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.

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