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Book and Film Reviews

Wounded By School & Cost-added Education

“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

In Wounded By School, Kirsten Olson makes education reform human.

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.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


21 thoughts on “Wounded By School & Cost-added Education

  1. Chad,

    Let’s talk briefly about the “cost” of education in specifically fiscal terms. 65% of the budgets of school districts is allocated to personnel. In my mind, this number isn’t high enough. Why? Because I think a lot of the educational realm has become sidetracked with what “cost” means. Give me kids, and I can teach them regardless of what the setting contains. Who says we even need the damned building and walls? Imagine “school” wasn’t a place but somewhere that groups of people met in order to exchange in academic discussion and advance our understanding of the world we live in. Instead, we are concerned with walls, desks, pencils, and all sorts of other trivialities that don’t contribute to learning. Forget computers and all that garbage. Imagine what the “cost” of learning would be if we eliminated everything except for what really matters. It isn’t Utopian; it’s practical and student-centered.

    Would you have a better chance of engaging kids and being meaningful in this environment, or what we deal with every day?

    (Can you tell it’s been a long day? lol)

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | April 5, 2010, 7:14 pm
    • If we could get local enough with school authorization and accreditation, we could do that. Check out the #revolutioned tag on Twitter – a group of educators trying to turn their classrooms into the ad-hoc school-as-people you describe.

      Let’s keep some computers, though, to help facilitate communication 🙂

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 7, 2010, 4:05 pm
  2. Aaron,
    You describe Thomas Jefferson’s academical village. At UVA, he designed gardens behind the Pavilions where the professors lived and taught. It was designed that way specifically so that in the evenings, students and professors could gather and talk–sharing questions, knowledge and renewing themselves in the beauty of their surroundings at the same time. Wouldn’t it be nice if schools were built for renewal instead of isolation?

    Posted by Paula White | April 5, 2010, 7:26 pm
  3. Paula,

    Thomas Jefferson is my second favorite president (behind Andrew Jackson). He was clearly onto something here, and there is something even better that I need to point out about good ‘ole TJ.

    He attended William & Mary. Many regard him as one of the greatest intellectuals in the history of the United States. When President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” His academic intelligence was uncanny and his thirst for knowledge one-of-a-kind.

    So here is my favorite part: there is no proof that Thomas Jefferson graduated from W&M in 1962. There is no citation in Wikipedia, and academics disagree whether he was conferred with the highest honors or just given these commendations based on his reputation. Again, he MAY have graduated in 1862 from W&M with the highest honors BUT, as far as I know, there is no documented proof he attained this degree.

    Regardless: did he need a diploma for people to acknowledge his intelligence?

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | April 5, 2010, 7:47 pm
  4. Nope, no diploma needed–and thanks for sharing that–it’s a story I didn’t know. I think expertise should be honored for what it is–not held accountable to the grades we get or the diplomas we receive. My Dad was incredibly smart–and a college dropout. However, he managed to do well by 6 kids, sending all of us who wanted to go to college, and clearly, along with my Mom, sending all of us the message we could be successful at whatever we tried.

    I have watched my LD grandson this weekend take a shovel out of an adult’s hands because he has discovered his 12 yo strength–and wants to develop it. I have watched him volunteer to split wood and persist to get a stubborn piece. Yet he won’t apply those same lifelong learner habits of mind to what goes on in school. Why should he? The innate satisfaction is not there for him. Yet, ask him to design a platform for a new grill and the kid completely builds it–saying, “Good thing I took shop last year.”

    Why can’t we honor him in school as his family does out?

    Posted by Paula White | April 5, 2010, 8:13 pm
    • We should be in the business of removing obstacles to kids’ creativity and curiosity; instead, we cap them.

      I spoke with a friend last week about KIPP schools – about the safety they provide for students via their schedules and teachers’ accessibility to students. I think we could easily build a school model that includes safety in a project-based school-as-community-center. We can provide safety AND freedom. We have to find, promote, or make models soon – too many kids are losing themselves, too many communities are losing future leaders, and too many educators are being coerced by the media and Fed into believing that a silver bullet exists, that we have it, and that we could use it all the time if it wasn’t for teachers.

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 7, 2010, 4:33 pm
      • What a great post. I’ve often felt like school could be considered abusive to kids.

        Just listened to James Paul Gee on Monday. He was saying that one reason video games are so popular is that by design they don’t make you feel stupid. If they did, no one would buy them. How many kids go home daily feeling stupid?

        We have been working on a model that enables all players (students and teachers) to follow their passion. It has a disruptive beginning (anyone can do it) and within 4 years realize that dream.

        Posted by monika hardy | April 11, 2010, 12:10 am
        • Thank you for joining the conversation and sharing the videos, Monika – I’ve just started watching them, and love the idea of exploring the creative side of mathematics as a mean of engagement!

