Saturday, June 6, 2009


Often I read articles or hear people speak about how "the education system is failing our children, or us, or something." Implicit to those arguments, of course, is that schools have a responsibility to make kids smart -- to mold them, to educate them. To take the blank minds of the youth and mold them into passionate, skilled learners and employable, responsible citizens, yada yada yada.

Noble as the sentiment appears, I think it's backwards and extremely dangerous. The responsibility for education lies not with schools, but with children and parents. The responsibility of schools is simply to make resources available which children and parents can use as tools in educating themselves -- providing lectures, books, and activities that the child can seize upon to educate himself. Or not seize upon, and fail to educate himself.

Here's why this is important: No school can make a child smart if the child doesn't want to. The child simply will not retain, because children only learn when they want to. No school can make a child want to learn -- that desire comes from the child.

The result of shifting the responsibility for education from children and parents to schools is passivity. Children and parents wait for the school to "make them smart" -- an impossible task. Only the children and their parents can do that.

When a child fails to learn, the parent and child blame the teacher, believing the teacher has failed to do something magical in the child to make them not only interested in the topic, but also to retain and apply knowledge. But who has failed to learn? The child. And who has failed to train their child to learn? The parent. Educators are only resources -- by their very nature, they cannot do the essential work of education -- learning.

I think educators brought this shift in responsibility on themselves, as there's a narcissistic appeal in viewing yourself as "molding the young," and it also has political benefits, insofar as you use rhetoric of your own indispensability to get funding and support. Parents and students seem to accept this view, as it relieves them of the responsibility for education. Nevertheless, it's still wrong.

The issue here is of course philosophical, rather than practical. It requires an attitude change on the part of the student and parent, rather than any systemic change to the educational system. But I think it's vital. Children need to go to school in the belief that they are being given an opportunity to grow and learn so that they can be well-equipped to conquer the world. Parents need to see it as their responsibility to train their child in the value of that education, and to make it happen. Teachers need to stop trying to brainwash reluctant learners -- they need to make the tools available and provide structure, but not perceive the responsibility for (and waste time attempting to) educating the unwilling. If a child isn't learning, the teacher needs to tell him and his parents, "If you don't learn, these will be the consequences for your life." Beyond that, the responsibility lies with the child, and with the parent.

Schools are a resource for education, but they are only a resource -- and often not the best one, especially with the advent of the internet. My education always has and always will take place primarily outside the classroom.

It's important that the responsibility for education be placed where it belongs. Because when school is over, if a child got a shitty education, he has no one to blame but himself, and he alone will suffer the consequences.