Is Education Conformity Killing Our Kids?

I get to work
with extraordinary people. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who
are smarter than me, more educated, the best in their fields, thinkers, doers and leaders.
 

However,
because of this I sometimes lose sight of reality. I recently spent some time
with a few recruiters for both the non-profit and commercial sectors. They are
looking for the best and brightest coming out of our colleges and universities.
I asked them how their jobs were going assuming they would have a lot more
candidates than jobs.

I was correct
in that assumption. But, then I was told the real story.

It appears
that many of our schools of higher learning have continued the trend of “just
graduating numbers” and not educated men and women who have been taught how to
think.

“Just look at
Facebook,” one of the women recruiters told me. They routinely search the
social networks for the digital trails left behind by candidates. What they
find are twenty-something year olds with degrees who can’t write or communicate
a coherent thought. And, if you believe their public postings, focus their lives on sex, alcohol, drugs and
parties. And, the worst part is they feel no qualms about leaving a digital
trail for the world to follow. They seem proud of it.

You can’t
have been taught how to think if this is how you live your life. And, I’m not
talking the digital trail which is just plain stupid.

I’m talking
about having your entire life be about how drunk you were last weekend or every
day last week. Or, who’s hooking up with whom.

I’ve seen one
young woman after another having babies just to have babies. Most end up without
fathers. And, these are college educated women.

Maybe, I’m
out of touch with reality. In fact, I’m going to made this a dual post and ask
a friend (and one of those extraordinary people I surround myself with) to give
her thoughts on the education system.

Her name is
Megan Elizabeth Morris and she’s less than half my age.

She’s one of
those twenty-somethings.

"Oh
boy," Megan says with a particular look in her eye– which I can't
actually see because, well, this is email.
"Have I got a rant for you!

"My
limited (but vehement) understanding is this," she continues.

"Kids
don't fit into boxes. Kids need to be kid-shaped, and every single one is
different–with different strengths, talents, brilliance, personalities.
Trying to put that kid into a predetermined box is a great way to mess up the
kid and make him unhappy. The really lucky ones get along with the boxes and
find out they're naturally great at math and science and left-brain thinking
and succeeding in institutionalized systems. The really unlucky ones end up in
bad, confused cycles that are difficult to escape.

"If you
teach someone that conformity is their most important goal, you're taking away
their desire (and maybe their ability) to make creative decisions for
themselves– one amazing asset that industrial age schools are destroying. If
you put that same person into a situation where they are in pain– for
instance, if they don't fit your box, and they're miserable– they'll look for
painkillers."

Painkillers
will become just as important as conformity.

"So
of course the best way for those kids to kill pain and
achieve conformity, the two most important things in their lives, is to engage
in radical sameness with other kids who have discovered effective painkillers.
I'm not just talking about drugs; this is about risky engagements with drugs,
alcohol, uneducated sexuality and all kinds of other things that create
temporary pleasure.

"The
educational system we have stuffs kids into boxes and impresses upon them that
they're not good enough–just because they don't fit the box.

"What happens
if we start paying attention to Do Schools Kill Creativity Sir
Ken's
tremendous clarity on childhood education and find ways for our
children to be happy? To learn the way children do naturally? To build their
own boxes as they grow and change and absorb information and enjoy what they
do? To use the creativity they already possess to make whatever they're meant
to make? Because each one of them is extraordinary, and we teach them not to
know it.

"Don't you think that's a shame? I hope you're horrified. I am."

I am too, Megan. I am too.

4 thoughts on “Is Education Conformity Killing Our Kids?”

  1. I’m from Malaysia and I see this happening all the time. School absolutely kills kids. No avenue for self-expression, conformity above everything else – kids are STIFLED and don’t know what to do with themselves. they only work on what other people tell them to.
    However, I think basing people’s intelligence levels on their Facebook profiles is not giving them enough credit. By that measure you’d think my mum or uni teacher was a poor speller too! People are complex, and they may not always share that complexity online. I’ve been quite surprised with people who seemed vapid online but had rich vessels of thought and ideas and passions inside, or vice versa.
    If university recruiters are going to take Facebook profiles at face value they are missing out on a lot of great kids.

  2. Tiara – I agree with you about basing intelligence levels on Facebook, but I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that someone who spends all their Facebook real estate talking about getting drunk is wasting their intelligence more than someone who spends it in other more useful ways! And although I don’t think a Facebook page like that suggests that the person in question is only about getting drunk all the time, I do think it suggests a powerful imbalance of some kind — an imbalance we can do something about.
    People are complex and don’t always share it — YES, wow yes. Because, I think, many of them are encouraged not to share it. That’s not the only reason, but I sure do encounter it a lot. We *often* take kids at face value and forget the wealth of possibility inside them, and it does them a ridiculous disservice.

  3. Wow. Where do I even begin…?
    First of all, I’m a big fan of Ms. Morris’. She’s a bright shining light in this world, indeed. But both she and YOU, Bob, are misguided in your judgment about the public schools and the jobs they’re doing in educating young minds.
    I’m a veteran teacher who knows, for a fact, that even in large-sized classrooms, it’s not only possible to teach critical thinking and literacy skills, but it’s happening all the time, very quietly and without any PR.
    Public ed, unfortunately, is too vulnerable to the whims of political and cultural ideology and while the push and pull is constant, we STILL somehow manage to honor the learning spirit of our students, even though the business sector believes THEIR aims and goals are tantamount to any other.
    You and Megan have not only bought into the media hype around the collective character of this next generation about to be spit out into the adult world with all this judgment laid upon them, but you’ve played your part now in adding to the cynicism fed by this new medium that does an apt job displaying the more unsavory aspects of adolescence (something that’s always been there but has been largely a private matter until now).
    I could go on and on about this and tell you why I know you’re wrong and I’m right (mostly because I’m fortunate to engage with amazing young people on a daily basis) but I’m not sure what the character limit on these comments are…

  4. Thanks for your viewpoint, Syd. I’m sure there are great teachers in every school system who work hard to overcome what I see as cookie cutter, one-size fits all education. You may be one of them.
    You say that the “business sector believes their aims and goals are tantamount to any other.” What do you mean by business sector? Are you referring to the Board of Education or Administration? What are the aims and goals you mention?
    As far as buying into media hype I barely listen to the media. My opinions are based upon my own observations as a student, parent, uncle, friend, neighbor and trustee of a Quaker based school (that embraces different).
    In MOST schools if you’re “different” you’re either going to end up labeled as a problem or you will be forced into the pre-built box provided by the school system.
    I’ve also spent hours talking to teachers in schools who do care but who are hamstrung by the rules of the system. At the same time, they have told me too many stories about their fellow teachers who become burned out while only in the 40’s and who counting the days until retirement while doing a disservice to their students.
    Maybe we agree on more than we disagree, Syd. Megan is at a conference so we’ll have to wait to hear from her.
    Again, thanks for your comments.

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