What is school really for?

Stop and think about it sometime. What did you really learn in grammar school, middle school and high school?

Maybe you learned a lot. Maybe you can still do algebra and geometry problems. You might even actually remember what you did in chemistry class. But what about history? Do you still remember all those dates and battles? And when was the last time you wrote in cursive, except to sign your name on a document?

I have to confess I don’t remember much. OK, so I learned how to spell “eschew” and “egregious,” and I did have one or two English teachers who inspired me. And being who I am, I loved art and music in school. But most of the things I really needed to live my daily life I learned outside of school.

Did I learn how to balance my checkbook or do my income tax in school? Did I learn how to buy a home or how to take care of a baby? We had home ec classes in high school, but we girls mostly just stood around giggling and burning things. My mother taught me how to cook at home.

I’ve often thought that the educational system in the USA (and probably many other places in the world) needs to be completely revamped. It needs to be more practical, but it also needs to have more respect for kids as individuals and help bring out their unique talents and abilities. Even if classes are large, they can be divided into groups, and the kids can help each other. In fact, I’ve always liked the concept of the little country school, with kids of different ages working together.

What is school for, anyway? Is it just a place for kids to be dumped while their parents go off to work? Sometimes it seems that way, but it could be so much more.

How do you think schools could be improved? What is school really for?

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9 Comments

Filed under education, my history

9 responses to “What is school really for?

  1. Laura Moliter

    I think that school’s should encourage kids to THINK, to use their minds to gain sharpness and readiness, to develop new ideas rather than regurgitate something they won’t remember in a week. Obviously, there is a need for broad understanding of English (please, can we teach writing that isn’t abbreviated text speak and that cherishes capital letters!), history, science, math, and the arts. But, I think there needs to be a greater sense of engaging the mind in thinking for itself–without the need to do everything quicker, without Wikipedia’s version of everything, without technology as origin and ultimate end to all study. Engage minds! Open them up! Don’t pander to a kid’s need for entertainment, but allow them the true satisfaction that comes of getting there through one’s own energized, expansive thought. That’s a true and more lasting excitement and, I think, leads to a more prepared, fruitful adult.

  2. It’s interesting, because long before the technology we have today, the text speak and so on, the problem of not engaging kids’ minds was rampant. I went to high school in the 1950s! Time for a change, for sure…

  3. Thomas Moore

    Amy, I see it a bit differently. First, my disclaimer: I LOVED school. I used to look forward to the end of summer and the first day of school. I loved the structure – for learning and playing and socializing and doing sports and music and art and English and Social Studies and French – and friends! What was not to love about it? I loved it so much that after I graduated high school I did 6 years to earn two bachelor’s degrees (Berklee College of Music, Performance-Percussion & Mus Ed), 3 years to get my JD, and another 3+ years to get my Master’s from The Ohio State University School of Public Policy and Management! And I’d go back in a heartbeat if I could – and I might! Maybe to teach. That would be great.

    But I don’t think your point was college.

    Let’s first establish that everyone is unique. Each of us is an individual. We are at least as individual as snowflakes times a million, and we all know that no two snowflakes are alike. We learned that in elementary school.

    Amy, you say you did not learn how to balance your checkbook or do your income tax in school. Not so fast, grasshopper! There is a difference between training and education. Training is learning things step by step. You may not have to do much more than surface thinking to be trained to do anything. But if you are educated, then you can learn to do many, many things. If you know math, if you’ve done projects with deadlines, if you’ve had to go over your algebra and geometry to check your work, then you’ve learned all the skills anyone could need to do their taxes. I went to law school and graduated in 1987, but I didn’t do my own taxes until 1991 or 1992. And my first return was also my first and ONLY audit! Such fun…

    Education is not about what specific facts we may remember. First of all, repetition is the key to long-term information retention. Some of us became historians, others musicians, others, whatever. We learned the basics. What we did with them was left up to our lifetimes to tell. And most of all, we learned to live and work and play together. There is no greater lesson than that.

    I don’t doubt that education can be improved, but I also don’t doubt that if our species survives for another 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years, 1,000,000 years, 1,000,000,000 years, in each and every generation they will be having this discussion. And while the fundamentals of every discipline remain the basis of all future achievement, we will continue to find new ways to improve the process of teaching our successors.

    I submit that even the suggestions you have made are and have been implemented more than you might already know. When I was in elementary school, it was not a one-room school house, but there was plenty of integration among the kids – in music, dance, art, performances. I went to an alternative high school, of which I was a founding member. It is still in operation today. My kids both went to a similar school in another state, which was created around the same time as mine.

    In the end, love for children and the love of knowledge and humankind will lead us to new solutions to old problems, and sometimes back to old solutions to old problems. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I learned that in elementary French….
    I seem to recall that the latin roots of the word we know call education suggests that the process is one of bringing out that which is there. Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “We understand best that which begins in ourselves and by education brightens into birth.” This process has been going on for 10,000 years (or more), and will continue. We learn what we embrace. We have all had both good and not so good teachers. The good ones to me are those who inspire and build on what the child brings to the process. Changing our educational systems is not likely to change the fact that there will always be good and not so good teachers, but improving the process is a great idea, so long as we don’t mistake the system for key ingredient: love.

    • Hi Tommy,
      Yes, I’m aware that some of these things are already going on…I’d just like to see them going on more universally. Also, I do think there should be training in school in addition to intellectual learning…in other words, the practical as well as the theoretical.

      But I’m very glad that you loved school so much! I didn’t really dislike it myself. There were some great courses and teachers, for sure. Some teachers can really have a life-changing effect, in the best sense of the word.

  4. Libby Unwin

    I agree with Laura. We do, in this era, need discipline in school–need more imagination, some spiritual thought and more practical thought. Kids seem to be bored with school these days.

  5. my husband is involved in educational computer games; the kind that might bring historical facts alive. I think often about all the history classes I had. And how much revolved around dry memorization of names and dates. And yes I forgot it all because it was all unimpressionable. Now if I’d learned those names and dates in the context of real story, I might actually remember something. If those times could have been recreated for the student, humanized. But no. Like you , I don’t remember very much.

  6. I honestly think the entire educational system needs to be overhauled…I’m not even sure any more if “school” is the best place for children to learn. There has to be a better way…

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