The societies we create in schools that are "compulsary" are not ones that we either control or even know how to. Human social interaction is complicated an even in the best of circumstances, we struggle to affect even the smallest of interactions between students. The fact that we are adults in this society renders us socially impotent and casts us in roles as "background players". Here we leave all students to the mercy of the dramas that unfold. Our only simulation of control is what we call disciplin. These extreneous attempts are by no means complex enough to adequately address the range of human interactions that are occuring in real time all around us.
As educators we are charged with custodial care of kids from 8 till 3:30 but the ugly truth, that we all know is that we really only control a thin line of behavior in our classrooms. The real powerful learning, “social learning” is out of our perview. In the time we have kids in our rooms we have a measure of control or at least it looks so on the surface and that seems to be enough to put us at ease. Research I have read compares the former, aggressive behaviors that served homo sapiens well, to the less overt social aggressiveness that modern society has given birth to. To illuminate this thinking, compare the feeling of seeing a carnivorous animal at the only watering hole to seeing a bully in the bathroom. Kids often express their adolescent insecurities by being socially aggressive to other kids, usually those who are percieved as “easy prey”. While these attacks seem more civilized than physical attacks, they may have must longer lasting effects in terms of confidence and self esteem. One only need to watch Opra to hear tales of the lasting affects of public school social aggression. Research done with non-invasive technologies like MRI’s and CAT scans show that the thalamus, the fight or flight center of the brain is active when subjects are exposed to imagery that conjures up the emotions created by social aggression. What are we teaching kids in schools? It seems the lesson we are teaching is as old as the fight for survival. Don’t stand out from the herd or take chances. Be strong or silent and do not take chances.
As I look at the skills sets demanded by the changing workplace ( Read The World is Flat ) of today I am struck by a glaring disparity. Schools are teaching compliance and how to follow rules, both social and institutional, while business needs individuals who can take chances and think independently. Something has to give and my fear is that without a redesign of American education, our economy may be doomed.
Think of all we as parents try to do for our kids while they are in our custodial care. We read about the importance of stimulating that growing brain. We expose our children to new experiences and even stand proudly as they peddle a bike awkwardly for the first time. We want their minds to be open to new learning and to experiences, then we dress them and point them toward a yellow bus. What a leap of faith it is to send them off to a strange new place where they will spend the first full day on their own, with only the hope that it won’t be worse than it was for us. As I look at the growing divide between what schools do to prepare kids for life and the realities that life entails, I am conviced we are in a crisis. Because of it’s beaurocratic controls and the need for consensus about what is important enough to be taught to our kids, public schools are doomed to mediocrity, always aiming for the middle to serve the herd and the parents of the herd, especially the loud ones. How can public education improve? You must first ask yourself the question; Can a system designed to teach "all" kids, really teach all kids? Do you believe this is even possible? In nature’s model, the parent wolf, dog, deer etc. takes it’s young out into the world and shows them firsthand how to deal with reality. The momma deer does not send it’s young to a building where there is little that resembles real grass and dirt to listen to another deer talk about nature in the abstract. Even though her young could be eaten by a wolf on it’s first outing, nature seems to favor real experience. The one lesson I learned firsthand, was that compliance was favored over all. Sit in your seat, (the hard one) and raise your hand and if I call on you you may speak. Please indicate with a show of fingers if you need toilet tissue. In what way are we preparing kids to be self-starters.