I’m just like any other parent. I want my children to love learning, to be engaged in the world, to feel comfortable in their own skin. Most of all, I want them to be happy. Sure, we all want our children to get good grades and land paying jobs. We would love for them not to suffer, not to struggle for the basics like food or housing. But really, we just want them to be happy with who they are and to feel valued for just that.
That is why when I came across a video by spoken word artist Suli Breaks on why he hates school but loves education, my heart ached. I ached not just for the occasional hard days I know we all have, but for the hard years that so many students experience in school settings every day. Suli Breaks speaks a truth about what our collective culture has decided to value, regardless of the real experiences of young people hungry to learn and grow.
The Industrial Revolution is long over. That period of efficiently bringing people of all backgrounds to a common level of education and ability – so that they could contribute to a rapidly growing industry-based economy – served its purpose. And that model changed forever the idea of education, opening up education opportunity to children of all socio-economic classes.
Our world and our economy has changed since then.
Sameness is no longer the driving force of productivity. Instead it is innovation. Our children must be prepared to solve problems, to think creatively, to work well with others.
Sameness is also not the driving force of our social capital. Our communities are diverse and that is our strength. We all bring something of value to the table, whether our cultural experiences, our unique perspectives, our struggles, our critiques – if the table will have us.
But American culture and education continues to set the table for a particular set of experiences and values. Standardization, not as in mastery but as in sameness, dominates our education landscape, whether by more and more standardized testing or a standardized common core of learning.
What if children did not so readily go into the system one way and come out all the same on the other end? What if who they are as individuals affects how they learn? What if the system of education we offer them is not nimble enough to respond to their differences? Worst of all, what if, instead of broadening their worlds through education, we are narrowing their experiences and sense of possibility?
I have turned again and again to a video by Sir Kenneth Robinson that calls for a change in our education paradigm. It condenses into just a few minutes what schools have become and why they are not working for so many children.
There is a contradiction in our quest for standardization. Our method of seeking it does not increase the chances of all children achieving their highest potential, which should be our ultimate standard. Instead, as Sir Robinson expresses, our method assumes that children learn in the same way, at the same pace, at the same age. In seeking this standard, we separate students from their own and each other’s experiences. The standard, then, becomes something abstract and outside of who young people are, either individually or in community.
“We all have different abilities, thought processes, and genes. Why is a class full of individuals tested by the same means?” — Suli Breaks
There is something about that happiness I seek for my children, that we all seek for ourselves, too. We seek it now. Not just in a distant future when all that we are taking in will finally pay off. But now, whether our day is at school or at work. If we don’t focus on making schools and communities inclusive of our experiences, we will lose our most valuable assets. Who our children are and how they see the world is a part of the good mix that makes us all better.
Something needs to change, and it is not the children.