Iâ€™m given a lot of freedom as a teacher in my English as a Second Language classes, but there are some words and expressions Iâ€™m not allowed to teach.
Sometimes while waiting for my students to pour into the classroom, I fantasize about writing one of those forbiddens on the blackboard; in big, white chalky letters; like the opening scene of some clichÃ© American film.
The school system is in serious need of some serious absenteeism.
I think about all the frayed ends of half-sewn thoughts Iâ€™ve heard over the years from adults that have finally formed a single garment:
â€œOnce you finish school, thatâ€™s when the real learning starts.â€
â€œHeâ€™s just as smart as you, but he has street smarts.â€
â€œI never let my schooling interfere with my education.â€ (Mark Twain)
â€œLet the world be your classroom.â€
That single garment is one of those loud, neon t-shirts that a spunky 16-year-old would sport. Itâ€™s raised print reads, â€œPlay Hooky.â€ Most of us would probably brush it off as another snarky teenage act of rebellion â€“ (â€œone day heâ€™ll grow up and appreciate his educationâ€) – but what if he doesn’t? What if it wasn’t just a t-shirt? What if you heard it from retired American schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto, who famously quit his job in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed after being named New York Teacher of the Year in 1991?
This is what he said: â€œIt is absurd and anti-life to be a part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class.â€ It prohibits to you from accessing the real diversity and richness of life â€“ those aspects of the â€œreal worldâ€ that people keep telling you about that makes things get so much better, yet we are inexplicably required to wait until a pre-determined age to experience it.
Students are told to let the world be their classroom, yet they are required to be in the classroom 10 months out of the year, 7 hours a day. They are given revolutionary thinkers like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs as examples and then reminded that their educational pathways to success were unorthodox and exceptions to the rule. They are told to think for themselves, yet they are never given the time to do so. Their free time is taken up by homework and extracurricular activities and with the constant accompaniment of televisions, iphones, PSPs, etc., solitude is so overrated.
â€œKeep in mind that in the U.S. almost nobody who reads, writes, or does arithmetic gets much respect,â€ Gatto continues. â€œWe are a land of talkers, we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most, and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the â€˜basicsâ€™ anymore because they really arenâ€™t basic to the society weâ€™ve made.â€ (Case in point: Mitt Romneyâ€™s $374,000 annual speaker fees.)
Nevermind the politics, the No Child Left Behind Act and the Race to the Top. Bureaucracy will continue to bulldoze through any and all â€œviable solutionsâ€ without arriving at the conclusion that a total overhaul of our educational system is desperatley needed.
When/if that overhaul does come, I hope it looks something like this innovative school plan in Sweden. In the mean time, teach your kids the virtues of solitude, let them read some John Taylor Gatto, and donâ€™t be too hard on them when you catch them playing hooky. If anything, itâ€™s a good sign that theyâ€™re showing their own brand of curiosity for what lies outside their daily holding cell.