THE BLOG

What Are Schools For

06/23/2015 10:03 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

" The enemy is a very good teacher. " the Dalai Lama

What is school for?

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Artwork by former AP Art Student Jarrod Chatham

Really, that's not a rhetorical question, I'm asking you, answer it, what is school for, and don't tell me education, because then I'm going to ask you , what is education for (and in order to keep from ending another sentence with a preposition, I'm just going to keep writing) , and if you tell me it's to prepare students for college , I'm going to ask you... well , I'm going to trust that you're educated enough to figure out what I would ask.

And yes, it's likely this series of questions makes you feel like you're talking to a 5 year old ( and I know I should have typed out the number 5, but I hate that rule). We can learn a lot from the curious, inquisitive nature of children. When they keep asking why, they aren't always trying to be annoying (sometimes they are), but often they're trying to get to the bottom of it, they're trying to understand something, and yes, it's annoying, but it's also important. We're talking about school here, we're talking about 12 plus years of your life, and if we want to get it right, we need to know why we're doing what we're doing.

I've never been one for providing answers, instead, I like to ask questions, a quality about me that drove my students nuts.

Student: Mrs. Kane, is this a good photo?
Me: What make something a good photo?
Student: Using the composition guidelines.
Me: Did you use the composition guidelines?
Student: Yes
Me: Then do you think that it's a good photo?

I don't ask questions to be annoying, or to avoid answering them myself, I do it, because I know that my students know the answer. I know that there will be countless times in life where they will need to make decisions, and answer questions on their own. I know that the best way to get past the fear, and the fear of failure is to be able to ask and answers questions.

" Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance" Steven Pressfield, War of Art

Are you afraid of failure?

We all are, no one likes to fail, there are people that look failure in the face and step forward anyway, and others who crumble, the difference is ,those that choose to step forward, understand that failure is a natural part of growth, they don't let it define them, they don't let it cripple them. The problem is , that school teaches students to be afraid of failure, to view failure as the end of the road.

Schools use the fear of failure to motivate ( this doesn't work).

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Artwork by former AP art student, Addie Best

In Pennsylvania ( sorry for out of state readers, but stay with me here, most states have similar tests and standards) We currently make students take Keystone tests in math, biology, and english. If students don't do well on the test , that get sent to a lovely place (note sarcasm) called " study island,". Students are pulled from elective courses, ones that they might actually be interested in, or pulled from study hall, and sent to study island, where they stair at a computer screen and answer pointless questions.

In an attempt to " motivate" students to try to do well on their Keystone exam, they are reminded , that if they don't score proficient, they will be put into remediation, it seems that we're forgetting that some students just aren't good test takers, and some aren't that great at math, english or bio, but they are awesome plumbers, mechanics, computer coders, and cooks. The test is telling them, that if they don't fit into the box, they're dumb.

Even better, if after making their way through study island, they still don't do well, they are assigned a project based assessment. Before you get excited and think that this is a good solution, it's not what you think it is. They aren't painting a picture, building a model airplane, or making a pretty poster. I would love to clearly explain to you what the project based assessment is, but you don't have time for that, and really, no one actually knows, it's incredibly confusing, poorly written, badly planned, and harder than the test that they already failed.

Just in case you don't believe me, here's a sample.

Project Activities:
TASK 1: Calculate the measurements of the length and width of the storage space in a compact car, a luggage rack, and a Sport utility vehicle. Then determine which vehicle (compact car or Sport utility vehicle and luggage rack) has more storage space. Key words: Measurement Calculations Estimate the cost of gas per mile for a compact car and a Sport utility vehicle. Calculate the actual cost of gas per mile for a compact car and a Sport utility vehicle.
TASK 2: Determine how many compact cars are needed for the trip and how many Sport utility vehicles are needed for the trip. Write, solve and graph a system of equations to determine a break-even point for the vehicles. Calculate the total cost to rent two compact cars and the cost to rent one Sport utility vehicle.
TASK 3: Write and graph a system of linear inequalities for the amount of drinks and snacks to be purchased. State the range of possible solutions. Write a polynomial expression for the sum of the weight of all the bags you and your friends would have to fly home with.
TASK 4: Determine the cost per mile for each flight. Compare the cost per mile to fly directly versus via Detroit, MI. Compare the cost per mile to drive a Sport utility vehicle versus two compact cars. Determine the most economical flight to the most economical vehicle(s) rental. Organize your findings into a report to present.

You didn't even finish reading it did you?

This isn't a project, this is a packet of worksheets, there's a big difference.

Note: I'm pretty sure that I would fail.

Study harder so that you pass the test.
Pass the test so that you pass the class.
Pass the class so that you can graduate.
Graduate so that you can go to college.
Go to college so that you can get a good job.

Each response not getting to the heart of the question, What is school for, and instead passing the buck onto the next person in line.

All of this implying that if you fail the test, you fail at life, that is a pretty heavy weight to carry, and not only is it heavy , it's not true.

We spend too much time making failure a bad thing, instead of teaching that's it's a natural part of life. Whenever you are challenging yourself, trying something new, leaving your comfort zone, it's likely that you will fail, it's also almost the only chance that you have at success.

Schools need to refame failure. School should be the safe place where students learn to fail. Where they learn to ask questions, search for answers, make mistakes, course correct and try again. If you don't learn to fail in school, where will you learn.

In school when you fail a paper, or a test you're done, it's over, do not pass go, do not collect $100.00, move onto the next chapter, which you will probably fail again because you're starting to lose confidence, fear is creeping in, and before you know it, you believe, deep in your bones, that you can't write, that you're not good at math or that you can't draw, that you're stupid, and now you're going to get grounded, and lose your phone, you won't be able to go out with your friends, you're embarrassed as you see your classmates sitting around you have far less red marks on their paper ( are you out of breath yet, because this is only a glimpse of a moment in day of how some students feel when they walk into school.... ok, you can breath now.)

For many, the fear of losing, or failing, stops them from ever trying. It also stops them from succeeding.

" Resistance's goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death. " Steven Pressfiled