Why Schooling?

Why Schooling?

Those of you who follow this blog know that I have been experiencing a sift in my thinking about education over the last few years.  Maybe not so much a shift but a clarification and redefining of what I mean by education, schooling and learning.  I used to use these words almost interchangeably.  But my experience as a parent, educator and, learner is teaching me that they are very different and sometimes in conflict. I also notice I am redefining what it means to be a student and learner.

I think technology and ubiquitous access to information have played a key role in redefining these terms for me.  Schools once existed to ensure access to books, knowledge, and expertise that ordinary citizens lacked.  Now all information is accessible at little or know cost.  I have greater access to a wider range of expertise and perspective sitting on my couch then I ever had at school and university.

I have been reading, as have most of you, that schools need to change. For the most part we are agreed on that idea. But when we start discussing change into what, it all falls a part.  I do not really think we know what we want schools to be.  I believe before we can decide what to do we need to (1) define our terms make sure we are speaking the same language and (2) decide what we actually want for our children. I would suggest thinking like a parent here and not as an educator. Finally build what we need to get to where we want to go, backward design. We may find we end up with schools that we would not recognize at all today.  Maybe we would not end up with schools at all.

I’d like to share some material that has me thinking about schools and change. Please take a look at them and let them stir up your thinking.  Please share your thoughts and comments on them I would love to learn from/with you.

Ryan Bretag in Becoming Excellent says the following about students in schools:

We ask them to excel at being students by taking numerous courses, focusing on their weaknesses, and participating in extra curriculars all while adhering to the imposed structure and guidelines of the school….
We…seem to be pushing for improving everything which perhaps leads to average in a lot of things.

He argues that students should be allowed to follow their passions, become excellent, become experts in an area of relative narrow focus.  It is with success it their area of passion and expertise they can achieve creativity and “show levels of commitment, engagement, and efforts that rival professionals.”

It was when I realized I could learn deeply outside of school, and was able to follow my own line of inquiry that my personal, professional and academic growth accelerated.  Could we provide time, talent and support to students to pursue a passion in traditional schools?  What would that look like?


Ryan’s post lead me to re-visit Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talks Do Schools Kill Creativity and Bring on the Learning Revolution.  Do we value creativity? How do we foster it in schooling?   How can we provide personalized learning in traditional schools?


In Educating the Public for Free Deb explores how Khan Academy provides free lessons to learn ‘the easy stuff’, meaning the easy to teach content.  But wonders “if the ‘easy stuff’ can be taught for free should public schools be re-organizing and operating in new and more efficient ways?”

Should we be asking students to do the passive learning activities such as watching, listening and reading at home and the more active learning activities such a problem solving, discussing, analyzing, etc in schools?


Laurette Lynn in Unplugged Education – It Is Not Homeschooling and It Is Not Tech Free discusses home education.  Explaining that school and education are not the same thing, that being a student and being a learner are different ideas.  She explains the difference between homeschooling and home education and advocates unplugging from the system.  For some of my readers you may reject her ideas out of hand.  But remember a learner is always open to reading different opinions and exploring the possibilities.

As a parent of a child who does “not fit in” I have had to wrestle with these concerns, the schools saw the limits and not the strengths. I have been fortunate to I live in place where I could find schools that are quite small and more closely represent what I wish for my children.  The rest of their education takes place outside of schools where they are exposed to differing ideas and opinions; encouraged to learn beyond the syllabus, think outside the box and, pursue their passions.


Are your thoughts stirring?  Do you find yourself nodding in agreement or angered? The above materials have outline some of the things that schools may not do well. I need to go on quest and find some material on what schools may do well.

What is the value of school to you?

3 thoughts on “Why Schooling?

  1. I am captivated by Ryan Bretag’s quote. I agree that we do need to have students in high school pursue their passions more than they are allowed to at the current time. In my looks into the schools of European countries, such as Germany, students do more of this. For example, they get to try mini-internships in various businesses. They can also change their minds of course, which allows them to try various avenues.
    I just turned 40 and am completing my doctorate degree. I still, however, doubt what I want to do “when I grow up.” I believe that a different type of schooling that allowed various experiences would have helped.

  2. This is an interesting article. The school I teach at, Discovery School, in Mansfield, OH does a lot of the things you are talking about. We are problem based, inquiry based, and we teach 21st century skills. By 8th grade, our students do job visits in areas that they have interests in. I do think that the classroom can provide the social structure that can be necessary for students to develop real world social skills. Students need to learn how to work well with others. They do need direct instruction. The problem rest in that too many teachers do direct instruction more than posing a question and leading students on a journey of understanding. Many students do walk into a classroom that is anywhere from 10-20 years behind the times technologically. I think that we can teach the basics but allow the students to use those basics to explore concepts more deeply. We can also allow them to explore their own personal interests in many of our LA courses. It allows for more freedom to explore many different interests. I do think that this line of thinking is very slowly becoming more and more discussed and less taboo. I run a website that is dedicated to challenging teachers to think differently about how they teach. I encourage them to seek out opportunities to build technology into their lessons. Feel free to check it out: http://www.ideasforteachers.org.

  3. Dan,

    You stated, “The problem rest in that too many teachers do direct instruction more than posing a question and leading students on a journey of understanding.” Based on your experience, why do you think so many teachers have trouble relinquishing control of the classroom to their students? You mentioned that you use problem-based learning in the classroom. What training do your instructors receive in order to learn how to correctly facilitate students?

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