Schooling and Education, One

Everyone is familiar with the point of view that goes more or less like this:

“Students spend a relatively small number of their waking hours in school, and even fewer hours in classrooms.  Their education, if not their schooling, mostly takes place out of school. As a result their learning, or their not learning, depends more on what they bring with them to school than on what happens to them in school.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s in a 1995 essay for Daedalus is one of many writers who points to the fact that schooling and education are not the same thing. For too many, he says, "education is conceived narrowly as schooling.”

What is less generally known and recognized are the particular out-of-school societal conditions that most affect the student’s in-school learning. For Harold Howe such conditions are the following:

* A rapid decline in the time spent with adults by children across the full social and economic spectrum.

* Growing parenthood among teen-agers unaware of its responsibilities.

* A rapid growth of poverty in young families.

* An unexpectedly large, new wave of immigration since the Vietnam War.

* A major shift in the learning demands of well-paying jobs with an impact on middle-class children as well as the poor.

* A human rights revolution in the lives of racial and cultural minorities, with a serious lag in delivering its promises.

* The concentration in cities of poor and minority families along with well-hidden, similar problems in rural areas.

* The erosion of neighborhood activities to enrich children's lives as the need for them mounts because of growing poverty.

* Similar erosion of the capacity of health agencies and other services as demand exceeds supply.

As Howe points out such a list could go on and on, but this one is “sufficient to back up the assertion that non-school-related educational services are standing in need of prayer.”

In other words the out-of-school” conditions of kids’ lives are in desperate need of corrective action if we would expect schools to become places of real learning. This is the position of a number of educational writers from Jonathan Kozol, who speaks eloquently of the tormented lives of impoverished, inner city children, to David Berliner who makes it clear that poverty, joblessness, broken families, lack of health insurance, and other such conditions stand as insurmountable obstacles to kids’ learning in school.

This was my understanding of why public schooling was failing large numbers of minority and immigrant children living in impoverished urban and rural areas of our country. Then I read Robert L. Hampel’s “A Generation in Crisis” from Daedalus of September, 1998.

Hampel paints another picture entirely. Schools, all schools fail to educate large numbers of their students not principally for the reasons given above, although this is not to say that we might forget about improving the impoverished conditions of many children’s lives. This should still be a priority of government.

Hampel says that the real culprits to learning in school are what the kids are doing during the greater number of hours spent outside of school. If they do any homework at all it’s only a few hours a week. Whereas they spend inordinate amounts of time with television, video games, computers and other electronic media. They spend probably no less time “chatting” and being influenced by their friends and peers. And, as the get older, they will hold down part time jobs, for as many as 20 hours a week.

We look at our kids and see them with computers, friends, and part time jobs, and are most of all relieved that they’re not over eating and getting fat, trying drinks and drugs, not engaging in premarital sex and getting pregnant, not members of gangs, not,heaven forbid, contemplating suicide. We support them in what seem to us healthy activities. We buy them computers, encourage them to be with their friends, even help them to secure a job.

But what happens, as Hampel makes clear, is that school and classroom learning cannot compete for their interest and attention.  Their games, friends and weekly pay checks are much stronger influences in their lives. School is definitely out of the running.

Hampel doesn’t ask what we should do. What can we do? What has happened is that schooling has lost its way. For the most part it is no longer concerned with what the kids care most about.

It may very well be the mission of the school to:

“produce responsible, self-sufficient citizens who possess the self-esteem, initiative, skills,  and wisdom to continue individual growth, pursue knowledge, develop aesthetic sensibilities, and value cultural diversity by providing intellectually challenging educational programs that celebrate change but affirm tradition and promote excellence through an active partnership with the community, a comprehensive and responsive curriculum, and a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.” *

But this is not the “mission” of the kid. He is on a mission of his own and for the moment, anyway, there seems to be no connecting link between his mission and that of the school.

*The mission statement of the New Rochelle, NY, public schools of June, 1987

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