outcome, the result, or the reality of school is often times very different from the list presented. The purpose of something is relative to the individual and to each experience. For example, the purpose (for most folks) of a butter knife is to have a dull spreading blade or cut very soft objects. But, many times, the purpose of a butter knife, in my kitchen, is to beat the top off of a jar. So, of course, purpose can be very different within just a few moments from person to person. Goals, however, are different.. they're not relative. They're statements of fact.. this *IS* what we intend to do and they are worded so that everyone can clearly see the mission at hand and the objectives. While I wish that some of those purposes he listed were goals of the school system, I have my doubts.

    1. Become an informed citizen
    Informed about what? I remember very, very little attention being paid to current events until I got closer to high school.. and even then, it was extremely limited - even in the Current Events class that I took.

    2. Be able to read for pleasure.
    This, is absolutely untrue. I've posted before about the fact that people I know who were taught to read by school not enjoying reading in the least, and people I know who simply learned to read by having books read to them thoroughly enjoying reading for the rest of their lives. What school does to reading is really a very sad aspect of school. Pleasure is not considered when teaching children to read at school, and I have proof in my own experience. I had books taken away from me, in school. I had teachers tell me that 'reading ahead' was not acceptable. (In other words, reading the book for pleasure is not acceptable...it is schoolwork that must be done in class), I had a great deal of teachers complain to my parents over my choices of reading material. They seem to despise reading for pleasure. My dad, who learned reading in school, still thinks that I don't get enough information because I choose to READ the news, rather than watch it on TV. He's always on my butt about watching the news instead of reading it.

    4. Do well on standardized tests
    I agree wholeheartedly,with this one. It is a primary, undeniable GOAL of school.. not just a purpose.

    5. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
    I don't doubt this as being a goal, also. However, I would not go as far as to limit it only to "dangerous" ideas. I would say it's closer to eliminating the need to think for ones self and destroying the ability to teach ones self how to do things.

    6. Give kids something to do while parents work
    Ouch. They couldn't think of something better for kids to do while their parents worked?

    7. Teach future citizens how to conform.
    I agree with this also. It goes along with pasteurizing out dangerous ideas. Unfortunately, this has a way of backfiring. Badly. And fortunately, it doesn't always work and the greatness of some folks isn't totally destroyed by conformistness. :D

    8. Teach future consumers how to desire
    This was a huge obstacle for me when I was in school. Material things did not motivate me. I did not care to own a giant house, or an awesome car. I didn't understand why folks were so hung up on me 'finding a good paying job.' I just didn't care about money.. and stuff.. and I rebelled against the notion that I would grow up and find a big house in the suburbs and drive the latest car and wear fashions I didn't pick up at the thrift store. But, I agree that it is not just a purpose of school, but an all out GOAL.

    9. Generate future scientists who will advance medicine and technology
    I seriously find this disturbing. Because it's one of the reasons I took my son OUT of school. He has a very scientific mind and the school was pushing him to submit and stop testing, stop experimenting with human action and reaction, stop thinking and exploring for himself without the tainting influence of authoritative INSTRUCTORS. He's a mad scientist.. he doesn't need an INSTRUCTOR, he needs an assistant. School gives kids the illusion, for the most part, that everything is figured out and they know everything and *you* know nothing. It is stifling. It's murderous of the scientific spirit with which children are born. Why do we have to act like we know everything? Why can't the unclouded mind of a child re-examine without being bombarded by all the ANSWERS before they even get to the question?!

    10. Learn for the sake of learning
    NOT. School is anything BUT a place to learn for the sake of learning. If it were about learning for the sake of learning, there wouldn't be so much pressure.. pushing.. grading.. busy-work.. curriculum-led studies through classes that were totally uninterested in the subject. School has absolutely no claim to "learning for the sake of learning." I always had the feeling that there was a hidden agenda and I was being "tricked" into doing something, and I was right. There was...

    11. Help people become interesting and productive
    I agree with the fact that school attempts to train folks to be productive. But, help them become interesting? How does school help somebody become interesting? School is probably one of the most boring, time wasting things I've ever done in my entire life.

    12. Find and celebrate prodigies, geniuses and the gifted - excluding any of them who may not conform or refuse to be pasteurized.

