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What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? How We Educate Our Children

In his excellent op-ed in the Washington Post, Princeton professor, Kwame Anthony Appiah, imagines what future generations will condemn us for, as we have condemned our ancestors for slavery and women’s disenfranchisement. Appiah mentions our prison systems, factory farming, and the isolation and institutionalization of our elderly.

I think our descendants will also condemn us for how we chose to educate children and teens in our school systems. I believe that future generations will decry the rote memorization approaches (practiced long after facts were readily available on hand-held computers) and which failed to address a changing world in need of innovative approaches to solving systemic problems. They will wonder why it took so long to transform schooling so that it was relevant to a changed and changing world and marvel that we suppressed our children’s creativity when it was so crucial to cultivate it. They will wonder how we made “competing in a global economy” our educational goal rather than educating a generation of solutionaries who could create systems that were humane, sustainable and just, and how we justified making children sit in chairs all day while we poured often outdated knowledge into their minds and tested them repeatedly in multiple choice formats rather than engaging their minds, hands, and hearts toward learning that helped them become engaged citizens and changemakers through whatever careers they pursued.

There are so many arenas that future generations will criticize, but perhaps none is more likely to produce such a critical-thinking generation as quickly as addressing schooling, so that all the other systems that are inhumane, unjust, and unhealthy can be readily transformed. Let’s address schooling now and there will be much less to condemn us for later.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education and author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

Image courtesy of sbug via Creative Commons.

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


8 thoughts on “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? How We Educate Our Children

  1. Zoe, Yesterday my husband was observing an elementary classroom in a nearby state. The children in this room, aged 7-8, were sitting in desks lined up in rows, and the teacher had used her own money to buy cardboard shields that the children had to place around themselves at their desks. The shields were high enough so that you couldn’t see anything around you, or anyone around you, and you couldn’t interact at all with anyone. Behind their shields, the children were completing worksheets on blending “gr” sounds and “tr” sounds. The children were to sit behind their shields for their entire “literacy block,” and they use these shields for all seat work (math, social studies), every day. They would be graded on their worksheets.

    The teacher calls the children’s desks “offices.”

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | October 7, 2010, 9:37 am
    • We have actually experimented with large, portable carrells for students. They never really took off with our kids. Even students who struggle with relationships in small classes never really warmed up to them, even though they were voluntary safe-spots and could be decorated by kids. They were intended to be spots for 1:1 teaching and processing, independent practice, and cooling down. We let kids vote with their feet in terms of their use, and after two years we may have one or two left standing, double-wide, against the wall, open to the classroom, for small-group work, in one or two classrooms out of five. Good fences in this case did not good neighbors or safe spots make.

      I think the idea of a personal work space – or office – is probably right for some kids, but mandatory isolation just takes me back to Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).

      I can’t imagine using them in a larger, more traditional setting, but I can see how they fit the system. When I talk about the dangers of blindly using canned blended instruction programs that ties kids to screens and desks, it’s this kind of set up against which I rail.

      With apologies and best wishes for another solution to our colleague,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | October 7, 2010, 2:00 pm
  2. Oh my Kirsten. I’m going to blog about this. How tragic.

    Posted by Zoe Weil | October 7, 2010, 11:47 am
  3. Hey Chad, thank you for the clarifications here. I am not opposed to people (students) creating the workspaces they need, but the deal here was that the “offices” were totally non-optional. And there were no other learning environments allowed. For long blocks of time. If we accept the premise that a lot of us learn better when we have a chance to talk with other people and interact around what we’re doing, this seems to me incredibly monolithic. And also arranged this way perhaps because it made the teacher feel comfortable, not the kids.

    Also, it turns out the students were actually in 4th grade. So the work they were doing, with “100 percent accuracy,” was intensely low-level and dull for them. In their “offices.” Sound familar?

    Posted by Kirsten | October 8, 2010, 9:07 am
    • Oh, I’m with you. I just wanted to share how uninteresting the spaces were to students, though we anticipated them being a good thing. We could get much better feedback regarding how to teach if we observed what students walk away from and towards, rather than “making” them sit for whatever we say.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | October 8, 2010, 6:21 pm
  4. I often think about how the students who have been oppressed by today’s test and punish accountability. Sometimes I think about how these kids will grow up and become our future teachers, superintendents and Secretary of Education and devote themselves to never doing to their own children what was done to them.

    But then I think of how victims tend to become victimizers and how the pedagogy of poverty tends to make evangelical converts of its pupils. “It was good enough for me…”

    I really do fear that getting out of education hell will take even more effort than it took to get here.

    Posted by Joe bower | October 9, 2010, 6:54 pm


  1. Pingback: Edustange » What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? How We Educate Our Children « Cooperative Catalyst - October 9, 2010

  2. Pingback: Class Desks as Office Cubicles « Zoe Weil - October 25, 2010

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