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The Truth about "Schooling" (and Two Lessons for Life)

Posted Feb 10 2013 7:28am
This past Friday, the superintendent of my 100,000-student county school district quit. The blogosphere has been lit up for weeks (months, years) with commentary about "the long, slow flush" that is my county's schools (no matter how dedicated and terrific many individual teachers are). However, Saturday morning, the truth about schooling reverberated loud and clear to me, yet again, as my younger daughter and I entered the "cafetorium" of Clarkston High School, mere blocks from the community garden at the Clarkston Community Center (which I visited during the two hours the parents were kicked out). 

It was the day of the county science fair for winners of local middle and high school fairs. My daughter was there not because she won her school's fair--her school didn't have one (but rumor has it they are having one next year). She was there because we asked the county if she could do it on her own anyway, and were told yes, and she did.


I will tell you right now that it has not been an easy or enjoyable journey, and that she did not want to do this. None of her friends did it, she really never learned proper scientific methodologies in school and had to teach herself (with some input from her sister), the forms (so, so many) and approvals darn near did us in, and frankly, I nagged a lot, which is not my usual parenting style. But she chose her own topic (a dream analysis of her peers, as compared to a study of established norms from 1995 for the same age group), learned a ton (most labor-intensively was coding dreams using the Hall and Van de Castle coding system), and got it done.

Her results indicating increased aggression and negativity in her peer group's dreams as opposed to those from the published norms led her to consider that perhaps her peers do, indeed, have more negative thoughts and one hypotheses for why might be due to changes in society since 1995 (natural and man-made disasters, wars, recession . . .). She had done a Social Studies Fair report last year on the effects of 9/11 on her generation and learned about some of the impacts on youth, and perhaps these two projects connect. Perhaps everything we do is connected . . .

Anyway, so there we were, seeing nice Dr. Robinson's smiley face and a wide diversity of people and projects, many involving the environment in one way or another. So many were just plain interesting. Do cats have a dominant paw? (Apparently, yes! They are lefties!) Is Tide the best laundry detergent? (No.) Do frozen golf balls bounce higher than non-frozen ones? (No.) Do nutraceuticals such as garlic work as well as antibiotics? (They seem to, and without the side effects.) Are upside-down tomato planters better than pots? (No.)  Are the same color magic markers from different brands created using the same color pigments? (No.)

But first, the truth about schooling . . . .

It was the sign over the doors leading into the cafetorium.  It was this:


I thought of that statement as I walked around the room and talked with these young scientists, all of whom attend a school district in crisis, some of whom may be applying to colleges all over the country next year from an unaccredited school system

And all day long, I kept thinking of what was my daughter's and my favorite project of the day--what we've been calling "the cookie project." Two high school students (from my local high school, by the way, which was nice to see) did a project to test people's honesty. They baked cookies and had them for sale to benefit a good cause. They left the table untended to see how honest people would be about leaving money when they took cookies. They ran the experiment three times and tabulated their results. The bottom line?  People are honest 93% of the time.


As news reports, bloggers, and playground conversations continue to highlight the seemingly-rampant dishonesty in my school district and our society, let's remember two things:

1. You are the person who can make the biggest difference in your life, by taking opportunities or making them. Don't blame the system. Do something to change it or get yourself out from under it. There is absolutely always a "next step" you can take that is positive. (See this related post, written two years ago, about what I believe kids really need to learn in life.)

2. 93% of people would not steal a cookie. There's got to be hope for us as a society in that, and I'm hanging onto it. In fact, I'm going to bake cookies today in honor of it.

For more about "life as school," be sure to see my book . There's a ton on this topic in there.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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