    13. Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems - I dunno about you, but I sure as hell didn't learn any healthy habits from school. When I was in middle school, they started putting in coke and candy bar machines to make money off of our unhealthy cravings - I would think that is a conflict of interest, there. I hated school gym class so much that I would not dress out or participate, but I played outdoors almost everyday from the time school let out until sundown. My son, a very energetic bouncy ball with arms, hated school PE class and did not want to participate.

    14. Increase appreciation for art and culture. This is a joke. Making, often times offensive, crafts that represent a culture does not count as exposure to and promoting appreciation for that culture.

    15 Teach creativity and problem solving - "TEACH" Creativity?? How does that work? Creative Problem Solving is HIGHLY frowned upon in school, if I remember correctly. I was placed in the remedial math class for "creative problem solving" -- no matter that my answers were correct - I didn't CONFORM to the way I was SUPPOSED To be solving problems. "Creativity" and "Problem Solving" are like oil and water in a school environment.--oh, unless it's one of those projects where students are PERMITTED to creatively solve problems. Rarely happens.

    16. Minimize public spelling mistakes - LOLOL I won a lot of "Young WRITERS awards" throughout elementary school, and NOT ONCE did they present me with a certificate that had my name spelled CORRECTLY. Not ONE TIME. Very Ironic. If correct spelling is a purpose of school, they fail miserably. And if they think that PHONICS is going to help curb spelling mistakes, well, they are certainly barking up the wrong tree.

    17. Make sure the sports teams have enough players?.... and enough folks buying tickets to watch. I think this about sums it up. Really.

    Dude forgot the fact that "schools" provide millions of jobs for people. Teachers, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, lunch ladies, textbook writers and publishers, pre-schools, coaches, maintenance dudes, builders... etc.

    Comment by Kat on February 5, 2009 at 01:04 PM

    Lori wrote: "i assume the author in nature wasn’t condoning kids using drugs to do better on the SAT. sigh."

    Yes, actually they were! They were putting it n a par with a good night's sleep, or a healthy piece of fruit. I know it's unbelievable, but the paper calls for regulation for this kind of use of cognitive enhancing drugs. I'll have another good look at it soon.

    Comment by Sam on February 5, 2009 at 01:29 PM

    This is very interesting. Creating a society which doesn't question, doesn't need to find out why changes are made, has basic skills (to keep industry running), BUT not enough to challenge the status quo - that's what schools are for.

    Reading for pleasure? Iif you're too slow, you quickly learn that you "can't" read. If you're too fast, you get bored waiting for everyone else to catch up.

    Learn for the sake of learning? Our libraries only buy "kids" books if they feature on the National Curriculum, so you can learn about Florence Nightingale at school and read about her at home (20 children's books in our libraries). But if you want to know more about the Crimean war, how, why, politics, economics etc. - no chance! (1 book - Mary Saecole)

    7. Give kids something to do while their parents work
    This has featured strongly in the last few days, as many schools in the UK shut (we had a few inches of snow!)
    I'm sure the kids were all loving it :-) but the news programes are going on and on about "something must be done" - parents need their kids to be in school so they can go to work.
    Nothing there about going to school so they can "appreciate art" !


    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 04:24 PM


    one of the things i think about socialization at a typical school is the weird way we segregate kids into their birthday years rather than letting them live as communities with children who are younger/older. it makes sense that shutting all those same-age kids up in a room would ramp up the competition. i don’t like it. i loved the way kids worked together and supported each other in my multi-age classes.

    i agree with you completely about “because children have to learn to do things they don’t want to do” — that one has been stated to me over and over again! also, “because children need to learn to deal with all kinds of people” — even though school for me personally was a place of intolerance and bullying over differences. it seems to teach appreciation of differences we could think of ways to change the way kids relate to each other in school — back to that multi-age, more mixed-group type environment idea.

    love your point of learning to negotiate her rights .. that is something that school can teach, if they allow children to work together in groups on long-term projects — negotiation and other communication skills.

    candy, re: goals/ideas of purpose .. don’t you think sometimes we *assume* other people have the same ideas when really, maybe they don’t? my idea of a PTA would be parents sitting down with educators to negotiate the best education for the children — not having bake sales to raise money for new football uniforms. but i think most parents *assume the school has the same goals* without really examining that assumption critically.

    re: #2 be able to read for pleasure .. i keep thinking about this, and i think that most teachers and school administrators would agree this is an important goal — but what do we do to make it *happen* in school? it’s one of those things that i imagine school thinks will happen at home — e.g., “we taught them to read *so* they can read what they enjoy .. at home”. except kids have so much homework, and so many other things to do in their little bit of free time .. so when do they get to read for pleasure?

    if it’s a real goal, let’s work together to make a life for our children that makes it possible! (and i’m talking about society’s chlidren, here — not just mine.)

