“But this study makes a critical dilemma for teachers more clear. Teachers who saw the act of learning as highly complex and non-routine experienced more uncertainty as they approached their teaching tasks than teachers who saw learning as relatively straightforward (168).”
– Kirsten Oslson, Wounded By School
The books is meant primarily for students, parents, and educators. It’s effect is meant to be the reformation of schooling from a broken system to one that nurtures its students and their learning. The book urges us towards an educational “kintsugi” – towards a consideration of schools’ “points of weakness as opportunities to create new beauty” (9).
Olson does an excellent job of holding schools and educators accountable for the wounds they inflict on students without coming across as partisan, blunt, or heavy-handed. This is a book that acknowledges and faces the complexities of schooling and the greater complexities of human beings – of students, parents, and educators alike. Olson uses anecdotes and interviews with students and parents to make clear how hurtful schooling can be for those who don’t play its game well enough to “merit” the system’s approval. For all the good public education does, it’s difficult to argue with the evidence of harm it inflicts as recounted by children and parents.
I found it even more difficult to argue with the memories that the book evokes. I played the game of school fairly well, and I have played the game of teaching fairly well. Nevertheless, Olson has me reevaluating the personal price of my education, as well as the cost-added attitudes I bring to my work that simply don’t serve some students.
I’d like to stick with that thought for a moment: “cost-added.” As we reform teacher evaluation without reforming education – as we cook up formulas for “value-added” teaching (not learning) – how many of us and how many of our leaders will be looking at “cost-added” education? At “cost-added” teaching? At the resources we spend decreasing the value of an American public school education? Who will lose pay over outmoded practices that are harmful to children and learning, like letting the private standardized testing industry drive public education? Who will lose pay over following a scripted lesson for kids in the middle while opportunities for intervention and extension dwindle away for the outliers? Who will lose pay for making sure kids in the middle never leave it? How many of us, in all honesty, would come out even or ahead in a pay scheme accounting for both the “value-” and “cost-added” aspects of our practices? How many of those practices are mandated? How many could we change or resist?
I’ve been working to lighten up lately – to bring a level of nurturing to my classroom that matches my expectations for student independence and learning. I don’t want to create a space that pits students cognitively or behaviorally against my expectations, inflicting wounds of compliance or rebellion, or of numbness or perfectionism. While I don’t want to hide my philosophies from my students, I don’t want them to bear any of the tension I feel between my job and my calling. I want our classroom to be a joyful place at the nexus of these things, in the overlap of community and self-reliance, in the territory shared between a public school classroom and learning.
Olson’s book has helped me reassert agency in changing what I do to become the person I aspire to be in helping students learn. As a teacher, I can’t give the book more praise than that. The book spends as much time describing how teachers and schools can heal the wounds they currently inflict as it does demonstrating how prevalent schools’ wounding practices are. Olson shares the steps that schools and wounded students have taken towards healing. These stories of restoration and fulfillment give students, parents, and educators hope for education’s future and models to follow in reversing the damage that standardized education does to the unique people living, learning, parenting, and teaching in America.
If you are a teacher, read this book. You are the interface between students and school. You and your decisions are supremely important in wounding and healing schools’ stake-holders – including yourself. Use the lessons in this book to make your classroom, PLC, and school places of restorative teaching practices and justice for children.