Personal Uncategorized Weekly Post

Schools Are Mirrors, Not Windows (Stilll seeking sugestions for a title!)

By now you have probably heard someone who was talking about changing education refer to how we still teach like we are in the 19th Century.  By now you have probably read many articles, posts, and tweets about how to change schools.  It is something that I have intensely thought about in the last year.  Lately I am just so stuck on why things that obviously work are rejected by other educators in lieu of more traditional tools and practices.  It seems so obvious why we should stop grades, coercive management plans, move to PBL, and integrate technology.  Yet so many people will not even consider any of those for a second.

Consider things you can easily change someone’s mind about.  Where to go out and eat dinner?  A title of a new book to read?  Type of laptop to purchase?  Where to shop for clothes?  You could met someone and sway their decisions on those questions probably within minutes.

How about these– Switch religions? Become pro-choice? Homeschool your kids?  Convince your boss to change the dress code to shorts at work? Don’t get married before kids?

The first set of questions is easy, the second set hard.  The reasons for some of the questions in the second set might seem to you as obvious as the answers in the first set.  Why you should buy your clothes at Walmart might be as obvious as why one should be pro-choice.  Yet why would another person be capable of being easily swayed to try and buy clothes at Walmart, but never consider becoming pro-choice?  It is hard to change what makes up one’s culture.

Maybe its hard to change schools because what one would be trying to do is not just change tools and techniques, but a society’s culture.  School’s did not rise up in the 19th Century and then shift the ways Americans thought and how they lived.  They did not rise up and change our views on children and how one should learn and be taught.  Our culture is not a reflection of our schools, our schools are a reflection of our culture and it is that 19th Century reflection that still dominates our educational practices because it is still those 19th Century views that dominate out 21st Century American Culture.

In the early 19th Century a change occurred in American culture that later influenced education and is still with us today.  Women started to lose economic importance.  While once integral to the family’s financial status, factory goods and specialized farming took much of their responsibility away. Homes were becoming separate and cut away from society.  There was home, and then there was work.  Women began to “raise” children as a separate job.  Originally the whole family was involved in the economic fabric of the house and community, now it was no longer part of the economy.  That meant that kids’ daily activities no longer were apart of the economic fabric of the family, or society.  A disconnect between childhood and adulthood began to grow.  Children became no longer meaningful to adults.  They were to be raised as emotional beings–emotionally coerced into doing things that seemingly had no connection to their day, the families success, or society’s success. This is when many books on how to raise your child started to be written.  No longer were parents the expert. Raising children became stressful, with parents responsible for how their kid turned out and increasingly seeking advice on how to raise their kid and allowing others to “take over.”

Schools were set-up and continued this line of thinking.  Children were buckets to be filled, they were to be taught to be ready for work “in the future.”  They were not to be empowered.  They were not capable of taking on responsibilities.  They were taken away from society for more and more years–now it is quite possible for a kid to be in school away from the economic fabric of our society for 13 years before being expected to go out into the world and contribute.  19 years for those college (BS/MA) graduates.  Schools were built and educated kids in a manner in which our culture determined.

So that leaves me with a question in my head…If we were able to change a few schools would that lead to a cultural change?  Or should we be working on changing our cultural values…

We still live in a culture which does not believe that a kid can contribute value to our society.  We still live in a culture in which it is OK to have a kid contribute nothing of value until after “graduation.”  The problem with our 21st Century schools is not our 19th Century methods, it’s that we are teaching with 21st Century cultural values that still harbor the essence of our culture from almost 200 years ago.

In 1820, a kid living in my town could go to sleep at night knowing that what s/he did during the day was vital to the families well being, and connected to the fabric of the well being of the community.  In the next school year I am going to spend a little less time wondering how I can change schools, and a little more time thinking about making sure that the results of my students’ projects add value to the community.


  1. Thanks for blogging Paul, you are a pleasure to read.
    I think, though what you say might be true in many areas, in areas I’m familiar with, it is not a problem of values voting citizens unable to change. It is more an issue of the institutional inertia of “education” in general, teamed with a voting citizenry steeped in anti-intellectualism with an eye toward keeping taxes low.
    But to revolutionize education, somebody has to get hurt. That somebody will be the leaders of the current institutions. By leaders of education, I’m talking about Superintendents, Consultants, Washington Think Tanks, etc., etc. Everybody who has “skin in the game” will be out on their ear, unless they are riding the correct wave into the future.
    As a proponent of “Open Education”, I believe as we change how we use media and information in schools from top-down to flat, we will find our schools systems changing. Changing the way we use information and media in schools is a quiet revolution we as teachers can conduct under the noses of our institutional leadership. Progressive leaders will marshal that change and wind up on top of whatever is created from the ashes of our current educational system.
    I’ve blogged a full response at

  2. Well, let’s see here…where to start…new titles…We Reflect Static or Schools Are Mirrors, Not Windows.


    I’d like to add that I think at a certain point kids revolted against this idea of being “prepared to work”. This lead society to begin expecting less of the “new adults” entering the workforce, if they even entered it at all.

    I also have another conspiracy…in that the current state of education, and NCLB, have been concocted, not to ensure equity, but to further embolden the lines between our social classes. Meaning, that “the poor must deserve to be so, because even with the government intervening, this group of students still can’t pass the test, they must deserve this.”

    I mean imagine it, if NCLB worked, soon enough we would have all students being extremely intelligent and successful. This means that all students would go to college, this means that a college degree would lose value, this means that there would be people working at McDonalds and at gas stations, who have college degrees. This means that education would eventually be void, as it would no longer determine whether or not you could get a good job. This means I have typed too much and, unless you see what I am saying, you think that I am crazy, and don’t see how it relates to this post.

    Let me just say this…at my worst, I believe that education remains static because it provides our society with the three socioeconomic classes that have powered our economy thus far (oh wait). And that many schools are filled with educators (I use that term loosely) who believe that this is just and right, as they have lived within that society and benefited from it for years.

    P.S. I am not going to look for typos, so I apologize for any, I need to go do dishes…

  3. @ Paul I think you’d like The Game of School by Fried and The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith. They both take up some similar thoughts in looking at the issue of school.

    I really enjoyed this post. Very profound.

  4. I enjoyed your analysis. I tend to look further back, and wider, schools in the US are a mirror of the early Calvinist Church – based in individual print literacy and favoring the subjects and methods of learning found unsinful by 17th Century Massachusetts religious fanatics.

    Overlayed on that is an industrial time-clock schedule and the structure of a value-added stamping plant. As well as the family assumptions of the mid-19th Century leadership class (as you so accurately describe), and the filtering mechanism (age-based grades) of “social darwinist theory.”

    It is an ugly mess. Preserved because it continues to maintain the power and economic differentials which ensure the survival of the upper classes.

    So break everything there you can. The only way to change education is through disruption.

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