    #5 pasteurize out dangerous ideas — i thought a little more about this and realized that “dangerous ideas” are ideas that *other people* have. for some, evolution is a dangerous idea. for some, global warming. and etc.

    #9 generating future scientists — love your points here! i agree that dynamic innovators need a different way!

    #10 learn for the sake of learning — i think that’s a hard goal to pair up with “learn to do well on standardized tests” — another contradiction. school that focuses on extrinsic praise, assessment, and comparisons is going to have a hard time getting across learning for the joy of learning.

    i think your final point about one of the purposes of schools is to provide jobs and economic stability is spot on! can’t believe seth missed that one. ;^)

    kat, that is *horrible*. i was imagining they were saying, “hey, why shouldn’t cancer researchers use these drugs to focus so they can find a cure faster?” because what is the point of using drugs to get a higher SAT score? it doesn’t represent anything *real*. unless those kids are going to stay drugged for the rest of their lives. gah!

    sam, that is really depressing re: libraries only buying books on the nat’l curriculum!! for awhile they were saying that with the internet, home libraries would become a thing of the past, and then real libraries would be all electronic .. now our home library has a better range of children’s literature stretching back 100 years than our town library!

    i read about your UK snow day .. i am sure those kids will remember it forever!

    Comment by Barbara on February 5, 2009 at 04:53 PM

    14... HMM. what I did while I was skipping school made my life interesting.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 05:12 PM

    barbara, lol.

    okay, but can we all agree that school has the *potential* to help create interesting people? that if things were a little different, students could have the opportunity to hook into their unique interests and talents and express them in interesting ways?

    actually, the way the purpose is framed says “help people *become interesting*” and i see two things wrong with that —

    1 - people already *are* interesting. education should help them get in touch with what is already inside them.


    2 - “interesting” is how people view you from the outside. education should help make people *interested*.

    Comment by Sarah Jackson on February 5, 2009 at 05:22 PM

    I read the list and it made me really sad. Because the not-so-pretty purposes like conformity and test taking are the ones that are actually achieved, and the purposes that should really mean something like reading for pleasure and finding great scientific minds rarely happen. I outright laughed at the celebrating genius one. In my experience, geniuses rarely do well in school.

    Imagine what our society could look like if we weren't all trained to conform. Think of what amazing things would be invented, discovered, written, created. If only schools as a whole really could encourage and develop creativity and innovation. Sigh.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 06:01 PM

    i agree with you, sarah, but it isn’t a pipe dream! it is possible! i know, because with almost no money and a lot of innovation, we had that kind of school.

    here’s where i think the disconnect happens between parents and the educational system.

    parents see their children as individual souls who they want to have safe, happy, fulfilled lives.

    the educational system sees our future society, our future workforce.

    we want our kids to get the help they need to be as good as or better than other children the same age.

    the system understands that not everyone can be at the top, and as the pendulum swings over the years, they allocate resources to the top, the bottom, the middle .. trying different approaches to get everyone where they think they should be, as a group.

    “If only schools as a whole really could encourage and develop creativity and innovation.” but schools have to justify that everyone was given the same opportunities — equal chances to learn equal amounts of knowledge, achieve equal amounts of skill!

    the problem i see is beautifully illustrated by seth’s post .. we all want one thing, and we assume everyone else wants the same. (because who would ever deny wanting children to learn to love to read? helping people become interesting? a well-educated and productive society? celebrating genius?) but secretly we don’t really care so much for the other side’s goals (society vs. individual) and we do everything we can to skew things our way. middle- and upper-class parents get in there and advocate for their kids to get gifted classes, the better teacher, more honors, extra attention. the system nods and smiles and tries to push things a different direction — responding to the everyday realism of the classroom where four of the kids have ADD, six didn’t have breakfast, one isn’t safe to sit next to another child, and so on.

    until we sit down and hammer out exactly what is happening at school vs. what our goals are, we don’t have a grasp on the reality of our children’s education. and until we’re willing to really look at that, we can’t make change.

