What If We Got to Reinvent School?

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Might there be a better way?
Might there be a better way?

If a gunman enters my son’s school intent on murdering children and teachers, at least I’ll know the kids and teachers had some practice beforehand.

My son is 7. I’m pretty sure he, nor his classmates, knew why they were practicing a lockdown drill last week. I’m sure the boys were giggling and goofing off like they always do.

You remember school drills. But if you’re anywhere close to my age, you don’t remember lockdown drills. Those are the ones where you don’t practice leaving the school in case of fire, or practice tucking against a wall with a heavy textbook over your neck in case of tornados or other natural disasters.

A lockdown drill is the one where you simulate hiding from mass murderers.

Parents got an email from the principal letting us know it happened.

I don’t even have a point. It just felt mention-worthy before I get into how stupid the American education system is.

What if I was Given Unlimited Power to Reinvent Education?

I’m so glad you asked!

I think I could dramatically improve the lives of all students, parents of students, and teachers overnight. And I’m not very smart. And I’ve only been thinking about this for about 10 minutes.

THAT’s how shitty our education system is.

Where Would I Start?

How about acknowledging that all students are not created equal?

How many stories do we need to hear about school dropouts going on to do amazing things before we recognize that school success (currently) DOES NOT EQUAL life success? (Examples include: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller, Richard Branson, Charles Dickens, and many more.)

None of those people would have dropped out of my school.

Because the very first thing we’re going to do at my kick-ass school is figure out TWO super-important things about each and every student: Personality Type (there are 16 if you’re using the Carl Jung and I. Briggs Myers profiles). And Learning Style (there are three: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.)

And we are going to design curriculum and classrooms tailored to those three learning styles, and we’re going to use any relevant components of personality to mix and match children and teachers in an effort to optimize the school experience.

I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe we wouldn’t have as many angry and socially isolated kids if we stopped making the awkward and non-athletic kids play dodgeball or kickball, or if we stopped making dyslexic kids real aloud in front of the class, or if we stopped making shy kids sing and dance in front of an audience.

Maybe if every classroom was designed to maximize the specific talents of certain types of students, every child would:

  • Learn more things and actually retain the information
  • Develop a life-long LOVE of learning
  • FEEL better every day—enjoying subjects they’re passionate about learning in ways that actually make sense to them
  • Develop healthy friendships no matter what their personality type because they are spending every day with other kids who either love what they love, or have similar or complementary personality types
  • Emerge from high school with more specialized and focused knowledge about certain subjects than today’s bachelor’s degree graduates
  • Be equipped psychologically to succeed in interpersonal relationships

Maybe there would be less violence. Less crime. Less underage alcohol consumption and drug use. Less sexual misconduct.

I know there would be a bunch of healthier, smarter kids, and that they’d be in position to tackle adulthood with focus and confidence.

Because the two most important aspects of life success are the ability to: Learn How to Learn and Maintain Healthy Relationships.

I didn’t learn either because of school.

Hell. I didn’t learn them at all.

Let’s Teach People How to Treat Others and Succeed in Relationships

Right now, we preach platitudes.

“Treat others as you wish to be treated!”

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”

“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?”

“Be a leader, not a follower!”

“You can do anything you put your mind to!”

Kids don’t really hear it because the words ring hollow when they’re snickering at that kid who just spilled something down his shirt in the cafeteria, or when they’re actually the kid being laughed at.

Those are throwaway comments parents and educators make without spending much time effectively explaining what any of that really means.

All kids know (at least the non-valedictorian-track ones) is that some asshole is droning on and on and on and on about The Grapes of Wrath or Obtuse triangles or Cirrus cloud formations or Musical scales or The War of 1812 or the Anatomy of bullfrogs or Past participles, and in most cases NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.

And you can’t make them. You can’t. It’s not their fault.

They’re thinking about making the basketball team or cheerleading squad or about that cute boy/girl they like in study hall or ANYTHING that actually matters to them.

