Why does school suck? We teach it to suck.

Why is school such a drag? Why are students so relieved when school is out? How, as educators, did we screw this one up so badly? I mean, what could be more fun than spending time with your friends and being exposed to a wide range of useful information through activities instead of working for a living. If kids werent forced to go to school, they certainly never would.


Another satisfied customer.

Yet, learning is the most natural thing for a child to do, and we are scratching our heads wondering how we are going to get them to do it. How could an organization be so badly managed?

Joel Kline, the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education recently said:  “If they ran Google the way we run public schools they would shut it down tomorrow”. Google doesnt seem to have any problems attracting participants. They are wildly successful, well managed and have a staff of motivated, creative people. Why are they so successful? One reason is that they are nothing like the education system.

Throughout school, students are told that if they buckle down, do as they’re told and study the material, they will be successful in life. Those who do not comply will get the bad jobs, those who do will get the good jobs. But when they enter the real world they quickly realize that their academic credentials are almost worthless. If they are lucky, they someday realize that real success comes from doing something you enjoy with motivation and creativity. Three things that were never covered in school.

Anyone who has watched the game-show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader” can see how little of the content knowledge covered in school actually gets learned in any meaningful way. So what were we learning that whole time? What were we doing squandering our youth in stuffy classrooms, when we could have been enjoying our short and precious youth?

Einstein once said: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” So what is school for? That is for each person to answer for themselves.  At worst it has taught us to be dependent on schools to learn. It has placed an invisible monopoly on learning. Without school there is no meaningful learning. Academia is sacred, anything else is marginal. It has driven this notion so deep that it is difficult for most people to learn without a proper context.

What would we do without an education monopoly? Catastrophe.

This doctrine is so important, that it must be forced upon its pupils through standardized curriculum. It can only be applied through rigorous behavioural training. Most of all it requires the implementation of a set of values that will sustain it over generations.

Sadly, it teaches us that hard work and discipline are virtues. And we end up believing it without question. Fun is frivolous. Seriousness is serious. Fun and learning dont mix. It cant all be fun and games, out there the world is tough. Bla Bla Bla . Bullshit. We were taught to think that, and we can be taught not to think it.

The good news is that as a result everyone gets a pretty good education. Who could argue with that? People need educations. There is so much stuff to learn. The other result is that over time we forget how to learn by ourselves. We become dependent on schools to give us the knowledge we need. And as adults, when the time comes to seek new knowledge, we invariably turn to schools for help. Or we simply stop learning altogether.

If Einstein was right, then school leaves us with the lesson that learning is strictly dependent on toil through institutionalization. But its not true. If Google were running the show, learning would be fun. Students would be motivated to come to school and eager to learn. Schools would be run efficiently, cost effectively, maybe even profitably.

I have taught ESL to both children and adults. The instructional strategies in both classrooms are the same with one important difference. Adults need to be convinced that they are learning, kids need to be convinced that they are not. The more schooling an individual has had, the more serious the learning has to appear. The more schooling they have had, the harder it is to teach them. That doesnt sound right to me.

If students are not learning anything in class then why not? They would learn if they cared, or if they were motivated. If you are a teacher, ask yourself this: What is keeping students from enjoying their learning experience? Whatever it is, whether it is the materials, the fact that it is happening in a classroom, too much work, not relevant, too many students, not interesting, seats too uncomfortable, too much material to be covered, whatever it is, its wrong.

Where the learning is really going on

Dont worry about other teachers, just look at what you do.  Whether its the teachers fault, or the school boards fault, or the fault of education itself, whatever. If learning is really the point here, then the thing that doesnt work has to go. That is something that you can control. There is a better way to do it, there is always a better way. Its not enough to say there is nothing to be done.  If this were a business in that “real world” we are supposed to be preparing students for, then we would have to solve this problem. If we dont, then maybe Google should be running it instead.