My son doesn't like school anymore and it kills me. Here's a kid alive with wonder, building entire worlds in his play time, always questioning the why's and what's of our daily lives, and he comes home every day with a different story that centers around "the loud kids" or "talking out of turn" or simply how boring it is to answer questions all day long in preparation for "the big test". The disconnect between who my child is as a learner in the real-world, and who he is as a typical 5th grade student in America, is so vast that I wonder if school is doing him more harm than good. When learning is a quantifiable end, and not a means to engage more deeply in one's curiosity or frustration, I worry that we're turning out a generation ill-equipped to solve real problems.
I have good reason to worry. By the time kids like my son make it to high school they've learned the game, the rules, and how to best play at being a student. This largely consists of not speaking in class, seeking minimum requirements, and avoiding any kind of frustration or annoyance. Kids like my son work for points and grades. Kids like my son turn into little test-takers and extra-point junkies. They procrastinate, put their heads down in class, and get caught on their cell phones. They hate school, and as well they should.
I became a teacher because I hated school. It wasn't that my experience was particularly bad, it was just so boring. After a few years of soul-searching in my twenties, I decided to re-enter the classroom and see if maybe I could go back and design the kind of learning space that I so sorely wish I would have had coming up. It's been ten years, and I'm now more convinced than ever, we need to stop aiming at the test answers stored temporarily in our students' brains, and instead we should ignite the spark of curiosity and engagement that is innate in their souls.
Souls aren't things you hear much about in the education debate, have you noticed that? It's because the "stuff" of the soul is too difficult to quantify on paper and doesn't fit into the curricular categories we came up with 100 years ago. My son surely has a soul, and whatever it contains within in it, whatever passion, curiosity and engagement he was given at birth, it is systematically being stamped out of him every weekday from 8-3. The authors of my son's sad education narrative aren't primarily his teachers or his school, but the people at the top of the decision tree (politicians, billionaires, and profiteers) who favor the science of easy data over the art of stirring souls.
This wasn't meant to be a lament. It was supposed to be about why you should donate to our Indiegogo campaign for the Wikiseat Project. But I feel a need to share what is at stake here. My children are at stake, your children are at stake, and I have decided to be unafraid when it comes to advocating for an education that is engaging, inspiring, and that taps into the potential that our current model of education seems all-to-willing to ignore.
- Sean Wheeler
Poster Design by Ben Barry.