Yesterday I read a thought-provoking article: The Washington Post – A Venture Capitalist Searches for the Purpose of School. Here’s What he Found by Ted Dintersmith and I wanted to highlight some aspects that stood out to me.

The article was scathing in how the current education model is functioning, but what especially stood out to me was the suggestion that school can “Impair Life Prospects.” Ted Dintersmith even goes so far as to suggest,

“Creative expansive thinking turning into narrow, prescriptive “right answers,”. Inquisitiveness shriveling up into “Will this be on the test?”   A joy for learning worn down into time-efficient hoop-jumping. A willingness to take intellectual risks morphing into formulaic responses without risk of embarrassment.”

Wow but true…  I kept reading:

“But what came across loud and clear in my journeys is that schools don’t have the luxury of striving for any meaningful purpose. We’ve somehow imposed a system on our educators that requires them to:

  • cover volumes of bureaucratically-prescribed content
  • boost scores on increasingly-pervasive standardized tests
  • get kids through this year’s vacuous hoops to prepare for next year’s vacuous hoops
  • produce acceptable graduation rates and college placements
  • deal with parents who are either obsessive micro-managers or missing in action.”

Ouch – and then:

“And how much are our kids really learning? If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that they’re not learning. Practically anything.”

Mic drop…

Luckily, he did have some positive experiences through visits to schools like High Tech High (on my bucket list to visit) and even ended on this optimistic note that really resonated with me:

“So back to that purpose question. Maybe, in the end, the purpose of school is to help our kids find their own sense of purpose. To prepare them for a life where they can set, and achieve, their own goals, not grind away to meet the needs of some bureaucrat or college admissions officer. Given decades of damage from our testing and accountability strategy, maybe it’s time to place our bets on a strategy that puts its weight behind engaging and inspiring our kids . . . and teachers. Imagine what our country is capable of if we figure out how to launch millions of purpose-driven kids into society prepared and energized to their world better through their talents, passions, developing skills, and ability to learn. Kids that are, truly, prepared for life.”

We do have this capacity here in Ontario. It’s going to take time, but we can do it. With more creativity, innovation, and imagination on our part, it can happen. There are pockets of innovation happening all over this province and we need to be celebrating classrooms like Colleen Rose’s.

At the very minimum, however, we need to continue to contemplate the purpose of school with the first step being a culture shift to schools as learning spaces not data driven classrooms.


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