Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Purpose of School

I was a little later than usual to school this morning. When that happens, I inevitably get stuck behind a yellow school bus that drops off 60 kids near the side entrance of our building. While today's frustration of waiting for the bus to empty wasn't new to me, the thoughts I had while it happened were. I watched each kid get off the bus in a single-file line, like cattle, and trudge into the building at 7:03 AM. I'd imagine that the school bus ride in the morning was a little quieter than in the afternoon. It's almost as if the kids had a business-like approach to them when they got off the bus, one by one, like they do, like they have for years, year, after year, after year.

Its the "mundane-ness" of school that gets us in trouble as educators. It's the status quo that bores me. One of my favorite colleagues always says, "It's how we've always done it," is an unacceptable justification for anything. So what, then, are we doing here? Why do we put kids through this? What motivates us as educators to keep reinventing ourselves or our classes? What is the purpose of school?

1. School helps kids find out who they are
I guess that's really easy for me to say since I became an educator myself, but the truth is, most people will find their passions by the time they graduate high school. Our school has an obligation to foster those passions and provide opportunities to feed them. My favorite question to ask teenagers is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  If "I don't know," is the answer, I think we have to talk about that with our students. The schools that focus on what their students are passionate about are the best schools. During the most formative years of their lives, the school can drive their students' sense of self and purpose.

2. School remains "In Loco Parentis"
I'm not a scholar of Latin nor could I tell you what the 1960's were like, but I do know that schools have historically been tabbed, "in place of the parents." How much time do we spend in our schools working on curriculum that will never matter in our students' real lives? From an elementary or middle school standpoint, almost everything we do in schools matters in building the foundation of thinking, reading, writing, and expressing. I get that. But we argue about minutia, methods, and assessment when we could be focusing on real life skills that a parent would want their child to learn. What values are we teaching our kids through our "hidden curriculum?" How do we teach kids how to be responsible citizens? Do we teach kids how to consume media or ways they can make a difference in the world? This is what a parent does, or should do. If schools are "in place of the parents," shouldn't we put a premium on teaching these things too?

3. School isn't the real world, but shouldn't it be?
How we evaluate our students' work is really hot topic today. The truth is, we love the "real world" comparison and we use it with our students all the time. And in the real world, I don't know if I am in the 97th percentile of teachers or the 37th percentile of teachers. I do know, however, that I can perform the job. Shouldn't kids get a basic feedback from their school whether or not they can do the job? A salesmen knows if he met his quota. A stay-at-home Mom can tell you she was effective that day. Schools have to prepare kids for the real world and their system has to be reflective of real world evaluation. Beyond the curriculum and the skills, we have an obligation to make school innovative and exciting. Because each day, there are 1,800 cattle being herded into our building, and we owe it our students to make school purposeful.