Generation Cedar

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“Schooling and education are not the same thing. They aren’t even distantly related.” -John Taylor Gatto

Compulsory schooling is the sacred cow of America (and many countries.) How could I possibly suggest it shouldn’t be a thing?

John Taylor Gatto, former NY city Teacher of the Year, quit after 30 years declaring that “school hurts children.” I Quit — Education Revolution

Gatto understood something about humans with which I agree: People are radically different, with different gifts, strengths, and bents. Everyone learns differently, is interested in different things and needs a variety of atmospheres and experiences for growth.

Conformity doesn’t belong in the classroom

Schools are designed to conform. The classroom is geared for the “average” student when hardly such a thing exists. It’s very concept attempts to squeeze an infinite number of human possibilities into a tiny framework, using shame as its tool.

As I’ve looked across the learning landscape both as a high school classroom teacher, then as a homeschooling mom, I know the damage schooling does to many children, and I’ve seen the tear-filled eyes of students who feel like failures because they don’t fit neatly inside the box.

I have made them feel like that.

I wrote a letter of apology to one of my students after quitting, and it needs to be sent to millions others.

Here is why the letter needed to be written:

We, as a society, elevate one kind of intelligence over every other kind. You do it. I do it. What do you say when you are describing someone who scored exceptionally high on the SATs, or has several college degrees?

“She is so smart.”

Which is true. But do you use that same language to describe the guy who can take a car apart and put it back together, even though he scored lower on his tests? Does he get paid a similar wage to someone who is in a more academic career?

What about the artist who can do what others consider impossible? But struggles with math because his brain is simply wired differently. (He is put in a learning disabled class, his worth permanently altered.)

No, because we don’t value intelligence as a multi-faceted thing. We limit it to a frighteningly narrow definition. And because of that, smart, capable kids become labeled as “not smart,” and the power of the mind behind the label sets them on a trajectory far less conducive to success.

The power of the mind

I heard a story told about a less-than-average student who showed little potential for success. Upon taking the SAT, he received astonishingly high scores.

People began treating him like he was smart. His grades improved, he graduated and ended up with a degree from an Ivy League school and a prestigious job.

Years later, when the SAT board researched and reviewed their test-taking standards, they discovered he had been sent the wrong test scores. His were, in fact, below average. The power of the mind.

Rewards and punishments

In school, kids are rewarded for good grades and punished for bad ones. They are rewarded for sitting still, and punished for being fidgety. They are rewarded for staying inside the lines and punished for thinking outside them. They are rewarded for following one set of rules and punished for considering alternatives.

In some sense, it’s insanity to expect this kind of uniformity in the kaleidoscope of humanity!

The alternative?

Children need the widest possible range of experiences in order to thrive with their set of passions, motivations and abilities.

Academia is only one small opportunity for excelling. The world depends on myriads of abilities and careers, yet we expect rigid uniformity only in academia the first 18 years of life.

Those not inclined toward an academic career must then play catch up after graduation, finding where they belong, not to speak of the emotional damage that will likely inform their self-perception for the rest of their lives.

Kids can learn the basics (3 R’s) in a few years, then should be guided and allowed to explore the world in whatever capacity suits their motivation, formal schooling, or not.

Time, boredom, freedom, access to resources and experiences — these are just a few things every child needs to discover himself and his life path.

Learning how to live — that isn’t done in a classroom and it should concern all of us.

The academically bent already have their petri dish for thriving. The entrepreneurs, inventors and creators need theirs.

Compulsion is cruel.

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