2. What are we shaping?

Is education really educating? Or has main-stream education fallen more into a results-driven machine with the goal of producing test scores, college rankings, and the like? Though my last post had ‘college’ in the title, I’m considering the broader institutions that society entrusts to develop the emerging or young adult population which spans from high school through graduate institutions.

One high school teacher replied to me, “I can’t agree more that there are a lot of students who seem overwhelmingly stressed. I don’t think that school necessarily prepares students for life as much now – it prepares them academically, but there is a whole host of other issues that young people need help dealing with.” He described other issues such as work habits, ethics, perseverance, communication skills, values, true critical thinking, and dealing with failure and setbacks. “Society has worked to strip those other things from school,” he laments while indicating the school system does not even allow him the time to really get to know his students because he is forced to cater towards results and not true learning. And he works in one of the better public high school systems in the nation.

To quote another friend of mine, “one generation actually molds another through its ideas about education.”

An excerpt from one of my favorite social scholars, James Côté, in his book, Arrested Adulthood:

“Schools have been designed by adults and are staffed by adults. They are the formal means by which American adults pass on their collective wisdom to subsequent generations. The schools’ strengths and failings are thus the product of how several generations of adults have structured their worlds.”

Will we shape more of what we have or something different?


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3 Responses to 2. What are we shaping?

  1. Todd says:


    Thanks for your continued thoughts in this series. One problem is that bureaucracies and other organizations often don’t have a collective narrative that they comprehend how to share. Thus what ends up happening is a mismash of thinking that fails to hold a collective strand to it.

    Within the present educational system we have constant fighting between labor and administration, between student and teacher, between parent and system; all of these struggles undercut the value of collective wisdom that should serve to prepare the student for growth.

    Finally, we often do not promote the things that are most important for self-efficacy and autonomous learning for the next stage in life: drive, resourcefulness, initiative, and persistence (credit to Paul Carr, Mike Ponton, Gail Derrick, and James Michael Hall for their model of autonomous learning).

  2. Jared says:


    Once again I was thinking about this subject today and yesterday. When I was in high school I actually had a relationship with my teachers. We would talk about life and they would mentor me in things like emotional health, ethical behavior, etc., as well as just how to function in the world. With the continual push towards technology in the school system, that one-on-one interaction has mostly disappeared.

    I sell laptops to families with 10 year olds who need a computer of their own for school. I think I used a computer no more than 10 times when I was a senior and that was for the final papers in a few classes that all needed to be typed. Now teachers in middle school are giving assignments via the web, and entire college courses are taken online, even though the teacher is present at the university!

    I know I’ve mentioned this before, but we need to go back to an apprenticeship model of education. As an apprentice you not only learned how to do the job but you learned why you were doing the job. You dealt with the struggles and issues of the job on a daily basis and made mistakes that you learned from. All this took place over a number of years until your master thought you were ready to do it on your own and even then he/she watched you to make sure you were doing well. The only education we have today that is similar are internships and they usually don’t last more than a year. The apprenticeship model is more of a mentor/mentee relationship where they guide you through life versus the teacher/student relationship where you’re taught facts and figures that don’t really prepare you for the real world.

  3. Nitzah says:

    I was speaking with a friend about how in our different fields of study (he’s a scientist, I’m an elementary teacher) we seem to be trapped by the restrictions of the mind of those around us. (The question that we were analyzing based on the realization that people have a hard time accepting new ideas/methods: Do you think our education system lacks the environment to allow people to freely and safely make mistakes/ be creative/ take risks?) From grade school through university, etc. we are often taught a method of learning, analyzing and gaining understanding. A concept of “it just is,” much in the same way a parent will often tell their child, “because I said so.” It’s simpler and less time consuming then answering the question, evaluating the validity and reasoning behind the instruction. Please understand, the education system is like a pendulum it will continually travel back and forth in it’s methods and practices. It’s a culmination of generations of learned and discovered views and understandings. This will continually change, however to understand where it’s been and where it is going will impact how people will continue to deal and impact their environment… A key element that we were discussing and realized was that we live in a system (USA) that teaches methods, a process and procedure that “just is.” One is not often granted the safe and free environment to question, reason, discover, analyze and make mistakes. By the time these skills are requires one has been so trained into a system that it leaves little room for that creativity and thinking outside the box. We were made to be creative. It’s how every infant starts out, trying new things, being curious and making mistakes… When our environment looks down on such mistakes/trials and curiosity/ creativity we get depressed- we feel suffocated. No wonder, since a piece of our G’d given humanity is killed, and can be very hard to bring back to life.
    All of which leaves one with the question of how does one bring that creativity and safety back into our everyday environments (school, home, work, recreations, and relationships)?

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