The Danger of Conflating Education with School

In the airport recently I saw this ad:




I was struck and almost offended by it.  Not only does the idea of this autonomous individual being “gently nudged” sound a bit creepy and paternalistic, the ad implies that we should be happy for Hector.  Why?  It tells us nothing about what Hector loves or wants.  It tells us nothing about why Hector was running from school.  It tells us nothing about what Hector went on to do.  It simply states that he was, “pushed to reach his potential” and “succeed in school”.  But succeeding in school may not have anything to do with success in life for Hector.  No matter.  Well meaning teachers and parents will do, “whatever it takes” to get kids in school and keep them there.  They’ll cajole and pressure them to get passing grades on tests and in subjects that have almost no bearing on anything important to the kids.

We’re saturated with Orwellian doublespeak when it comes to school.  It’s gotten to the point where almost no one seems to remember that education exists apart from school.  Same goes for words like success and achievement.  School is used as a synonym.  A simple Google image search for the word education results in all the trappings of school.  But school is one of the narrowest, least effective means of education.

If we mean by education a tamed will and constrained imagination, school does a decent job.  If we mean the temporary memorization of a set of arbitrary facts chosen by arbitrary authority and the permanent crystallization of the life-as-a-conveyor-belt mindset, school does a decent job.  But then it’s more about obedience than education.  Education is about transformation.  It’s a process of transforming the way we see the world and giving us new conceptual tools to put on as lenses and improve our ability to navigate towards our goals.  Kids aren’t given much chance or scope to explore and decide what goals they want to pursue or how they want to do it.  They don’t even get responsibility over their own schedule.

All genuine learning is self-directed.  It happens only when the learner has the desire.  Obedience and hoop jumping can be generated by compulsion and deprivation, but transformative education requires freedom.  If Hector really wanted to be in school he wouldn’t need a nudge.  If he was there of his own volition because he wanted to learn what they were teaching then he might genuinely learn.

Hector was nudged and pushed into school by others.  Not a great way to become the creative force in his own life.  Most kids dislike school and would skip it if they could get away with it.  Before immediately attempting to get them back within the fences we might ask why they want to escape.  It’s not because kids simply won’t push themselves to do challenging things.  Watch them play.  They do it all the time.  It’s not that they won’t pour themselves into study and experimentation to improve knowledge and skill.  Watch them work to beat a video game.  They’re not running away from hard work or education.  They’re running away from school.  Maybe we should let them.