It Benefits the System

Author Alfie Kohn (who is a thoughtful critic of school, though not an advocate of homeschooling or unschooling) adds another bit of research to the homework-isn’t-necessary file.

“If experience is any guide, however, many people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice, or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read: the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school). Those open to evidence, however, have been presented this Fall with yet another finding that fails to find any meaningful benefit even when the study is set up to give homework every benefit of the doubt.”

Okay, but no meaningful benefit to homework? Are you sure? Because it seems to me the meaningful benefit of assigning homework is quite clear: it reminds students and their families that the school has the right to follow the student home and intrude on their non-school hours. In doing so, school is indeed preparing students for the “real world,” one in which working “off the clock” is just part of the job.

Put Them in a Box

I watched Waiting for Superman recently.

So many loaded terms. “Success.” “Failure.” “Achievement.” “Learning.” So many experts who know what’s best. So many devils. So many details.

It’s an exasperating film, full of unfounded assumptions, not least of which being the assumption that putting kids in a box is the starting point for all learning.

Just Let Them Go

From an article by Richard Elmore, instructor at the Harvard School of Education, on the modern secondary school:

I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing? Would adults look at young people differently if they had to confront their children on the street, rather than locking them away in institutions? Would it force us to say more explicitly what a humane and healthy learning environment might look like? Should discussions of the future of school reform be less about the pet ideas of professional reformers and more about what we’re doing to young people in the institution called school?

“What Would Happen if We Let Them Go?”, Education Week, May 17, 2011

Deschooling Our Stories

My feed reader is my personal daily news. Everything in it is something I find stimulating enough to invite into my life on a regular basis. It’s the stuff I want to read.

The stuff I don’t want to read but others think I ought to read  — stuff about Libya and Scott Walker and the federal budget, for example — seeps in on its own, so it’s not like I don’t have a clue what’s going on. I just don’t let it on my feed.  It takes some vigilance to avoid becoming a sponge for all the crap put out into the world.

Anyway, two thoughts came together in my mind as I read through this morning’s feed. One had to do with deschooling, the other with stories. Continue reading “Deschooling Our Stories”

Masters & Taskmasters

Back in the 1970s polymath Herbert Simon floated the idea that true mastery of a subject or skill takes something like 10,000 hours or so of effort, which works out to about 10-12 years, given the normal demands of life.

Lots of people have had a go at that number over the years, and I suspect most would agree that it’s somewhat arbitrary, and subject to lots of provisos, depending on the skill or subject in question. I think, though, that the basic premise holds true: however you chose to define it, mastery takes time. And not just any old time, but nice chunks of uninterrupted time, so that a thought, an idea, an experiment, a hypothesis, an activity, a creative process gets its full due.

Thinking takes time. Playing takes time. Wondering, imagining, experimenting, coordinating, executing, these all take time.

This sort of time is one of the first victims of compulsory k-12 schooling. Continue reading “Masters & Taskmasters”

School is Prison

Classic Peter Gray:

“If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.”

“The only difference I can think of is that to get into prison you have to commit a crime, but they put you in school just because of your age. In other respects school and prison are the same. In both places you are stripped of your freedom and dignity. You are told exactly what you must do, and you are punished for failing to comply. Actually, in school you must spend more time doing exactly what you are told to do than is true in adult prisons, so in that sense school is worse than prison.”


“Every new generation of parents, and every new batch of fresh and eager teachers, hears or reads about some “new theory” or “new findings” from psychology that, at long last, will make schools more fun and improve learning. But none of it has worked. And none of it will until people face the truth: Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.”

From Gray’s September, 2009 post in Psychology Today, “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Worth every moment you’ll spend reading it, and following the links, and reading some more.

See more of Peter Gray at Freedom to Learn.