          All the best,

          Posted by Chad Sansing | April 11, 2010, 2:10 pm
  5. Hey Folks! This is Kirsten Olson here and I am so glad to have found you all! I just subscribed to this discussion’s RSS feed and am about to log into my library system to get the essay “Teacher As Shaman.” That sounds exactly right: one suffers wounding in order to become a healer–but one must know and understand the meaning of one’s wounds.

    I am moved by the passion and thoughtfulness of the reflections here, and the sense that the discussion is going places. This touches and inspires me. Sometime I would like to describe the hostility and defendedness I have sometimes encountered in talking about this book in schools, and then have teachers come to me afterward to say, “Yes, you told my story.” The effect of the institution itself is something I am constantly in the wondering about: I don’t feel I have written about this nearly enough–how we inside can hold the reality of our own stories of wounding, and inflict wounding on others at the same time. I think this is a real dilemma for teachers in mainstream schools.

    How are you all Changing Education As We Speak? This is my central preoccupation at the moment: what do little scraps of the future look like, and how can we midwife them into being?

    Posted by kirsten | April 6, 2010, 12:59 pm
    • Kirsten,

      I’m honored to have you join our conversation! If you have trouble finding Mayes’ essay by itself, it is contained within his book, Inside Education: Depth Psychology in Teaching and Learning.

      The issue you describe, “how we inside can hold the reality of our own stories of wounding, and inflict wounding on others at the same time,” is a reality not only in schools, but in other institutions with traditions of abuse and oppression: families, jails, and cultures as a whole. It takes significant effort on an individual’s part and a community’s to shift these paradigms. Rupert Ross’ work in restorative justice as documented in his book, Return to the Teachings, is an excellent story of how communities can respond to long-ingrained unhealthy patterns in a positive way. Techniques such as restorative justice allow for the stories you describe to be heard, felt, and examined. This is supported through a process which itself is steeped in health and wholeness so that the process is as much a part of the healing as the decisions made as a community to address the initial injustice. Powerful stuff.

      Restorative justice is one of my passions, and us one of the ways I am Changing Education as We Speak, creating these spaces for open and democratic dialogue so that each person has the equal opportunity to tell their story.

      Thanks again for finding us and contributing to this dialogue, you just made it that much richer!

      With hope,

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 6, 2010, 6:12 pm
    • Hi, Kirsten,
      I, too, am honored you have joined us to talk about the injustices in school. In my response to your book, I ask which of the readers will become an “emergency room” for those students who feel wounded. . . I am a gifted resource teacher and deal with the frustrations of my students every time I let them talk. I open my room at lunch and it is daily filled with all kinds of kids–from gifted to kids who struggle through our academia–pursuing their own passions. In providing a safe haven, though, even for just a bit of the day, I have come to understand the depth of the wounds we inflict upon students, and am determined to do something about it.

      Convincing others to provide those safe havens, having them listen to the kids and THINK about what our school culture does to all learners is a step to Changing Education as We Speak, and so is this blog, as we involve more in the conversations we are having about what we are DOING, not just talking about, to make a difference in our schools.

      Chad and I are in the same school system–and it is one where many of our administrators are actively using social networking to learn and grow–and becoming more aware of schooling OUTSIDE of what we have always known. The collective genius of the PLN IS having an impact on us and our schools in many, many ways.

      Thank you for joining us in our thinking and talking. . .and ultimately, our midwifery. 🙂

      Posted by Paula White | April 6, 2010, 6:59 pm
    • Kirsten – thank you so much for joining us. I hope future classrooms look much more joyful. Certainly this blog, social media, and found treasures like your book and exemplar project-based and democratic schools give me hope that that human relationships, learning, and fun will beat out, or at east find ways to circumvent, the defensive, dehumanizing, fear-driven school culture to which public educators are increasingly beholden.

      I work at an arts-infused charter school in Virginia for middle school students who have disengaged from formal education because of struggles with authority, traditional instruction, and/or literacy. I’m learning a lot about creating a nurturing environment and setting up the right mix of expectations and care to make things like self-directed learning and learning through games work for our kids and our system.

      I’m grateful that you’ve joined our conversation. I feel fortunate and humbled to think and write here with such generous advocates for children and learning.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 7, 2010, 4:23 pm
  6. Adam and Paula, Midwifery is definitely how I see the work I do!…gently encouraging, actively working, sometimes really coaching out loud, that it is possible for us to rethink this toxic and outdated system. I am so glad to find collaborators, as this book has helped me to do, all over the world. The sense of so many of us with similar observations…those who hold onto their own deeply powerful learning experiences and want to use those to transform institutions in which we live…has been one of the really amazing things about being out talking about this book over the past year. (BTW, I also think the new tools of learning are making the institution’s ossified state more clear every day…) Adam, I found the essay, passed it on to several friends and thought partners, and posted it on my website. How could I have missed this? It is a treasure. So much about how I think about the sacred qualities of teaching…That powerful teaching often emerges out of our own woundedness, and our capacity to understand the transformational power of suffering. There was not a single person I spoke to in the writing of this book whose story I did not relate to in some way, with whom I did not feel joined.

