How education is not set in stone

How it is
When kids grow up through a particular school or education system, this school or system only ever shows them one way of going about education.

They transmit messages and assumptions about the way things “need to be,” such as:
“Classes should be taught by one teacher at a time,”
“English class needs to include one work of Shakespeare per year,”
“Recess should be about 15 minutes long,”
“Students need to learn the “basics:” math, English, and science
“Students should be divided up according to the year they were born,” and so forth.

It becomes very easy for the students to endorse the messages that their school sends them, because they’re so omnipresent. Most students are only ever exposed to one elementary school, one high school, etc. And even those that change schools, usually switch between schools that operate under the same educational system, or the same assumptions.

Some students may disagree with some of these practices, but the furthest this ever goes is a rant with their friends over lunch time.

What it is

Students usually have no say in how they are to be educated, in any sense of the matter. The only choices they have are:

1 – What courses to take, but only partially. in Quebec at least, this is the amount of flexibility at each level

Elementary: No choices whatsoever

High school: 1 choice of art class (art, music, drama, or dance), and 2-3 complementary classes in the last few years

CEGEP: Depends on program, but all programs are highly structured. It’s more flexible in the English system. For general education, the structure has been determined for them (4 English, 3 Humanities, 3 Phys. Ed., 2 French, 2 Complementaries), but students may pick courses from predetermined lists.

After a student picks their courses, it’s time for them to “put up, or shut up.” With one exception…

2 – Sometimes, students have a choice of what subject material to complete projects on, and which peers to work with on group projects.

But there is so much more to determining how schools operate! Students have very little say in:
– evaluation methods
– method of lecturing/non-lecturing
– classroom dynamics/composition
– timing of courses, day, etc.
– subject material (within the subject…. for instance, yes, they may be able to pick between history or geography class, but they cannot determine whether they will learn about Aztec or Russian history, etc.)
etc, etc, etc.

How it really is

But what we don’t tell out students, is that the way we run our schools is actually quite arbitrary. It’s got some roots in (what I’ll call) the “fundamental nature” of human beings, but that most of it is a social construction.

For instance, at its core, English class is important because it teaches students to communicate well, and communication is part of our “fundamental nature.” But most all of the stuff beyond that – e.g. what kind of books we’re supposed to read or not read, how we’re supposed to write using a five paragraph essay format, etc. – is a social construction.

(Aside: Some of this fundamental human nature is still largely ignored, though. This is where the exciting part comes in: tapping into that human potential!!  For instance, tapping into our natural desire to learn things.)

How it is… or how they can be?

Being arbitrary is a good thing. Just like how every student is different, we can adjust the way we teach to address their individual needs.

There can be many different possible solutions to educational issues. They can be in operation at the same time, and even within the same school, but administered to different students. Sometimes, the “best” solution for one student, one culture, or one period in history, might be totally ineffective for another student, culture, or period.  I believe that our recommendations should should flex and evolve, as we flex and evolve as a society.

How this blog will be

In terms of this blog, this means that many of the recommendations I will propose in upcoming posts should be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t intend to have everything work for everyone, all the time, and everywhere. But I believe there should be a plurality of solutions in operation simultaneously, and that students should be given a relative amount of freedom to find the methods that work best for them.


We should be wary of anyone who tries to push one method as the “one, and only” method for educating our youth. And that we should challenge our individually, and collectively held assumptions about how things “should” be, not not treat them as if they were like the unchangeable, physical laws of the universe.

We often learn in school that for one question, there is one correct answer.
But in education, we should learn that, often, for one question, there are many correct answers.


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