What is school about?

Written Oct 4, 2016

This is a very interesting question …

Bridge

I used to think that school was the bridge between being a toddler and becoming an adult.

However, since spending the last year homeschooling our daughter, I have been exhaustively researching and reading about pedagogy, philosophy of education, and learning/teaching styles. Of course, I have also been immersed in the day-to-day activities of my daughter’s education.

What I have learned has drastically changed my ideas about school

There are many discussions on Quora that highlight students’ dissatisfaction, frustrations, and anger about school.

The popular press is full of articles and discussions about how the (US) education system is failing. The routine response is for politicians to throw more money at schools, and make more legislation. However, the routine responses are not fixing a decades-old problem.

So, what is school about?

In its current form, school addresses the following:

  • imparts information that has been agreed upon by a body (usually educators, but sometimes politicians or foundations)
  • at each level, prepares students to advance to the next level
  • imparts information about the form of government, and how our society functions
  • daycare/babysitting
  • preventing child labor
  • socialization
  • societal norming (also referred to as the “hidden curriculum”)
  • ranking/grading/sorting to determine entrance to college/university and other programs

Ultimately, school should prepare students to enter into society with the skills and knowledge to function as adults and be able to survive in the economy.

These are minimum functions. Ideally, schools would provide far more:

  • critical thinking
  • love of learning
  • ability to communicate effectively (including oral, written and other methods such as art, videos, coding, websites, etc)
  • appreciation of the arts and aesthetics (including art, video, music, etc)
  • participation in a variety of activities (sports, music, arts, debate, chess, etc.)
  • exposure to a variety of academic and other topics, with options to pursue in depth
  • collaborative/team skills
  • everyday living skills
    • personal finances
    • relationships
    • how government functions / taxes
    • judicial system / emergency services
    • entrepreneurship/small business

However, not every student needs exposure to every function.

What should school be about?

In my opinion, the (US) school system is like a fixed price menu at a restaurant, while it should be more like a smorgasbord.

In one of his research papersBenjamin Bloom highlighted that one-to-one tutoring is the gold standard of learning methods. However, he pointed out that this kind of tutoring is too expensive for society to implement.

We now have technologies and processes (such as Khan Academy) which allow each student to learn at their own pace. This approach allows teachers to become coaches/guides/mentors, and essentially emulates the best attributes of one-to-one tutoring. (Flipped classroom)

Conclusion

The (US) school system is broken. It needs to be fixed. There’s lots of research, and people who know how to fix it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence that significant change will come soon. As a result, our family has chosen to implement some of these ideas by homeschooling.