Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Why" Do We Have Schools Anyway?

Quite by accident I came back across this brilliant Ted Talk this morning. One that I had previously seen several years ago at an administrative retreat in a former school district. In it, Simon Sinek describes what separates great leaders and companies from less successful ones. His examples are brilliant, and the historical content and context is fascinating. It is well worth the time that you will invest in watching it for so many reasons.

In Sinek's model of leadership and success, everything comes down to the "Why" leading to "How" leading to "What" leading to action, purpose and success- which is typically the opposite of how most people and companies do things. It's fascinating stuff.

This of course makes me think about the "Why" in my school. And your school.  Or any school.

Why do we even have schools?

Are schools designed to expose students to many different things and ideas to determine what their passions are and then to apply their learning to chart the course to get to a place where they can be successful doing those things that they love?  Does your school really do that?  How much choice and freedom do kids have to explore, create, collaborate with others like them and focus on a specific area of interest for prolonged periods of time? If you tried to build a school that did that, would you be able to also cover everything in the expansive Common Core Curriculum and whatever will be on those standardized tests that will determine if your students graduate, or worse yet, if they will close down your school and replace it with a for-profit charter that teaches only those things from the Common Core?

Is school just a place to memorize a bunch of facts and figures that someone, somewhere, at some time decided that everyone must learn if they are to have any hope of success in this globally competitive "21st Century" world?  In a world where information changes so rapidly and technology creates new opportunities that never previously existed- every single day- why do we even have mandatory subjects?  How do we even know what we need to know right now, much less moving forward in an uncertain and rapidly changing future?

And while we are on the "subject" of this 21st Century curriculum: why are English, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and U.S. History so necessary for the "21st Century" learner anyway? Because back in 1892, the president of Harvard University designed curriculum and said that those subjects should be the basis for high school classes. If you happen to be interested in something else – psychology, art, computer science, architecture, international business? Sorry. Those subjects weren’t very popular at Harvard in 1892, so you will have to find a way to work those things in around the mandatory subjects if they are available at all in your school.

Is school about teaching kids to be competitive? If not, why do we have grades and class ranks and other institutions that make school a highly stressful, competitive event every day for many kids?  Learning outside of school is not a competitive event.  In the "real world" that we are allegedly preparing kids for, we learn what we choose or need to learn in real life- when we need to learn it.

So why do we have school?  Why does your school do the things that it does?  Does your "why" make sense when held up to the lens of your "How" and your "What"?

If you don't know the why, how can you do anything else?  "Why" don't you work on that?

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