What do Schools Teach Children?

Paul Birtwell posted a graphic that listed the following criteria of schooling:
What does school really teach children?

  1. Truth comes from authority.
  2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat.
  3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded.
  4. Non-compliance is punished.
  5. Conform intellectually and socially.

Yep… and it’s been this way for a long, long time.

There are a few exceptions, including schools influenced by John Dewey’s ideas, Reggio Emilia schools and those influenced by these schools, and a spattering of others. But, for the most part, public, charter, and private schools in the U.S. and most other countries, these 5 points are the overarching framework.

In a democracy:

  1. Authority should be questioned. Truth is something children should be seeking through their play, exploration, inquiries, and talk.
  2. Intelligence is not what can be regurgitated, but involves the abilities to question, think, analyze, imagine, create, and so forth.
  3. The abilities to construct good arguments, to create novel works in the arts (dramatic, musical, visual, etc.), to analyze, to question, etc. should be valued (I don’t want to say “rewarded” since it wreaks of behaviorism and our tendency to treat children like they are rats).
  4. Non-compliance should be an indication of issues with the nature of the classroom community and should lead to re-evaluating the way the community is maintained. Non-compliance also is an indication of a disconnect between the child and the adults and/or community, which the intelligent child intelligence is seeing. We should value non-compliance as an expression of intelligence and courage.
  5. Conformity should be suspect. The individuality of each child should be valued and celebrated. Diversity and variation are what keeps all types of systems viable and healthy, and are what provides for growth, development, and change.

About Jeff Bloom

I’m a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.

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