Thursday, March 7, 2013

School Sucks

Okay, school sucks.

I'm not talking about test scores or whether kids are learning enough stuff (or learning at all) here, I'm just talking aesthetically. School sucks. Ask most any kid and they will talk about how school used to be fun (if they can remember back as far as pre-school and kindergarten) but it's just a drag now. Mostly they will talk about how there is just work, work, and more work.

Teachers, administrators, and parents often chalk this up to kids being kids and there's some truth in that. Kids don't like doing things like cleaning up their rooms, scrubbing the toilet, mowing the lawn, or doing homework. But come to think of it, neither do I and I'll wager that neither do you.

Parents come around on this often enough if they try to help their kids do homework. There's the old complaint that my kid's homework is too hard for me to even do. I've only come upon one or two things so far that baffled me, but both of those were poorly created assignments often copied straight from some text book.

The more interesting conclusion that I have reached with my kids' homework is this: it almost always sucks. It sucks time, energy, and any sense of fun out of learning. I know how to do all this stuff and I still think it sucks. I find myself saying to both my children, I'm sorry school is like this. It makes me angry.

Here's the thing: learning doesn't suck, but school really does. And here I thought schools were supposed to be all about learning. Go figure.

Remember, I work in a school and have been a teacher for something like eighteen years. Guess what? My school sucks. My class sucks. The assignments I give suck. To some extent they almost always have and I have accepted this as just the way that school works and has to be. I'm right that this is how school works but it does not have to be this way at all.

I posted a few paragraphs on Google+ that I'm sure can get me arrested and questioned by the FBI or some anti-terrorist organization. I'm hoping to meet Jack Bauer but hopefully not be tortured by him. The phrase that should raise all sorts of red flags is this one: I want to explode school.

I'm not talking about blowing up the buildings themselves or getting anyone hurt. However, it might be useful to maintain the image of an old brick school exploding into the sky. Just to make the image prettier, imagine kids a safe distance away dancing and cheering. I'm in that crowd, but I'm not cheering so much as already trying to imaging how to build something new in the school's place.

I have talked on here before about the idea of a moonshot that I heard with regard to Google. The idea is that we often look for 10% improvement in systems such as schools. That's what the Common Core and testing crap is all about. If we can just raise scores and performance 10%, then... Well, there is no "then" because it's never stated as an if statement. Instead, the call is that we must improve our schools and 10% or some other small increment isn't a bad figure to shoot for.

Bullshit. Don't believe in any of it.

A 10% improvement in schools means nothing. First, 10% of what? Test scores? Work completed? Minutes in the damn chairs? It's like those claims on snacks that say 10% less fat. Sure, they've got 10% less fat than a cup and a half of Crisco, but who gives a damn?

Let me stretch that food line a little more. Hostess snack pies are tasty poison. Check the ingredients and you'll see. They are fat and calorie bombs that are made with no natural ingredients. To reduce the fat content of a Hostess snack pie is to make poison different but not any less bad for you. You can't fix a Hostess snack pie, but you can choose to eat something else.

Improve schools by 10% and they will still suck. They might suck a little less, but even so, suck is suck.

The moonshot is to make schools ten times better. That's 1000%. It can't be done through increased testing. It can't be done through more time in seats. It can't be done with the Common Core or tying teacher pay to performance as measured by time in seats and increased testing. It can only be done by exploding the school.

I'm there, at a safe distance from the explosion, amidst all those dancing kids and I have a pen in one hand, a notebook in the other. I'm trying to get down a few ideas about what the new school could look like. I'm playing with that idea in words. It's going to take a while. I better write on.