I came across two articles about public education yesterday, one is four years old, the other quite recent.
Here’s a snippet from a long article Why Nerds are Unpopular (2003):
Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens’ main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I’ve read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.
The main problem is the system, which creates prison-like conditions, and in the case of this article shows why “nerds” may be so successful in life but are unsuccessful at the school game, and this is what happens:
In almost any group of people you’ll find hierarchy. When groups of adults form in the real world, it’s generally for some common purpose, and the leaders end up being those who are best at it. The problem with most schools is, they have no purpose. But hierarchy there must be. And so the kids make one out of nothing.
We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that’s exactly what happens in most American schools. Instead of depending on some real test, one’s rank depends mostly on one’s ability to increase one’s rank. It’s like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another’s opponents.
From Mark Federman is this 2007 case of a high-performing student caught in the feudal power of the classroom:
To me, this is another sad case of a burnt-out, small-minded teacher conveying the well-rehearsed lesson that school is the place in which a love of learning and the value of curiosity, discovery and insightful, abstract thought are to be trampled beyond recognition. These are substituted instead by a discipline that enforces compliance, conformity, and intellectual docility, rewarding the mediocre to create a compliant, easily distracted citizenry for the benefit of the elites.
So why is a workplace performance specialist so interested in public school? One reason, of course, is that I have two children in the system, for now. The more important reason is that almost all workers have come through the public school system. If graduates, especially the high performing ones, are already bitter and jaded, how do you think they’ll react to a training program that mirrors what they had in school?
Courses not related to something that they will need to use tomorrow morning on the job show that management has no real interest in employee performance. They’re just going through the motions.
Performance evaluations not based on observable and measurable criteria will be viewed the same way as school report cards; a popularity or a compliance contest.
Perhaps the best way to change the school system is to set the example by divesting our workplaces of all of the useless artifacts of the industrial age. For instance, how would a Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) translate into our education system?