Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Hate School

I hated school as a teenager and maybe even before that. The institutionalization of my intellect. The fascist policing of my imagination. The "marginalization" of my individuality. The co-opting of my identity.

I cringe when I read writers like Victor Davis Hanson denounce public education. In his article, "Back to School Blues," he condemns the current public education system because his cashier has difficulty counting out his change and another has problems explaining a warranty. I cringe because I am afraid when Victor speaks about the quality "liberal education" his grandfather received, he is talking about a segregated classroom of Whites only. Consider the years his grandfather was in high school and the years before that.

I cringe because in Victor Hanson's day and in his grandfather's day very clear and always very detrimental distinctions were drawn between race, class, and culture. I cringe because while I disagree with Victor, I cannot totally agree with Dennis. I agree data can be easily twisted and manipulated to perpetuate a negative stereotype of public education. I disagree with the use of test scores as a valid way of judging schools and students successes.

In his post, "Philosophy of Education," Greg Cruey provides an interesting pondering of the role or meaning of school in society. I think he touched upon an important but often ignored issues when he wrote that

The purposes of education are multiple and interwoven. Those purposes change with age, environment, and the peculiarities of individual students so that even within a specific classroom the primary purpose of schooling for this child may be one thing and the primary purpose for that child may be yet another.  

I like the idea of education being an "organic entity" that can "change with age" and evolve to meet the needs of the 21st Century. I like the idea because it is the core principle of teaching - process. Teaching is a process. Tests are products that should help assess and discipline the process but they should never be considered the goal of the learning process.

Greg writes another post where he considers his students' "understanding" of the subjects he teaches. He ponders their futures and the result of an overemphasis on "work" skills.

When I reacted to the Bridging Differences discussion on mandatory schooling, I came across a post written by Eduwonkette that paraphrased historian David Labaree’s vision of schools:

  1. to prepare children for their place in the economy
  2. to achieve democratic equality
  3. to nurture social mobility

Inspired by Greg's train of thought, where are the students in this vision? Specifically where do the students who are "daydreamers" fit in this hierarchical vision? As someone who didn't "apply" himself or "daydreamed" in class, where do I fit - did I fit into the vision? More importantly, where will my children fit into the vision? I already recognize that faraway look my eldest gets sometimes and my youngest cannot sit still. In those aspects they have inherited my problematic DNA.

Or is the estrangement of school from any personal relevance simply a fact of life? As school becomes more about creating "people products" (slavish skilled drones who will perform their assigned tasks without question), instead of "people processes" (engaged workers who find fulfillment in the pursuit of creative solutions to problematic situations).

There is a long history of student disdain for school. Look at pop culture and the music we've grown up with. Wikipedia has an article listing songs involving school. Some just mention school. Others denounce it.

How many songs do you remember spouting the evils of school?


[Originally posted at Blog for Cranial Gunk]


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carosgram said...

"We don't need no education" - I just love Pink Floyd and Another Brick in the Wall.

thisislarry said...

My English teacher senior year made us all memorize the following passage by Thomas Huxley. It seemed pointlessly arcane.

At our graduation he game one of the speeches, and halfway thru, he began to say the lines he had us memorize that year. As we realized what he was saying, we began to say it with him, and it became a song, without much meaning, but with the meter and the rhythm we had been forced to memorize. It was gorgeous. I think at the time, I got a glimpse of the meaning.

Only much later as an adult, did I read the passage again and appreciate its message. In homage to Mr Ed Smilde, here is that passage, on the subject of education:

"That man, I think, has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will, and does with ease and pleasure all the work that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength, and in smooth working order; ready, like a steam engine, to be turned to any kind of work, and spin the gossamers as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the great and fundamental truths of Nature and of the laws of her operations; one who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; who has learned to love all beauty, whether of Nature or of art, to hate all vileness, and to respect others as himself."

Too bad it takes the passing of one's youth to appreciate it.

thisislarry said...

Oh yeah, in college the unofficial motto was: that which does not kill me makes me stronger.

You're not supposed to like school, you're supposed to be survive it.

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