03 Apr Our Broken Education System
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” –Albert Einstein
When asked about school, Bruce Springsteen, who dropped out of college said: “I wasn’t quite suited for the educational system. One problem with the way the educational system is set up is that it only recognizes a certain type of intelligence, and it’s incredibly restrictive — very, very restrictive. There are so many types of intelligence, and people who would be at their best outside of that structure [get lost].”
I’m with Bruce on this one. When our son Connor was in kindergarten, his teacher dropped by for an unexpected visit over the winter break. She had been Cobb County’s Teacher of the Year, and I’ve long treasured her words: “Your son is the most remarkable child I’ve ever had in my classroom. I can’t wait to see who he will grow up to become. He’s got a unique way of looking in the world.” She’d kept his artwork and gave it to me. Then she gave a warning, “Because he thinks differently, he’s liable to run into teachers who don’t necessarily value that. School may be rough for him at times, but I hope you’ll find a way to nurture his quest for learning.”
Connor was fascinated with the world. He loved maps and knew all the names of the famous explorers by age four. When he turned six, he woke us up one scorching morning in August to ask his dad if we could get on a plane and go to Argentina. “Dad, we could be skiing by this afternoon,” he said, his eyes shining. What six-year-old knows that there is snow in South America in August? When we went through the Picasso exhibit at the High Museum, Connor practically skated through. We didn’t think he’d paid attention at all. Then weeks later when we were discussing what our favorites were from the exhibit, he piped up, “I liked ‘Night Fishing’ and then told us in detail why.
He had good grades, but by fifth grade he was getting some negative reports about his inability to sit still, forgetting to raise his hand, and the like. I found a book that year that changed everything for us. It’s called “Dreamers, Discoverers and Dynamos: Helping the Child Who is Bright but Bored in School” by Lucy J. Palladino, Ph.D. The gist of Dr. Palladino’s work reveals that one in five children are divergent thinkers – brimming with ideas and imagination – while our education system only rewards convergent thinkers, those who focus on one idea at a time.
I literally wept as I read the book, because I saw Connor all through those pages. Sadly, our educational system is built on a system devised in Prussia in the 18th century, which was designed for the early Industrial Age. It emphasized a broad education in core subjects, discipline and obedience, and all children had to take a national test. Although that system educated children for free – rather than limiting school only to the wealthy – its basic structure is outdated and created for a world that no longer exists. The point of the book is that we are losing the kids who would be our entrepreneurs, our inventors, our doctors, and our scientists. A child who is singularly focused and passionate about something is punished in our current system.
By the middle of eighth grade, I grew weary of fighting the system, and Connor transferred to a small, private school called Chrysalis Experiential Academy in Roswell, Georgia, that specializes in hands-on learning. The name of the school says it all. Most kids are visual, kinetic learners. They aren’t built to sit in rows for hours on end, filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils. At Chrysalis, the emphasis is on each student’s individual brilliance, rather than rote memorization and constant test taking. Connor blossomed in that environment and graduated as Valedictorian of his class.
Rather than be so quick with labels and drugs to “manage” our children, why don’t we take a look at a faulty educational system that teaches to the test and rewards those who know how to sit in their seats and be quiet for hours on end?