46. At the heart of pedagogy
When we think about the role of school, we have to take a minute to understand that we backed into this corner; we didn’t head here with intent.
A hundred and fifty years ago, 1 percent of the population went to the academy. They studied for studying’s sake. They did philosophy and mathematics and basic science, all as a way to understand the universe.
The rest of the world didn’t go to school. You learned something from your parents, perhaps, or if you were rich, from a tutor. But blacksmiths and stable boys and barbers didn’t sit in elegant one-room schoolhouses paid for by taxpay- ers, because there weren’t any.
After the invention of public school, of course, this all changed. The 1 percent still went to school to learn about the universe.
And 99 percent of the population went to school because they were ordered to go to school. And school was about basic writing (so you could do your job), reading (so you could do your job), and arithmetic (so you could do your job).
For a generation, that’s what school did. It was a direct and focused finishing school for pre-industrial kids.
Then, as often happens to institutions, mission creep sunk in. As long as we’re teaching something, the thinking went, let’s teach something. And so schools added all manner of material from the academy. We taught higher math or physics or chemistry or Shakespeare or Latin—not because it would help you with your job, but because learning stuff was important.
Public school shifted gears—it took the academy to the masses.
I want to be very clear here: I wouldn’t want to live in an uneducated world. I truly believe that education makes humans great, elevates our culture and our economy, and creates the foundation for the engine that drives science which leads to our well being. I’m not criticizing education.
No. But I am wondering when we decided that the purpose of school was to cram as much data/trivia/fact into every student as we possibly could.
Because that’s what we’re doing. We’re not only avoiding issues of practicality and projects and hands-on use of information; we’re also aggressively testing for trivia.
Which of society’s goals are we satisfying when we spend 80 percent of the school day drilling and bullying to get kids to momentarily swallow and then regurgitate this month’s agenda?
(from Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Read more of the thought-provoker/action-provoker here.)
[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]