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Words Only Go So Far

Wounded By School is comprised of stories and Kirsten Olsen’s perspective of how parents and teachers can alter, or prevent, the damage that occurs to schoolchildren every day as a result of school culture. I have to agree with a lot of Olsen’s ideas as to what is wrong with school as well as what parents and teachers can do to improve the situation, but I think we also need to consider the outside problem from a deeper angle.

I agree that praising marks and high achievement based on grades is wrong, but there are a number of dynamics that prevent all of us from implementing this solution. We are currently in an economic recession that is only increasing the large gap between the rich and the poor. With this large gap also comes an added intensity and increase in the amount of competition by high school students to guarantee their acceptance into colleges. The elitist colleges are the worst as they accept a small portion of their applicants and really have no formula for how or why one student gets accepted over another. Compounding this problem is the added pressure to earn scholarships and other merit-based pay that aids students in paying for college. Parents are aware of this, students are aware of this, and teachers are aware of this.

The situation above creates friction between all stakeholders because, regardless of what everyone says, college acceptance and the money that comes with it rule supreme. Much more important than directing acknowledging the prevalence of “wounds of pressure” and “wounds of creativity” is for us to start coming up with concrete solutions as to how we can level the college playing field and ensure that all institutions of higher learning are looked at favorable by employers. It makes me chuckle that the country is preparing to adopt national standards in K-12, but we find it perfectly suitable that colleges serendipitously accept students despite the fact that there are no real deviations of curriculum between these schools.

So I will go out and say what Olsen should have said in her book: if you want to eliminate the wounds that are being caused by schooling then we should start by flattening out institutions of higher learning and make their acceptance more about knowledge than about money, heredity, or SAT scores.

My gripe isn’t with the author, the content, or the ideas that she presents to the readers. I applaud her for being another individual who is willing to stand up and say: “Wait! This isn’t right!!!!” I’m waiting for the book to be published that flattens higher education institutions and tells them THEY need to get on board with emphasizing learning. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about their research. For that, I suggest the country start schools that are specialized in research practices and that emphasize this slogan: “We don’t care about your learning while you are here. We care about the money you will send us after you leave.”

Now come back to reality with me for a finale. Olsen’s book presents a plethora of problems with schools today, but simply being more nurturing and patting kids on the back for “effort rather than the outcome” won’t work. To solve the problems she describes, we need to break the system in half and start over while making sure to include colleges (specifically their admissions offices). Do I think all colleges will ever be equal? Absolutely not, but I do think we can work with these institutions to create an admissions process that is transparent and provides all students with an equal chance based on what they have learned and how hard they have worked rather than whatever they currently do.

Olsen’s book is a great read if you need to be even more convinced that educational reform needs to be implemented throughout the system. Beyond that, it’s a great book to really make you mad and fire off provocative comments. We all care about our kids and the success we want them to have in the future. We just need to remember that continuing to hash out and reiterate these stories won’t fix schools; implementing reform does.

About Aaron Eyler

Aaron is a U.S. history teacher in a Central Jersey school district. In addition, to his Bachelor's degree in History and Education certification, he has a Master's degree in Educational Administration and Leadership.


One thought on “Words Only Go So Far

  1. Aaron, I think Kirsten Olson offers a number of compelling exemplars in the healing section and recaps cognitive research that all teachers need to understand in order to teach well – there’s more to the book than nurturing and patting on the back. If I’m not mistaken, the New Country School even gets a nod.

    I agree with you, though, on breaking the system in half to provide meaningful secondary and post-secondary options for students that will allow them to pursue the educations and livelihoods that will afford them the lives they want to lead. College shouldn’t be the sole authorizer of employment or advancement in our society as open-source education, drop-out education, and entrepreneurship democratize learning, expertise, and the ability to follow one’s passion.

    How can we get colleges to play along? How can we keep them from fleecing kids and their families as the new Apples – brands that offer magical diplomas missing the features of authentic learning?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 8, 2010, 7:31 pm

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