Our current school system teaches students who to be obedient instead of independent. Almost every time our students show even the slightest deviation from the path schools set, we beat them back into line using our bludgeons made of consequences, grades, and self-esteem. I've been thinking about this a lot since reading John Taylor Gatto's essay, The Six-Lesson School teacher so I'm sure that many of the thoughts below are reflected in his essay. What follows are some sarcastic comments about how we strip children of their independence.
Want to go to the bathroom? Oh, you'll need a hall-pass for that, and don't try to go more than three times in a semester because We are keeping track.
Want to speak and share your thoughts? We have a roadblock for that too. First you have to raise your hands and We will let you know when you can speak. You can always tell who learned this lesson especially well by those people who raise their hands when chatting with their friends. We choose where you sit too.
Want to display your individuality in your clothing? Be careful! We've got rules about what you can wear. We would hate to let give you some freedom of expression.
Maybe you'd like to use your precious time outside of school for other pursuits instead of school? Oh, no! We have that time locked up with homework and school sanctioned sports. If you do not do what we tell you outside of school, we will be sure to put the pressure on through your parents and through our mechanical grading system.
Want to think outside the box? Perhaps come up with a unique solution to a boring problem? You'll find your grades suffer for that. Write about what interests you and we may have to suspend you from school, and prevent you from seeing your friends. You must write about what interests us, after all we are the gatekeepers of literature.
Get bored easily in class? They've got drugs for that. If what Sir Ken Robinson says about the rise of ADHD as you travel East from Ohio is true, then we are literally drugging our kids into obedience. Take the blue pill and slip back into our Matrix.
Got some self-esteem? We've got ways to take that away from you too. We will assign grades to your thoughts, give your peers awards for their obedience, and train you to loathe your independence.
If you have dreams for your future, they will in fact be our dreams and we will shatter them with our standardized tests and our common curriculum. We will take away the parts of school you love and drill you until the other part of school becomes repulsive.
Want to diss your school in your graduation speech? Be careful or they'll threaten to take away your diploma.
Perhaps you'd like to bring your partner to your prom? That's only okay if each of you has different pairs of chromosomes, otherwise it is immoral and wrong and we will be sure to remind you of this fact over and over again.
Once you enter post-secondary, we will force you into enormous loans, and then servitude to pay off these loans in some job you didn't want anyway. You believed us when we said college was the only answer and look where that got you! If you choose a different route than this, we will deride you and embarrass you for your choice in front of your peers in our final secondary school assembly.
Many schools unwittingly play a kind of psychological warfare against students. We work hard to ensure adhere to strict guidelines of conformity and use ladders of consequences to chip away at the self-esteem and independence of our children. We make too many choices for our students because of an economic need with our current factory model of schooling to teach each child for the least amount of money possible. We cannot afford to teach each child individually, or to provide them too many choices. Such models of education are not scalable!
The primary way you can help your students turn into independent and capable thinkers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to make choices. You do not need to specify exactly what they write about. You can let them choose when to use the bathroom, and what to wear to school. You can give them choices about what they learn and when they learn it. You can turn your school into a democracy.
David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.