Thursday, May 15, 2014

What is "Failing"?

(This started out as part of this previous column, but it got away from me)

We've been hearing a ton of verbage spewed out over the past umpteen years about failing schools. We need Common Core because our schools are failing. We can't go back to the failing schools of yesteryear. Failing failing failing. Well, the next time somebody tells you that schools are failing, please ask them this for me--

Failing at what?

Is there, for instance, new research to suggest that Americans are largely more unhappy and discontented than in the past, and it's all because of their education? Are we failing to help our children grow up mentally healthy?

Is there a research-based link between high school education quality and the divorce rate? Are we failing to teach our children how to be good marriage partners?

Are we failing to teach children how to properly appreciate and even make music?

Are we failing to raise children who are physically fit and active in sports?

Are we failing to raise children with a clear and well-developed sense of personal responsibility infused with a strong moral compass?

Are we failing to raise young people with a well-developed sense of empathy?

Are we failing to teach children how to self-direct, self-educate, and self-assess as they dive into the vast sea of information and ideas in front of them?

No. I mean, it's clear that we are not 100% on any of those measures, but that's not what the "failing" in "failing schools" means. You know what the "failing" in "failing schools" invariably means?

We are failing to teach students to get really good tests on standardized tests.

We are failing to provide corporations with workers who can be easily absorbed and shed.

And-- well, I've got nothing else. That's it. Scratch the failing schools rhetoric, and it comes down to those two things. That's it. That's the massive failure of American public education.

Our definition of success has become so meager, so narrow, so sad and small. And yet, because it is so narrow, we easily fail. CCSS gives us a system in which a student who walks on water will be marked as failing his swimming test. No, our big failure is to recognize the richness and variety, the beauty and awesomeness that is the full range of human expression and ability and experience.


  1. I love the image of the student walking on water analogy (and allusion?)

  2. And you might have added one more: we were failing to provide big bucks to the corporations and hedge funds that stand to make the most from claiming our schools are failures. At least that failure is being remedied.