I have spent my entire professional life punching a keyboard and stringing words together to tell stories or market products. And I didn’t take my first typing class until I was 16, and I didn’t take a writing class until I was 20, and I’ve never had a marketing class in 36 years even though that’s how I make money.

That means, I’m all for general knowledge, and would never suggest not having some general knowledge-based courses in my rad school (where they would be taught differently depending on a particular group of students). But can we all agree that learning about The War of 1812 and obtuse triangles (both of which I’d have to Google for a refresher) failed to help me with things I think are infinitely more important like: How to Succeed at Interpersonal Aspects of Marriage, How to Know you Have ADHD so You Don’t Ruin Relationships, How to Build a Professional Network and Why it Matters, Why Honest Conversations About Sex Are Important, How to Make Her (or Him, if that’s your thing) Ache for You, The Mathematical Implications of Debt Elimination, The Mathematical Implications of Buying vs. Renting Real Estate, The Short- and Long-Term Value of Exercise, How You Might Get Smarter and Make More Money Not Going to College.

You get the idea.

Things that actually help you.

We didn’t have search engines when I was in elementary school. So it’s not fair for me to be as critical of the 1988-version of American education as I will be on today’s.

We don’t teach kids what they really need to know to have mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally healthy lives. Some get lucky. Most don’t.

But it sure seems like we’re wasting a lot of time and resources teaching kids things they could learn by reading one article and watching one YouTube video in a matter of seconds. Isn’t knowing how to find information every bit as valuable as memorizing something?

If you can remember the atomic number for carbon, and it takes me 10 seconds to find the answer on my phone, does that knowledge have ANY value outside of a post-apocalyptic world where my phone doesn’t work and we’re arguing about the Periodic Table?

I submit (for anyone not working in a lab who would ALREADY know it because they actually care and use the information routinely) it does not.

Let’s Teach People How to Learn

In 2015, we have virtually unlimited information at our fingertips.

It’s hard for me to understand why we’re asking kids to memorize textbooks, take timed math tests, and regurgitate answers to questions that will have ZERO bearing on any aspect of their lives weeks from now, let alone in adulthood when life tends to start throwing punches.

Tim Ferriss calls it “meta learning.”

One of the coolest lessons: The Pareto principle—otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. It’s the theory that 80 percent of virtually any situation is determined by just 20 percent of the input. (Examples: 20% of workers produce 80% of results, or 20% of customers create 80% of sales.)

It’s not a law. It’s a guide.

Take learning a new language as another example. In English, just 300 words make up 65% of all written material.

That means, if you learn those 300 words, you can communicate (effectively, if imperfectly) with English speakers.

The same is true for all foreign languages. Learn the magic 300 words (and there are tips and tricks and tools for doing that too), and now you can passably write and speak new languages at a relatively high level.

It’s a good example of learning HOW to learn. Something we didn’t learn in school, and something we’re not teaching today’s students.

There are effective ways to learn HOW to do everything. And I think if we paired thoughtful curriculum with optimized lessons (visually for visual learners, audibly for auditory learners, and through physical interaction for kinesthetic learners), we just might be onto something.

In fact, I’m pretty sure at my school, it’s the summer and winter breaks kids would dread most.

Now, where’d I put that magic wand?

A special thanks to today’s Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

18 thoughts on “What If We Got to Reinvent School?”

  1. 1. There are some schools out there that DO do things differently and actually teach to the individual and stuff like that. Are there charter schools in Ohio?
    2. Have you ever read about William Glasser’s Choice Theory as it applies to education? I think you’d like it. 3. I was helping at my kids’ school last year when they had a lockdown drill. On one hand it was weird & terrifying (mostly when you think about why it has to be done) but on the other hand it felt just like a tornado drill.

    1. Of course. We have STEM schools which provide these opportunities for kids geared toward math and sciences (though I’m not sure how much learning styles are a factor to help each student.) Montessori schools incorporate a lot of these ideas.

      What percentage of students does that cover, though?