    Comment by Kerry on February 5, 2009 at 06:25 PM

    There's almost too much in here to comment on, but I can't resist commenting on reading "for pleasure". Back in our school days, my son had two different school librarians (at two different schools) who seemed to actively discourage reading for pleasure, one by only allowing children to check out things that were at their "grade level" (not their individual reading level, but the GRADE level) His reading was far above grade level, but they would not allow him to check out books that would be more challenging/interesting to him. The second librarian would say "you can't check that one out, you've already had it out once this year", thus discouraging re-reading a book, or trying it again if you didn't finish it the first time. I am a former children's librarian myself, so I do know all about the challenges of keeping books organized, etc. But to me, the school librarian is not merely a gatekeeper of the library materials, but should play a major role in keeping kids reading for fun by recommending books, talking about books, etc. For a long time my son simply refused to check books out of there, and we relied on books we bought, or books at the public library. I'm glad to say that his love of reading survived, but I'm sure that isn't the case for all of his peers.

    Ugh. Don't even get me started on some of the other points on the list! : )

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 06:40 PM

    wow, kerry. that is really depressing.

    this thing about not allowing kids to select books above their reading level keeps coming up again and again!

    Comment by Candy Cook on February 6, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    I agree that SCHOOL has AWESOME POTENTIAL. There are resources and materials and just such a heap of awesome and cool things in a school building. There are things there that children absolutely LOVE to do.. it's really a totally cool place with such a wealth of interesting neat stuff. If only there weren't such a continuous battle for control. A child should never have to engage in a battle over their own mind, their own free will, their own independence, their own self. They are forced to spend so much energy in school, just trying to hold on to their beliefs.. their own personal truths, their own sense of wonder and their own sources of inspiration and motivation.. that there isn't really a whole lot of energy left to focus on actually learning things. And as they age, I think, many times they don't outgrow the fact that they're in this constant battle to hold on to their own unique perspective and personal beliefs that it *can* and many times does turn into an all out war.. they hold on tighter and become more stubborn and shut out all that "learning" that they view as just another attempt by the adults to bring in a trojan horse. Or they break down, and simply accept and believe whatever is said and stop questioning for themselves.

    But, there is potential... in a school building.. I often wish I had access to some of their materials... it's right across the street from my house. I often times wish, we could just walk in there and do some art work with all of their many supplies.... or check out those full length skeletons.. or look at the giant world maps that hang in every room... or come over and have playtime with all the other kids during recess. But, they're so controlling... that it's ALL or NOTHING. Learning shouldn't be that way.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2009 at 01:23 PM

    candy, i don’t know where you live, but here illinois, homeschooled kids can attend school for just the classes they want — just art and P.E., say, or just science lab. interesting.

    school has the money and the adults ready to work with children and the support of our entire society. from working with schools and teachers, i know that it doesn’t take much inspiration and much support to turn things in a completely new direction. so why doesn’t it happen?

    Comment by Candy Cook on February 6, 2009 at 02:08 PM

    Well, they cannot do that here. I live in GA and when I removed my son from the school, I specifically asked if he could still come to see his pals at recess and such. No deal.

    I dunno, why. I know I don't have anything to do with the school anymore. It's not like I didn't try in the year he attended. I went to the meetings, mostly about how to make more money.. I was involved, I came to help - which, many times, they turned me down... they asked me to stop coming into the school in the mornings to walk my son to class... i tried talking to the principal to get an old run-down "garden" on the school property back into action and I was ignored, the parents were a lot different than me - seeing their kid's education as some kind of competition of who was smarter, or did the best.. even as far as one mom mentioning about a child "He's good at everything.. sometimes, I just want to kill him..." LIKE WHAT!? I was disgusted with the whole scene and I left. I think that happens a lot.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2009 at 03:21 PM

    i think adults hunger for useful society as much as children do; when they talk about the importance of socialization, they always seem to mean “learning to deal with bullies” and “learning to be institutionalized” instead of “learning how to make a community for yourself”. when adults feel shut out of the school community, they stop advocating for their children. and, obviously, some of them flee altogether. ;^)

    Comment by Candy Cook on February 6, 2009 at 03:42 PM

    Thanks for your insight. I have enjoyed the discussion. In fact, your last post hits a nail. This morning, on another board, I was responding to "interesting questions," and I came to a sort of realization that I seem to purposely create beliefs for myself that mostly alienate me from the rest of folks.

    I think our institutional school experience was doomed from the start, at least partly, because of my undeniable preference to be a loner. So, what if unschool was the mainstream acceptable choice? Would I rebel against it? Maybe I am not as deschooled as I thought. :) ..still holding on to that old feeling like adults (or the masses) are trying to push a trojan horse into my fortress.

