New Slide: Is School Relevant?

I started reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin last week and while Seth’s primary audience is likely to be corporate types trying to survive and advance in a cutthroat world, I am finding all kinds of relevant implications for educators.

In fact, one of Godin’s central contentions—and one that he revisits throughout Linchpin—is that the standardized preparation that students receive in our factory-model of education leaves them woefully underprepared to be noteworthy contributors when the enter the work world, where innovation and risk-taking are rewarded.

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

It’s funny, isn’t it, that while policymakers continue to push for a more business-like approach to schools built on “rigor,” “accountability,” and “results” (Read: firing teachers and failing students based on nothing more than test scores), progressive business thinkers like Daniel Pink, Roger Martin and Seth Godin are pounding away at the very same approach, arguing that the factory must die.

I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

So whaddya’ think?  Is anything about school really relevant to success in today’s world?  Are we preparing kids to be the kinds of key players that American business needs in order to continue to thrive in a competitive world, or are we holding on to a system that has seen its better days?

What can we be proud of about American education?  What should we criticize?  What are you convinced we need to keep?  What could we pitch tomorrow?

Let’s do a bit of dreaming about what should be.


(Image credit:  That’s how you take half!  by David Swayze, licensed Creative Commons: Attribution.)

5 thoughts on “New Slide: Is School Relevant?

  1. BatGirl

    This is a complex topic. I became an educator 5 years ago in my mid-30s. My first reactions on being re-immersed in a public high school were amazement, sadness, and disappointment: hardly anything has changed in the way schools are run, although school itself is duller and even more restrictive. There is, if possible, even less freedom and independence and spontaneity for students now than there was in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Curriculum is prescribed and boring, with its standards, rubrics and rote curriculum. Creativity and the arts has been virtually eliminated. Meanwhile, our buildings are 50 years old and showing it, and feel about as relaxing and friendly as an airport (actually airports have more comfortable furniture). Think about the plush offices most people work in (and not just the private sector), then think about the hard chairs, cement walls, tile floors and bright lights our kids (and teachers) live with everyday.
    Many older kids find school torturous and can’t learn in this environment. By 10th grade some kids really need to be moving away from this setting and into apprenticeship and technical/job skills, life skills, work preparation, along with a shortened academic day. The Europeans seem to have a good model for this–letting people decide their general path and helping them prepare.
    Our brightest students are not challenged enough and teachers spend too much classtime and energy on kids with behavioral problems. Mainstreaming is the right idea but if we are honest, the results have been mixed for everyone involved. If kids with disabilities can have an “individualized” education, why can’t gifted ones? Or average ones? It all comes down to money, no doubt, and squeaky wheels. But if education is going to change, this is probably the direction it should move in. That would be revolutionary, however–moving away from treating students like herds and thinking of them as individuals. Teachers do this already of course, but administrators, school boards, and taxpayers need to start conceiving of schools this way.

  2. Joanne Lockwood White

    Until the creative and energetic teachers are identified easily, we might all go down. I secretly rewrite the “curriculum” every night at my own peril, but the non-tenured teachers can’t even think about doing that. So they are chained to a script developed by someone far away who cares about making profits and doesn’t know the students/ developmental or academic level or interests. They can’t build on enthusiasm or a spontaneous question.

  3. LK

    The system is broken. No education system can be perfect, but the current American system seems to fail gloriously.
    I’m much less worried about preparing kids to succeed in business than I am teaching them to think critically. I’m not sure that we produce students who can see through the advertising propaganda or the political fog produced by spin machines and talk radio.
    In a recent interview, Diane Ravitch said that we need a national curriculum instead of national standards. That idea might be a good start although the current political climate might make that idea a non starter.
    We need to eliminate the current calendar and do something like six weeks in class with two weeks off throughout the entire year. That timetable is negotiable, but taking the summer off doesn’t help students learn or be ready for the real world.
    Finally, relevance is a somewhat impossible goal. A high school freshman today will be working with tech that hasn’t been invented yet when s/he joins the labor force four or eight years from now. Also, for every Seth Godin who urges out of the box thinking, there are dozens of local business leaders who value conformity uber alles. The owner of the local hardware store and Godin probably will never agree about what constitutes relevance.

  4. mratzel

    There’s lot to celebrate. Certainly doesn’t mean we can’t and must do better. If NCLB taught us antyhing, it should have told us that there are subgroups for which our system is not successful.
    I think the notion that we are failing is false and largely a product of the media getting a story that they found sells papers or ads and they are pounding it home.
    My close friends in the sciences and engineering firms still would rather hire an American graduate than any other….they would tell you that Americans are better problem solvers when it comes to cutting edge research. From my conversastions, it’s because our grads are creative, out of the box thinkers, they’re more willing to try something even at the risk of failure and that they transfer what they know from one place to antoher.
    Do I think we’re doing enough? Probably not and I can’t see how we will do dramatically different things for a while. Everyone is in such hunker down mode…what with losing jobs, no $$$ for new technologies, highstake mania and micromanaging politicos. All things in education come around and I have the utmost hope that we will come out of this soon.

  5. Kevin

    Some aspects of school are certainly relevant to some jobs (doctors, engineers, lawyers, …), but almost none of school is relevant to the McJobs that most students end up with.

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