      Less than 2%? Less than 1%?

      Things we can demonstrate to clearly be the best-possible way of doing something should ALWAYS be the default way we try to do whatever the thing is. At minimum, it should always be what we are working toward.

      Color me cynical, but I’m not confident our grandchildren won’t end up in classrooms much like the ones we went to and our kids sit in today.

      I have not read Glasser’s book. I believe you that I would like it. I’m going to, at minimum, add it to my Amazon wish list momentarily.

      And of course I agree that schools should have worst-case-scenario plans in place.

      As a writer, I wanted to demonstrate that A. I’m a father, B. I care about my son, and C. We live in a world where people snap and murder lots of people in shooting rampages.

      And I don’t think I’m out of line saying the following: My fantasy school idea?

      It (executed effectively, of course) eliminates most of the societal ills that plague us.

      People would be engaged and involved and confident and pursuing passions at a much younger age, and at a much higher rate than people are today.

      I’m not saying my idea that I just thought of two hours ago is awesome and everyone should drop everything they’re doing and try to make it a reality because it would change the world.

      Oh, wait. Nevermind. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

      Awesome to hear from you. Hope you’re well, lady.

      1. Large scale social change doesn’t happen overnight. It creeps in little by little until critical mass is reached and what was once the obscurity has become the norm. My point is that there are better/different options out there, some of which do put into practice ideas you’ve mentioned. The Charter school act in Michigan was created to give parents more choice in their children’s education and to drive the public school systems to be better by creating competition. Charter schools vary quite a bit but they all seem to be attempting to improve on the social norm by offering something that’s not the same old system. My kids are in classrooms that are very different from the ones I grew up in and I’m not even that old. I think lots of people see the brokenness of our “traditional” school system and are doing something different and working to make a change.
        As for the lockdown drill, I was just saying it was both bizarre & totally normal all at the same time. I’m pretty sure I was agreeing with you or at least reiterating your point.

  2. There are actually 7 learning styles…

    And I’ve been trying to implement a social skills group as part of the curriculum for YEARS.

    1. Stop raining on my parade!!! Doctor!!!

      Fine. Seven, not three. I’ll have you know, I’ve never looked up that information before. I Googled “learning styles” and found something that sounded smart-ish. (It was the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth: http://www.umassd.edu/dss/resources/facultystaff/howtoteachandaccommodate/howtoaccommodatedifferentlearningstyles/)

      I feel like my general school reform concept stands despite your attempts to discredit it!!!!!!!! 😉 (I know you weren’t doing that.)

      Thanks for taking a minute to comment. It’s appreciated.

  3. There’s nothing like a Matt Rant…..I’ll call it a “Mrantt.”

    This whole learning-style approach is GENIUS! … A little Too genius….I remember when they finally started putting tortillas in resealable packaging and thought…”WHAT THE HECK!!! THEY ARE BARELY THINKING OF THIS! IT SHOULD’VE HAPPENED A MILLION YEARS AGO! ARE YOU JOKING ME!!”….that’s very much how I am feeling about this new learning-style school. Why haven’t they done this already? Like a million years ago?!?

    But I wonder if you’ve missed the mark on social skills… grouping people by personality types?…I don’t know about that….

  4. You’re not segregating by personality type. Not all all.

    You’re using thoughtful research and analytics to discover whether there are any meaningful correlations between introverted people who are visual learners, and extroverted people who are visual learners.

    It might not be a factor at all in math class, but it might be a huge factor in art class.

    These are things you would study and learn over time in an effort to create classrooms that maximized student performance.

    Theoretically, introverts and extroverts would work together because they both LOVE drafting or art history and learn best in an auditory way.

    But maybe in music, there’s a radical difference between the way one personality type learns versus another, and maybe you slot students in certain courses, accordingly.

    None of this is rooted in anything other than guesswork.

    I’m just willing to bet when you put the right types of students together with the right teacher providing lessons in a teaching style tailored for a specific group of students, everyone would thrive.