    Comment by Gillian on February 8, 2009 at 11:28 PM

    Hi Lori, I recently found your blog and have been really enjoying reading here! I think you are making a good point by encouraging us to ask ourselves about "first principles." It's a great idea to examine our shared assumptions, as well as those we don't all share, about the aims of education. And to know what the aims of education are, perhaps we also have to ask questions such as, "What do we believe about child development?" or even, "What is a child?" "What do we believe about how learning takes place?" Maybe even questions such as "What is a good life?" since in considering education, projections are so often made about the kind of future life a child ought to be prepared for: Material success? Contributing to the economy? Ability to "follow one's bliss"? Self-actualization? Helping others? etc...

    The question of whether such answers can be generally agreed-upon, for the purposes of public education in a democracy, is another one I wonder about. We see little culture-war issues, over the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, the teaching of evolution, and it's obvious there's a lot of contention over things. How can we all get along? Can we possibly come up with ONE unified system with a shared philosophy behind it without excluding the beliefs of some (i.e. differing religious and philosophical responses to the questions posed above), or would a national educational system work better if it allowed for a variety of types of schools with a certain like-mindedness informing each of them? I'm thinking of Parochial and Christian schools on one end of the spectrum (though they are private, and arguably should remain outside any publicly-funded system) and some of the very experimental public schools that, for instance, the Seattle public school system has created over the years (though some of the remaining ones are facing closure due to their small enrollment). I have a friend who's a product of one of the latter; in the 70's, she literally created her own education in such a school, with very little interference. There's a such a wide spectrum of options. It does seem to me that, in a democracy, we have to somehow allow for a plurality of perspectives on the education question.

    I tend to think that the diversity of the homeschooling movement is one of the many strengths that the public sector would do well to understand and try to emulate, but the attitude of the public education system, at least judging from my experience in trying to create innovation there over a period of three years (before I realized I was getting nowhere and gave up), is that the entrenched bureaucracy as it currently exists is not ready to accept such change. Yet I believe that changes that would allow much more diversity in the kinds of schools that are created, and in the ways learning is approached, is ultimately public education's only future. We're not there yet, but as the homeschooling movement grows, hopefully some of its positive aspects will rub off or seep into institutional education. That's my hope at least, but only time will tell.

    Seth's list has some items which seem idealistic and other which are highly critical of the system as it is. The criticisms are apt, and remind me of the writing of John Taylor Gatto, in his book *Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda of Compulsory Schooling,* or in speeches like the one here (his acceptance speech for teacher of the year which turns into a rather scathing critique of the system! A good read on the topic of what schools really accomplish, from an insider's perspective):


    Seth's item #27 made me laugh. Make sure team sports have enough players. Yep, a little community like ours couldn't rally around the football team and have an outlet for a lot of adult competitiveness without enough kids willing to tackle each other!

    --Gillian, guiding three home learners

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 9, 2009 at 12:34 AM

    gillian, thank you & thank you for your comment.

    i read gatto’s aceptance speech in the whole earth review in 1991; i still have the issue. i think i might date my first serious consideration of homeschooling to that day!

    Comment by shawn on February 17, 2009 at 09:12 PM

    I love our school. Our community is awesome. We have people who live in multi-million dollar homes and people who live in a trailer park all attending the same school. We have art...not only taught to them in art class, but parent volunteers also come in and teach about a different artist once a month along with a great art project. Our science is all hands on and progressive. Our kids read for fun and each year we have something called 'young authors'. the children create their own book and a childrens book author comes and speaks. The middle school drama class comes and acts out 4 or 5 of the childrens books. Its great. We have 3 recesses, P.E., and the 4th graders learn ballet during their year and perform at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in March. We also don't have to be enrolled in a public school to be on a sports team...and pay to see them play? As for conformity....My youngest insists on wearing one black and one white shoe. He is quite his very own little person.
    I have 3 boys. We are closer to the lower income level and love the fact that we have friends with lots of money so my boys can do things that we can't afford....ski boat, pool, movie theatres. We are a close family and my boys love our old little house and wouldn't trade it for a fancy big one. The fancy car...maybe, but our public education has served us very well. I love our school.

    Comment by Lori Pickert on February 17, 2009 at 10:03 PM

    shawn, your school sounds wonderful!

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