    I am really buoyed by this discussion, and enthusiastically sign on to listen and participate. I work closely with a partner in New York who has been deeply involved in restorative justice for years. I honor your passion.

    Posted by kirsten | April 6, 2010, 9:37 pm
    • Paula and Kirsten, while conducting faculty interviews at Goddard College I described the work as midwifery. Just as you describe Kirsten, it is a facilitative process assisting students to recognize the gifts and passions they have growing inside and to aid them in articulating these passions in their lives and the world. It is a transformative experience.

      I am glad you found the value in Mayes’ essay and have shared it, Kirsten. His work is a not-well-known treasure.

      Thank you again for joining this conversation and for your work. The book certainly names what we have all experienced and known, there is great power in naming and validating that experience. It is a first step in healing.

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 6, 2010, 10:05 pm
  7. Folks, Do you all know this wonderful quote/idea based on Ivan Illich’s work? Just want to add it in here…I love Illich’s uncompromising brilliance…

    “Ivan Illich’s fundamental argument, widely admired in some quarters and ridiculed and caricatured in others, was that once our institutions developed beyond a certain scale, they became perverse, counterproductive to the beneficial ends for which they were originally conceived. The end result of this paradoxical counter-productivity was schools which make people dumb, complacent and unquestioning; hospitals which produce disease; prisons which make people violent; travel at high speed which creates traffic jams; and ‘aid and development’ agencies which create more and more ‘needy’ and ‘underconsuming’ people.”

    -From an online essay about Ivan Illich by Richard Wall,
    “A Turbulent Priest in the Global Village”

    I found this when writing a review of an “deschooling” book for the International Journal of Ivan Illich (

    I think Illich understood the effects of institutions more plainly than almost anyone. Well before his time he imagined webs of learning like the internet, that would help set people free. An article in the latest Ed Leadership makes a similar argument–that high school is dead.

    Pretty funky for a publication like Ed Leadership?

    Posted by kirsten | April 7, 2010, 11:56 am
  8. Hey friends, Adam asked me if I would join the group and I am really, really happy to do so. I just wanted to say Chad, and Paula, and everyone actually working in schools, I too am very much on a quest to find and look at the elements of “healing” schools, and more powerful learning communities, in my next book. I am really really interested in the elements of real teacher collaboration, the power of PLEASURE in learning (something I think we generally “judge” and moralize and mistrust in our culture–learning has to be “hard” to be real), improv and play. I am currently observing in several schools I really admire, looking at how a sense of collaboration among adults transforms the culture of schools.

    So do you feel there are people on your staff with whom you genuinely share values with? Who are your intellectual and spiritual collaborators in your work? Who are interested in reshaping the conventional models of learning? So often when I am in schools I hear teachers talking disrespectfully about kids, diminishing them and describing what they are not capable of, treating them like kids. What is the culture like in your school around holding and seeing kids? Thanks for letting me throw my questions out. I will not always be so full of disjunctions. I’m just figuring out how this community works…

    Posted by kirsten | April 11, 2010, 3:45 pm
    • Kirsten, thanks for the questions. I do have allies who I genuinely share values with, both in and out of school. I have found it very interesting how carefully many teachers guard themselves, especially around educational philosophy. It has taken time to break down walls and get to the core of some people’s heart and mind about education, and some people I have not yet been able to do so.

      My collaborators range from Confucius, Lao Tzu, Thomas Merton, Marting Buber, Howard Thurman, Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, Richard Wilhelm, and Mircea Eliade to John Dewey, Goethe, John Holt, David Orr, Thomas Berry, Ron Miller, David Bohm, Nel Noddings, Paulo Freire, Parker Palmer, David Purpel, Fritjof Capra, Edmund O’Sullivan, Bill Plotkin, and E.F. Schumacher.

      I have some strong allies who are interested in reshaping the conventional models of learning, and we work to do so everyday, whether in our own classrooms or across larger borders.

      The culture in my school is particularly positive, always seeking to support the children and to help them build not only the academic but the character strength they will need to face the challenges of their life.

      I hope that addresses what you were asking. I look forward to our journey together building this powerful and healing learning community as well as others.

      With joy,

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 11, 2010, 6:44 pm
  9. Monika, I dig your angle to disrupting the machine and that you honor both teachers and students as whole people. I watched a few of the videos from your project and enjoyed them, I love learning all about the kids-in their own words and about many facets. It’s important that we know ourselves in such a way, because we all know how fragile identity solely based on academic testing measurements is! I hope you keep us posted as to how your work unfolds, I will look for opportunities to incorporate in my own, and stay connected to the conversations here!

    With hope,

    Posted by Adam Burk | April 11, 2010, 6:31 pm

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