Why do we have school?

Years back, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I decided that I needed some money to pay for bills, food and rent because I didn’t want to move home and live with my parents. I was 18 you know and that would have been a real blow to my independence and self-esteem if I had had to move back home. After doing a few odd things, I happened upon someone who needed some painting. The rest, as they say, is history. I liked the job and, after a few summer working for someone else, I decided to work for myself. With a partner, a company was born that proved to be quite successful, employing 20 odd university students during its peak operations. I was also attending university and this “summer” job provided me with the opportunity to  earn enough money to put myself through school plus pay the bills. At one point, I decided that I should really take this a bit more seriously and took some classes in the craft moving toward my journeyman status.

I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few weeks. I’ve been finding it rather difficult to write these past few weeks because of a ho-hum that has settled in. Now this could partly be due to the fact that my candle has finally reached the point where two ends cannot burn at once. Another important impact is that I’m neck deep in various projects that are requiring my time. A third possible reason for my lack of ideas is that I’m not really sure where I’m going right now. That whole “being adrift” feeling and not having a focus. I’m lacking enthusiasm right now and I really don’t know why.

However, while cruising through some posts the other day, I watched a video Digital Students @ Analog Schools. As I listened to the students speak, I was reminded of the movie Teachers with good ol’ Nick Nolty.

The issues that are raised in that movie regarding teacher/student relations, the incredible tensions teachers find themselves under and the ways they deal with that stress, are similar to those we are still facing today. The schools didn’t work for those students, or the teachers for that matter,  why should we expect them to work now? I mean, the best teacher is an escapee from a mental institute who makes history come alive for the students. Students are depicted as entering and exiting a world of ditto worksheets and any teacher who is reaching out to students and using whatever technological methods available is still an outsider. Now there is more going on in the movie than this but the whole idea that the schools weren’t working.

As for what students are saying in the video about what they expect when going to school, I’d venture to guess that it was no different than some previous generations. I mean, my university experience didn’t prepare me a lick for what I do today. In fact, other than the skills of reading, writing and math, I really question all the other things that were covered in my schooling. Very little, if any, gave me the skills that I needed when I entered the work force, started a company, did a variety of other things and then entered my present profession.  Not to mention the skills I have found that I need as a parent and a community member. Holly macaroni! Where was I during those classes? No amount of “real world” experience or problem solving could have prepared me for that.

However, I didn’t have the means to express that frustration or angst that today’s youth are being provided and it has given them a voice unlike any voice they have had in the past. As I’ve discussed with students a few times, having a voice is one thing but expecting that you will get what you want is another. As I watch the different presentations about schools and read the discussions, I wonder if there is any way we can bring the two sides together? Can schools ever hope to provide what the youth want when it comes to education? Did schools ever really provide students with skills for society? Or do we just pay homage to a system by saying “it worked for past students but wont’ for these students.” when in fact it didn’t work and, from my brief survey of people around me, didn’t really prepare them for the lives they are living. Could it be the whole idea of “preparing the youth future society” won’t really take place at school? Instead, it will take place like it did for many, during the day-to-day of actually living and dealing with what is taking place at that time.

As I ponder what people say about schools, students, technology and the future,  I wonder if we are any different from what has taken place before? Sure there is greater access to global partnerships but we still need to take care of what is happening in our own backyard. Sure we can communicate with people all over the world via a multitude of methods but it’s the daily face-to-face encounters that move us and affect us far greater. Yes we can work and collaborate in incredible ways but the sharing of duties within a house still impacts people in deeply rooted ways.

I don’t think we stop using and working with the technologies and helping students to use them to broaden their learning and sort through their  understandings. Technologies do give us access to things we didn’t have before in a number of areas. But, when we really get down to it, did schools really prepare students for the future? Or does school play another role in our societal design besides the preparation for the future? Should we be looking at things from a different perspective?  I’m not sure. But as I work through quite a few different “real world” problems with students, parents, teachers and staff, I wonder if we need to reconsider how we label the role schools have in our society.


  1. Reply

    Kelly – what you’re getting at is the difference between “schooling” and “education”. What worries me are students that are good at schooling. I remember them from when I was in school. I know them now as a teacher. I see these “A” students and know that they’re headed off to college and life and that they’re in far worse shape than my “C” and “D” students. This alone may be a reason to huck the grade book, huck the system, and realize that I have 180 days a year to work with young people and to help them do amazing things. It’s what I got into the business for. It’s easy to forget that working at a place called school. Keep fighting the good fight Kel. You’re kids are lucky to have you.

  2. Reply

    Glenn, it’s all about education. I’m still not sure where the whole “we need to prepare them for the future” fits into this whole thing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that if we are going to shrug the “keeping kids busy during the day” cloak we are wearing, it will be because we quit trying to prepare kids for something that is unknown. Instead, we begin to really work on helping them develop life-long learning skills that will help them meet the future with confidence. I guess my own “learning” reflects this – I don’t fear what will happen because I’ve acquired life-long learning skills that will help me acquire what I need.

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