7 Lessons Students Learn in School

Student-jumping Stop and think about the most significant lessons you’ve learned in life – times when you’ve gained insights or skills of lasting importance. Now reflect for a moment – did this take place in a classroom? were you taught these lessons by a teacher? did the teacher evaluate how well you learned them?

Most likely the answer to all three questions is no. Yet every day our students “learn” to relinquish responsibility for learning to their teachers. By the time they get to high school, their natural curiosity has been trampled into submission – their questioning reduced to the level of “will this be on the test?” or “does spelling count?”  

Recently my Twitter network (thanks @L_Hilt ) pointed me to an insightful observation on the traditional classroom. Next time you lament that students aren’t motivated, think about the distance between what we learn in school and what we learn in life. 

7 Tacit Lessons Schools Teach Children

  1. Knowledge is scarce.
  2. Learning needs a specific place and specific time (lessons in classrooms).
  3. Knowledge is best learned in disconnected little pieces (lessons).
  4. To learn you need the help of an approved expert (a teacher).
  5. To learn you need to follow a path determined by a learning expert (a course of study).
  6. You need an expert to assess your progress (a teacher).
  7. You can attribute a meaningful numerical value to the value of learning (marks, grades, degrees).

~ From Don Ledingham’s blog post “Utopia” – a summary of a talk by Alan McCluskey on the seven tacit lessons which schools teach children. 

If you had trouble reflecting on life’s lessons or are interested in how to foster more reflective schools, see my post “A Taxonomy of Reflection: Critical Thinking For Students, Teachers, and Principals“ 

Image credit Flickr/Peaches&Cream

4 Replies to “7 Lessons Students Learn in School”

  1. you know – all of this sort of thing is great, but the person who decides whether or not I get a paycheck demands grades posted weekly and final averages calculated every 9 weeks, and a syllabus that details what content “power objectives” are being addressed each day.

    I’d love to break out of the factory mentality – I agree that it is probably a much better way to educate my students, but I need a way to do it while still fulfilling the demands of my employer.

    -I can’t allow a class to go on “however long you want”
    -I must be able to demonstrate that I am focusing on a list of objectives.
    -I must be able to collect numerical data about whether or not students have learned the content of those objectives.

    What I would love to see is an education theorist write about practical ideas about how to start introducing truly constructivist ideas within the cookie-cutter demands of the modern school system.

    Without that, articles like this end up being more depressing than inspiring.

  2. Amy,

    I think teachers are as much victims of the test-taking culture as the students. (or at least the teachers like you who want to teach in a more constructivist manner.)

    This post, along with the next The Classroom is a Factory, But What’s the Product? might come off as depressing to a teacher who feels victimized by the system. That was not my goal. (The system and the rising anti-teacher rhetoric give you enough to be depressed about.) My intention was that they be read by a broader audience of the educational community and that they be read as a catalyst for change.

    In response to your request for practical ideas for constructivist lessons – here’s a few. I’m not sure what you teach, but hopefully they will be of some use.

    18 Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers – Defining, Summarizing and Comparing

    “If students don’t speak in 1st days of school, you’ll never hear from them. Here’s how to involve all” more

    How to Teach Summarizing: A Critical Learning Skill for Students

    Homefront America – Engage Students with Document Based Essential Questions

    The Reflective Student

    BTW – I don’t think of myself as a “education theorist.” My perspective is based on over 25 years as a classroom teacher.

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