Friday, March 8, 2013

School makes me...

Scott McLeod's blog Dangerously Irrelevant is a profoundly progressive read. Scott tweeted me a link to his post that featured this picture:
Try it. Go to Google and type in "school makes me" and see what autocomplete choices come up. When I did it, I got school makes me:
  • sad
  • feel stupid
  • fat
So why does this matter?

Perhaps you are not aware how Google's autocomplete works. Google explains:
As you type, autocomplete predicts and displays queries to choose from. The search queries that you see as part of autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google.
Several hundred million searches are made with Google every single day and this is a reflection of the search activity students are conducting. Are we paying attention to this? Are we prepared to take this seriously?

I am a staunch supporter of public education but I also understand why Sir Ken Robinson asks "Do Schools Kill Creativity, John Taylor Gatto writes about Weapons of Mass Instruction and Kirsten Olsen writes about people who are Wounded by School. 

The way forward is not to build schools that are a better version of yesterday. Before school can improve -- school has to change. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic ain't going to cut it anymore.

Here are three quick suggestions for how I think school needs to change:
  1. Curriculum is not something created and laminated by distant authorities and mailed to the schools. While there can be a skeletal framework created by provincial, state or federal departments of education, curriculum is something that must be negotiated between teachers and students at the school. Here's an example of what real learning looks like.
  2. Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it's a conversation. We need to stop demanding that students show what they have learned by doing things they hate. Anything worth learning is worth doing in a context and for a purpose. Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information.
  3. Accountability is really about providing the public with information regarding their schools.
    Unlike standardized tests which are notorious for their inability to provide anything more than a limited and incomplete snapshot of a student on a single day, a collection of performance assessments assembled in a learning portfolio can inform the teaching and learning process in a timely fashion while simultaneously assuring the public that students are receiving a high quality education. Ultimately, the best evidence parents can receive about their children's learning is to see their children learning.
Here are all of my posts on six broad topics that we need to rethink so that we can reframe the realities of school.

I also suggest you look at some of the work being done by the Alberta Teachers' Association and their research report titled A Great School for All: Transforming Education in Alberta.


  1. When I tried this, the first auto complete was:
    School makes me "Feel good about myself". Did you purposefully exclude this from your blog, or are my results different than yours based on region?

  2. I did not purposefully exclude anything, but lets pretend I did. I don't think my point changes. For too many kids, school is not a good place.

  3. Not to diminish that students have these legitimate feelings and that schooling needs to be improved but I tend to agree with the following article to not use google auto-complete as emperical evidence. Type in "happiness makes me" and see what you get.

  4. This was timely Joe. Yesterday, we watched Seth Godin's TEDX talk called What is School For. The problem was his ideas were not discussed by staff at the end.

    I did not agree with several of Godin's points. I think they would lead to a further monetizing of learning and teaching, but his premise, along with the one you present here along with Scott's are excellent starting points. What is school for can only be answered in the context of what experiences emerge from it.


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