What Is School For | How parents can respond when kids ask

what is school for

I recently received a text from my son while I was at work, saying “Yo mom, check out this video”. Then he sent a link to a YouTube video by Prince EA called “Before you go to school, what is school for” and if you haven’t seen this video, I definitely think you should check it out.

Education and the world is very different today then when I grew up. I remember wondering what the point of school was in middle school and high school, even later in college. But if anyone asked my parents or teachers, I heard the answer, “so you can learn, so you can get a good grades, so you can go to a good college, so you can get a good job, and earn enough to have a good life, and live happily ever after….”

I bet you got the same response if you ever dared ask…or some similar variation of the same fairy tale. I started to believe it myself. I was a relatively good student. As long as I did my homework and had good attendance, I was able to get good grades. Even if I didn’t see the point in something, I was ok going through the motions because I internalized that it would mean a bright future.

I think our kids demand a more thoughtful response because I think they are savvy enough to be aware that this canned response is not quite accurate and because I think a thoughtful response would keep them engaged in their education versus just shutting down because they think school is dumb.

So after watching, I gave a thumbs up to the video and texted him back telling him I want to hear more about what he thought of the video when we all get back home.

I’m looking foward to connecting with him. When we talk I will approach the conversation like this:

  • Letting him explain to me what was awesome about it.
  • I want to know what he agrees with and disagrees with.
  • I want to know what parents, teachers, and schools can and should do differently or continue to do the same.
  • I want to know what he can and should do to impact the change he wants to see in the world...

Does school create an environment for learning?

The video challenges whether schools create environments that facilitate learning. With test scores being the main standard of evaluation, most schools seem to focus on pushing out and covering only the material on which students will be tested. Students tend to rely on memorization rather than true learning due to the speed at which material has to be covered in order to cover the number of standards that must be covered in a school year.

Since students are relying on memorization, once the material is no longer needed (after the test is taken), students are likely to forget it. Students are not exploratory with subjects becaus they try to prioritize only what they will be tested on in an attempt to manage their time and homework load. Student participation is not high because students who haven’t memorized the answer do not participate and actually avoid engagement. There is a culture in the classroom where there is a fear of getting the wrong answer.

The video also calls attention to the challenges of school bell schedules, including very early start times and limited time to use restrooms and to eat as well as school architecture and class room design. I have written a post about California’s legislation on the issue of school start times. A later start time would help students come to school more rested.

Does school teach me what I really need to know about life?

Another big question the video poses is whether after 16 years of education, a person is equipped with life skills. How many times have you lamented that practical skills like personal finance were not taught? Unless you are in a science or math field, how often does your knowledge of algebra, cell structure, or the battles of the civil war come into play? Meanwhile, I’ll bet other topics not taught in school including time managment, stress management, social skills, coping skills, self care, and cooking are relied on every single day.

To be fair, many schools do attempt to provide some of these skills but they tend to be things that kids are expected to learn at home. Home Economics classes are a bygone era and it seems that most would scoff at introducing them back into the curriculum. If students have a Health class, they may cover some stress management and self care topics. Some schools do have a personal finance class.

School has historically never been the place where students learn life skills. I think life skills to a large degree take many years to learn to do proficiently. Heck, a lot of that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Is it possible life skills take a back seat at home due to extra curricular activities, busy lifestyles and reliance upon electronics?

Why are so many successful people drop-outs?

The video lists a group of entreprenuers that dropped out of school and then a list of historical figures that had little to no secondary or formal education. This probably scares parents and teachers more than any other part of the video because education is important and we don’t want our kids thinking about dropping out.

But, Prince goes on to state that he’s not encouraging students to drop out, he’s just pointing out that grades and test scores should not define an individual’s possibilities, with which I fully and totally agree.

The list of entreprenuers listed are exceptional examples and in most cases, dropped out of school to run/start companies that they had been working on as a side hustle. They were ont students that were necessarily lamenting about the problems of traditional educational methods. The historical figures all came of age in a time when secondary school was optional and each one took education seriously, it just happened to be the self-directed education variety.

I don’t want any child who has an eye for future successes thinking they can get around being a life long learner. They don’t get to be disengaged. But they should get to pursue eagerly the topics that interest them and be about the business of getting real world practice and application.

A day of reckoning

Some people find school easy both academically and socially. But most people at some point in their educational career find some difficulty with some aspect of school. If you never do, there’s a high likelihood you will eventually come upon a day when you reflect on education and life and say, hey, this is not the bill of goods I was promised.

Whether you have a different learning style and have to learn a way of learning that works for you or graduate with crippling student loan debt some real conversation around school, what it is for, what the limitations schools have, what are a person’s strengths and interests, and how all of those things connect would benefit our kids and our communities today and in the long run.

Prince’s video has gone viral and I think the genius of the video is that he invites the opportunity to have that conversation. He also provides some resources to inform the conversations and provide very practical answers through a program called the Innovation Playlist. Innovation Playlis is a teacher-led initiative on how innovative project are being implemented in schools successfully and I am looking forward to reading more it. You can check out the Innovation Project for yourself.

The most empowering thing we as parents can do is encourage and support our kids in getting involved in their own education. My biggest take away is that people have the biggest impact on the outcome of their lives. It’s only by taking ownership that we get the most out of our education.

Change is hard but what is gained from maintaining status quo? Today, our education system is falling further and further behind as evidenced by fewer students being college ready. Student loan debt is at record levels and wages are not keeping pace with the higher cost of education.

A conversation that worth having

To me it’s pretty evident that if your children share Prince EA’s video they feel strongly about the subject one way or another. Let’s not feed kids the fairy tale we were given, instead let’s ask their opinion, let them speak, listen, and then look for solutions so that we model taking ownership over our lives, our education, our outcomes. Education is important, the most successful people have a thirst for life-long learning. Going to school cannot be a passive activity.

Check out Prince EA’s video if you haven’t seen it and let me know,

What are your thoughts on his video?

How would you respond if your kids shared it with you?




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