Are kids taught to think?
February 27, 2004
Kids and Teachers and Schools

by Gary R. Gruber, Ph.D.

When schools began to be compulsory, the model following the Industrial Revolution was to make little workers of the students. They were to follow instructions, work diligently and produce the "right" answers. If their parents were factory workers, they had the same regimen. Each catered to the foreman who was the leader/teacher of the work group and the boss/manager who was the principal.

Schools still are organized around the workday schedule, but there are some exceptions. What if schools could break out of the old mold and respond to children’s needs in developmentally appropriate ways?

Students have moved up a notch or two but they’re still in the organization or company mold. Some schools are even preparing these young protégés for the next move up the ladder to the CEO ranks and have co-opted, with the best of intentions, a leadership theme.

Are these students only fulfilling the expectations of those adults who surround them? Or, as we might hope, are they being encouraged to ask their own questions about meaning and value, purpose and direction? Are we helping them to become intelligent and critical participants of the very system that often fails to inspire and support them? Are they developing a zest for learning, exploration, discovery and expression? What other questions must we examine carefully to know whether or not we are serving their best interests or only those that we have decided are important?

One generation after The Organization Man is the Organization Kid. A look at the students in the beginning of the 21st century reminds us that the authority of parents and other adults – teachers especially, may not only be back in vogue but in fact may make a significant contribution to the way young people are able to think and live.

The downside to all of this is what I experienced for so many years when asking the following question of students in numerous private and public high schools: Why are you here? Why are you here in this particular school at this particular time? Similar questions can be asked of an organization: What is your business or profession? What do you hope to achieve as a result of your practice? None of the students that I recall answered that he or she was there “to be a student.” Some responded that they were there to “get an education” but that suggests a high degree of passivity in the same way that people might respond by saying that they get something by doing simply what is required as a means to an end.

What the students did say in vast numbers, was that they were there “to get ahead” which meant to prepare for the next stage of life. Included in these stages were high school, college--perhaps, graduate school, good job, lots of money, comfortable life, an early retirement in order to do what they really wanted to do. Why must they wait so long to do “what they really wanted to do?”

I queried a recent graduate of a prestigious university about what was next, now that the long sought degree was in hand. She said that she really wanted to teach and that she thought that she would be really good at it. But, she also said, in the next breath, that she was accepting a job at a bank because it paid almost twice as much. She wasn’t sure she could afford to teach just now.

What does all of this mean? It means that we could help a lot of kids and adults by encouraging them to be much more in the present and connect clearly and strongly with what interests them the most, now, not "x" number of years from now. This new philosophy would re-vitalize schools and make them a lot more exciting and fun than otherwise would be the case.

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