We recently published a commentary in Education Week titled “The Wounds of Schooling,” which makes the argument that for many people school is a harsh, discouraging, rigid environment that kills their creativity and love of learning. A fascinating discussion about the article is underway on our site and I encourage you to go there to see what others are saying and submit your own comments.
Here are my thoughts on this debate:
Although we have all had our fair share of discouraging, motivation-killing experiences in school (some more than others), I have a hard time believing that most of us have been terribly wounded by those experiences. The writer of the commentary and others who agree with her argue that the heavy emphasis on testing and rigid expectations in schools have had a harmful effect on students. Most thoughtful people would agree that too much testing undoubtedly has negative consequences.
But letting kids study whatever they want, at whatever pace they feel comfortable is a recipe for educational chaos and low expectations. I experienced this up close and personal in the 1970s when I attended an elementary school for one year that allowed us to work at our own pace. I was fortunate because my parents were both college educated and kept an eye on what I was doing in school. But the boys and girls from poor families whose parents were not as watchful suffered immeasurably from this approach -- I remember one girl who was barely reading at a second grade level when we were in 6th grade. (And despite my parents’ watchful approach, I did not learn as much in that school as I did in another one in which students were pushed harder.)
Education simply needs to find a balance between these two extremes. Testing is necessary to ensure students are actually learning how to read, write, do math, and understand other intellectual concepts. But providing students with opportunities to investigate their world, stretch their creativity, and take risks is also an important role of schooling.
Finding this balance, many believe, is the key to a quality education. I was fortunate because I attended a high school that found this balance. That school fostered my creative side, while also ensuring that I had the basic academic skills necessary to survive in college and the working world.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.