The Meaning of School

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It is important to me that my son value and see meaning in going to school. Regardless of how much my wife and I work with him academically at home, it is “school” as an institution – both physically and conceptually – that I want him to value and respect.

So I was very concerned when my son said he didn’t want to go to school because he “wasn’t learning anything.” My wife and I met with his teacher and principal to develop strategies for restoring my son’s belief in school.

In hindsight, I think my son’s poor attitude was the result of his being separated from friends. His Pre-K class is a mixed Pre-K/K class. When he was in Pre-K most of his friends were kindergartners. When they went to first grade, he must have felt left behind and unable to cope with some of the friendly teasing they gave him. My wife’s rigorous academics at home helped him feel confident among his older friends and the strategies we devised with his teacher and principal helped him see his place in the classroom.

In America, where everyone is guaranteed a spot in a school at least until the age of 18, a child’s appreciation of school is in my opinion particularly important. I believe if a child sees school as a frightening place where he is bullied and berated or a dull, lackluster, emotionless experience, he will most likely will seek the first avenue out and not value education as an ongoing process. I speak from personal experience.

My father used to say there is a difference between “earning” something and having something “given” to you. He believed the former made you appreciate whatever that “something” was more. I have grown to agree with him on this and believe the same applies to mandatory schooling. If going to school is a given and no effort is made to make the experience challenging and meaningful, it is incarceration or imprisonment!

I have been enjoying the discussion Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch have been having on mandatory schooling. I wonder if given the option, how many parents wouldn’t send their children to school? What are the drawbacks to going to school? I think given the option, schools would have to work harder to be more attractive to parents and students than any other alternative.

What is the current purpose of schooling? Is it to produce civic participants? A future workforce to sustain national prosperity? Critical thinkers and creative problem solvers? A little dash of this and a pinch of that?

Eduwonkette conveys historian, David Labaree’s vision of schools well in her guest post at Sharp Brains. In order of importance, Labaree’s goals of schools are:

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

With this stated, I do not feel schools are currently assessed for these goals. In fact, what the general population hears most is that Internationally US students score below other students on standardized tests. As far as I know there is no measurement of how many students participate in civic activities impacting their community? Or how many students of age vote?

Maybe it’s just me but it doesn’t seem that schools in their current state are addressing any of the three goals Labaree has identified.

There is a funny movie starring Luke Wilson where America is run by “idiots” as a result of mere biologic reproduction. The movie is called Idiocracy. While presenting all sorts of interesting educational nature v. nurture arguments, it also inadvertently speaks to the lack of relevance schools have to the general population. Would the America of Idiocracy be our America if schools were not mandatory? I fear that it is our America if schools do not work harder to be meaningful and relevant.

2 responses

  1. I Hate School « K2Twelve

    […] I reacted to the Bridging Differences discussion on mandatory schooling, I came across a post written by […]

  2. I Hate School « Blog for Cranial Gunk

    […] I reacted to the Bridging Differences discussion on mandatory schooling, I came across a post written by […]

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