TED Conversations

Goran Kimovski

Senior Technology Consultant, OperatingDev.com


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What is the true value (if any) of organized schooling?

There are so many people suggesting that schools kill creativity, learning is innate & children can learn by themselves, no real life skills are acquired in the current school system, etc. -- the list is really long! If this is all true and we all agree that organized schooling needs big reform, I think we have to step back and ask the ultimate question about the value of organized schooling!

I make a distinction between learning, education and schooling -- with schooling being an attempt to govern/institutionalize education and education representing formalized learning. I think this is important as often people refer to school as the only place where education happens, ignoring programs like the Khan Academy or not to mention the millions of homeschoolers in US alone. They also confuse education with learning, but Sugata Mitra's child-driven education shows that the learning that happens when kids are given tools and left on their own devices is neither formal, nor it can be governed. (He uses the term education tad wrongly, though I suppose with purpose as his is an example of bringing learning and education together.)

I would like to challenge the TED community to think about the value of their own schooling or the value their kids currently in the school system are getting and share their thoughts here!


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  • Feb 23 2011: In the U.S., the motivation for legislating mandatory education was not entirely altruistic. John Taylor Gatto's book, THE UNDERGROUND HISTORY OF AMERICAN EDUCATION, presents very convincing evidence that many of the 'founding fathers' of public education were bigoted phrenologists whose goals were to maintain and exacerbate a rigid, class-based consumer culture. Carnegie, who spent his own money funding the establishment of so-called "public education," believed a primary role of public schools was to separate the children of the poor & immigrant populations from their parents. For him & other privileged white men, these children had to be FORCED to go to school because they were too ignorant to know what was best for them. The poor were poor because they were immoral - and public education would show them the error of their ways and the benefits of obedience to consumerism.

    Public schools were obedience factories: take this class, move when this bell rings, do as you're told, stop talking, be quiet, do your homework, do this because I know it's best for you...

    The problem today is that this corruption within the foundations of the public school system has never been rooted out. It is now systemic and there is no antidote. For the most part, public schools are still obedience factories. They exist primarily to provide industry with acquiescent laborers who do not question or challenge the status quo, automatons who believe what they are told and obey. They only thing we have changed is that there is no longer any industry.

    There is no positive value in organized schooling - unless, as you suggest in your own answer, students and families become invested in organizing their own learning. Until then, the state will always have ulterior motivations for requiring mandatory indoctrination. The modern world calls for independent thinkers who know no "box," much more than think outside it. The only solution is to abandon the system.
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      Mar 6 2011: I agree. Much of what you mentioned is rooted in exploiting the behavior psychology of human beings. Many can affirm eloquently on the missing element to traditional mainstream education -- creativity and independent thought, etc. -- but would omit the "why" and "how" compulsory education became the way it was. Interesting you mention Gatto's book. I'd also recommend similar but condensed books: "Weapons of Mass Instruction" and "The Leipzig Connection" and also more notably "Deliberate Dumbing Down of America" by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt who previously worked as Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Education during President Reagan's time.

      I've seen many folks on TED founding schools based on newer ways of learning and teaching. I'd say they light the future way in respect to education, because as Gatto had said, the current educational system is an autonomous organism that is resistant to being reinvented from within.
    • Liza B

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      Mar 10 2011: I think stating that organized schools have no positive value is putting it too strongly. The public school system, perhaps created and streamlined for dubious purposes, does one very important thing for children: it provides a space to learn no matter who you are, where you come from, or how much money your parents make. While alternative models of education, like homeschooling or experimental schools, can provide innovative avenues for children to pursue learning, they can't provide to that to everyone. Not all children have parents in a situation to education them at home, or live in areas with access to alternative schools, but the public school system does provide for them. It has been set up to welcome all children, and that is its greatest value.

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