Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What if schools thought of themselves as a service?

I wonder what would happen to education if schools thought of kids as clients who had to be pleased? Thats a radical thought isn't it? Such a view would require a sea change in the way in which schools regard kids.

Today, many schools are about two things and two things only; test scores and keeping order. The approach to raising test scores is to reduce the curriculum into smaller and smaller bits. Schools often attempt to guess what will be on a particular standardized test. When they think they have it figured out, they create warm-ups and drills to force feed kids those discreet facts. Schools reduce the content, water it down and dumb it down until they think they are only teaching what is going to be on the test. Because of this kind of approach, schools have become places of excrutiating boredom. They create souless, boring lessons designed to teach the trivia that is going to be on the test. Schools today have little or nothing to do with how children really learn.

Some truly great schools look at it another way. There exists a kind of school that actually tries to create activities and materials that stimulate kids. Lessons in such a school would take into account the way kids live. Kids learn through doing and through play. Great schools look at the real world to find out what children do when they are going about the business of learning as kids.

Great schools do not concern themselves much with disciplinary management. They don't have to be too worried about discipline. These places have such vibrant teaching approaches that their kids are captivated. The kids are interested in what they are learning because it fits the fact that they are kids.

Kids would be regarded as a clientele that must be served an interesting, absorbing and vibrant product. Imagine what could result if a school thought of itself as a competitor for the love and joy of children. Think of the results that could be attained if schools thought of kids less as things to be managed.

I wonder what would happen if schools structured their world so that children actually wanted to be there. Children want to be in a place of joy. They do not want to be in a place where they are assumed to be potential problems.

Presently, students can generally expect punishment instead of fulfilment from many schools. They are bombarded about their hair and their clothes. Kids often find themselves being yelled at in hallways. One of the schools in my district required 5th and 6th grade students to eat silently at lunch. No talking was allowed. I could never understand what perverse and warped logic supported that policy. The environment many kids find themselves in is often chaotic. They find themselves often sitting still for hours when they would work much harder if thier work was intrisically interesting. Many kids feel that they are despised if they learn differently, dress differently, or commit the error of bringing the problems in their lives to school.

For a school to reform itself in a new mold it would have to completely change the way it regards kids. Kids would have to be regarded as basically good. Kids would have to be treated with respect. There is absolutely nothing wrong with talking to a child as if they were born deserving respect. That in itself is a novel concept in many places. They would have to be taught in the way humans actually learn. Lessons would have to be written with an eye to interest combined with solid learning. The school would sincerely try to fashion itself into an entity characterized by deep respect for all kids. Kids would be treated with courtesy. Discipline does not suffer when respect is afforded to children. There are students who almost never hear pleasant words from the adults around them. The adults in the school would actually listen to children as if they have something to say.

Students would be thought of as precious cargo. No student would experience being forced into a mold that does not match their skills or development. This means that few would learn at the same pace. People simply do not learn at the same pace. They would not be labeled failures if the scored badly on the currently trendy standardized test. They would be helped. Standardized tests would only be used to diagnose rather than to sort and cull.

Schools would have to look at themselves as a service industry. They would remold themselves into organizations that made happiness the central to their endeavors. Every kid would be built up. Every act of the school would be to make every student believe they can be successful. Every moment in school would be filled with purposeful activity. Kids would never feel their time was being wasted. They would feel that the goal of the school was to insure their success no matter what their background, no matter what their reading level, no matter what the nature of their circumstances.

Such schools would have to hire brilliant, secure people who could actually think. Too many schools are led by rigid, dry people who do not really have any joy in their own lives. Many schools love children in the abstract but when faced with the living, breathing children, they fail miserably. In the pursuit of test scores instead of valid learning they create failure and miserable places.

What would happen if administrators believed in making a school a happy place to be?
What would happen if kids were treated warmly in schools?
What would happen if kids who aren't cut to the pattern were loved even if they are different?

I wonder.

John McGeough


Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

I'm likely to place the blame on the fact that the school system is basically a monopoly. There is no true incentive for performance, or punishment for failure. People with means take their kids out and put them in private schools or home-schooling, and thus the uproar has to come from the people who have the least time to fight the system: the poor. The public school system is one reason I'm leaving southern California for the Atlanta area. I refuse to put my kids (when I have some, that is) through the schools here.

Good luck with the blog. I'll try to check in from time to time, as it's always good to get an insiders perspective. Since you're new to the blogosphere, I recommend checking out StatCounter to keep an eye on who's coming to see your blog. If you're going to keep regular updates, I'll toss you on my link list.

Also, for another education oriented blog, you might enjoy linking to The Education Wonk. It's a good read to keep an eye on what's happening, and watch for material to comment upon.

And last, of course, you could always link me, over at The Unrepentant Individual.

2:18 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

Came over and took a look at your blog. I've reviewed all of your entries; I like what I see. I am looking forward to reading more.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

An interesting but l o n g viewpoint.
Another interesting teacher blog is at which has a
very simple Hit Counter on it for free.
And if any of you people happen to be
math teachers try
Keep in touch.

11:32 AM  

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