Schools are the Wal-Marts of learning

I have been cranky lately. This is a cranky post. My last one. I am officially making spring “positive blogging season.” Which I guess means I still have until March 21st to be cranky. So please bear with me…

What must we change to in order to improve schools? How many times have you heard a question like that in the last year?

I think that the question automatically skews the answer. If you start off by using the word change, you start processing a problem in terms of fixing what is already present. You take the current system and processes and make them better.

I think it is a question that is nearly impossible for teachers to answer. How can someone who has spent their entire life in the system be able to bring true innovation and change to schools since all they have ever experienced or lived in have been schools? It is kind of like having car companies trying to change and improve cars. They have made them safer, sleeker, more efficient, and lighter, but essentially they are still combustion engines on four wheels.

Just by having the word “schools” in the question sets us up for failure. That word forces us to keep in place certain processes and features and build around them. So how about if we get rid of the word school. We can’t make the question “How would we improve teaching?” That would force us to center our solutions around having teachers. We can’t insert the word “students.” That just brings us right back to teachers and schools.

Right now schools try to do everything. We teach skills, facts, values, parenting skills, drug prevention, fire safety, provide medical care, provide lunches, and you know the list can go on and on. Schools are the Wal-Mart’s of knowledge. While you can get anything you want at Wal-Mart, nothing is really the best quality. Even when they sell something that is identical to a quality product, there are different components in the inside that allows them to sell it just a bit cheaper. Buy a pair of sneakers at Wal-Mart and it will be worn out in a couple of years and you will have to come back and buy a new pair. Learn fractions in 3rd grade and in a couple of years you will forget it and have to be re-taught them again in 5th grade. Buy some eggs at Wal-Mart and they might look like the same on the outside as the eggs from the farmer done the road who let’s his chickens roam outside, but the taste, texture, and nutritional value sure are not the same. A high school can give diplomas to all of its qualified students, but all qualifying means is that you passed memorized some facts, and passed some tests. Kids are graduating with hollow insides void of wisdom, virtue, and love. Their brains have little “nutritional value.”

As a part time organic farmer, I often get questions from people asking how they can buy better food, what stores they should shop in, or simply what can they change with their food to improve their health? I don’t respond with names or types. I tell them to grow their own. That’s the starting place. If you can’t do that then what kind of food can you acquire that is closest to growing your own. I think we can start with the same analogy when we try to answer the question, “What must we change to in order to improve schools?”

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