    And I think the same teacher could teach a different group of students the same subject in an entirely different way, and they would be equally successful.

    And MAYBE personality profiles could be a factor in all that.

    I don’t pretend to know anything for sure.

    Ironically, if I’d never heard of StrengthsFinder, it probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

  5. I really like your fantasy school, and feel like schools should start shifting the way they teach to include different learning styles. Separating by personality, though, I take issue with. If that’s done, then kids aren’t prepared to be in the real world – where they take their personality and have to coexist with people with different personalities. If we do this, we’re saying that the learning is much more paramount than it is to coexist with people with whom you may clash or not get along with. And in life that’s not the case – we have to learn while being thrown into a mix of people from all different races, genders, personalities, backgrounds, SESs, cultures, religions, etc. I agree that it’s difficult for a visual learner to learn in today’s school climates; however, I also think that learning to exist with other personalities and surviving is also a needed skill that’s learned throughout school – learn how to ‘play the game’ – meeting others’ expectations while still getting what you want/need when the consequences are less severe than they would be in adulthood…

    1. You don’t ALWAYS separate personality types. Certain classes, certain settings, based on evidence that it was beneficial.

      There would always be instances where you’re throwing everyone together.

      People are already grouped in school, either by randomness, or honors programs, or athletic skill level, or popularity, or whatever.

      I’m only suggesting there may be some classes where the kids benefit from deliberate groupings.

      I don’t pretend to know!

  6. Here is a truth to ponder: I’ve learned far more since I got out of school than I ever learned in it. One reason that you’ve already pointed out: Today we have search engines and You-Tube. If you want to know something, it’s at your fingertips within moments. One other reason: I wasn’t the most popular kid in school by a long shot. You get put down a lot, it hurts your spirit.

    Maybe we need schools to teach people how to get along with each other— something you shoulda learned in Kindergarten but which, unfortunately, even many adults my age (I’m 60) still haven’t mastered.

  7. I don’t have any kids yet, but the thought that they have to do a lock down drill at school to be prepared for a potential mass murderer, makes me so sad and angry. Something has to change, you can’t accept mass shooting as a norm. And as an academic, I just hope that we’ll never have to do that kind of drills here in Australia.

  8. Thank you, Matt, for saying it out loud!

    I bet a school system that puts an emphasis on learning as opposed to drilling can change the world. Currently, none of the responsible people seem to be either willing or able to learn, themselves. (If they were, school would look more like you are suggesting in this post.) Hence, the children in their care are not given this space, either. But the new generation cannot be drilled anymore. They are even less wired for it, than we were. Personally, I actually never was, either. Fortunately, a lot of parents and teachers are aware of this problem, meanwhile. Also, I begin to see various alternative school systems successfully come to life. That gives me hope that things are changing.

    Hopefully, things change in time so that your son and his generation can already benefit from it. And hopefully he will never have to practise a lockdown drill, again.

    Much love,

  9. Matt for three years of my schooling I went to an experimental school. Much of what you thought of here was part of my experience. It was the best experience of my education! Years later my brother went to a similar school, it saved his life. We were years apart, but both of our educations were enhanced.

    It is unfortunate that for me, the school experiment was shut down. I attended from the forth to the sixth grade. I was considered an advanced student. They didn’t extend the program.

    For my brother, it was just the opposite. He was going to drop out. He was failing all his classes. He was offered an opportunity to attend an alternative school. It was his saving grace.

  10. I love this post. We actually homeschooled and unschooled all four of our kids at various times. I kid you not, each time we pulled them out of school they actually got smarter, they started acting like humans, relationships with people began to matter, learning became fun.

  11. hey, I really like your blog so far. I think I will check in on it regularly.
    Have you ever thought of taking some education classes? There are actually many styles to teaching children that we don’t utilize in our public school system and most private schools don’t either but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t try. As others have pointed out there are SOME experimental schools (I went to one in the 70s. it was styled after the Freierian theories, community learning) so take heart!


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