Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

3 Destructive Things School Teaches

The title comes from this article:

3 Destructive Things School Taught You Without You Even Realizing It

It’s a brilliant article…and I want to take on each point and talk about how I try hard to UNTEACH these things in my classroom.

First, number 3 in the article:


What is authority, and was our country created through the dependency on authority? What would the United States look like had we depended on England, instead of relying on ourselves, those of us who were right here in the “New World.” When should we depend on authority and when should we question it? IS it simply a matter of depending on it?

Should we depend on authority or RESPECT authority? My kids better listen to me when we have a fire drill, or God forbid, a real fire or other natural disaster. But if I tell them to respond to questions 15-60 in a workbook in one night and it happens to be the night of the school play that most of them are either in or going to, they better ask me what I am thinking. I teach my kids to question me…respectfully.

For example, when I taught kindergarten, I really thought schools had too many rules–I still do.  See my post, Rules-Schools Have Too Many, here. There are specific structures I put into place to take the “permission giving role” away from me. Turn the questions around to the child and make them think about what they are asking. (“Can I go to the bathroom?”  me–“I don’t know, can you?” Someone then reminds them the rule is go when you need to, and try to avoid missing direct instruction.) When kids complain to me about another kid bothering them, I ask, “Did I do that to you?”  And when they say no, I encourage them to talk tot he individual and use the strategies I have taught in class.  (1st, talk to the person using an “I statement.” 2nd, if the botherer doesn’t stop, be more direct and tell them to stop, repeating the “I statement.”  3rd, Walk away. 4th ask for help–from a teacher, adult or friend.) I encourage problem solving, sharing your feelings and being independent in notonly schoolwork, but social situations as well.

There are specific structures I use to get kids to think deeply–see this blog post, My Class Didn’t Work This Morning–or Did It?

As the article says, But we should all be capable of choosing the authority in our lives. Adherence to authority should never be compulsory, and it should never go unquestioned — whether they’re your preacher, your boss, your teacher or your best friend. No one knows what’s right for you as well as you do. And not letting kids discover that fact for themselves may be the biggest failure of all.

Okay, so let’s speak to failure.


 I take specific actions to help kids understand they are not perfect and need to accept and learn from mistakes. We certainly talk about how mistakes help us learn, that we can’t learn and grow if we don’t make mistakes and I have a sign posted in my room that says, “Mistakes are an opportunity to learn.” But, I also do things to help kids see that as true for others outside of our classroom as well. Check out this blog and what I did with it.

It, for me, is really about helping all of us to get smarter, together–not about ranking and having folks feel smarter than others–it’s about feeling smarter right now that you did a few minutes ago because of increased knowledge, competence or skill–your own, not someone else’s.

Schools CAN accomplish this–read this former student’s comments about his High School experiences–and yes, he’s talking HIGH SCHOOL (in my county)!

(copied from a Facebook reply because i couldn’t figure out how to get the link to it.  See?  I failed in that, but found an alternative strategy.)

“Robert T. Packard Hmm. This was a fascinating read for me, and it reminds me how fortunate I was to find Murray High School.

Murray did have standardized tests, obviously, but the rest of the year the focus wasn’t on our grades so much as our progress and achievements. Having the option to actually redo assignments to get the grade that we wanted gave me the ability to set my own standards for myself, rather than measuring my success by some numerical score from my teacher. I also got a lot of freedom in catering assignments towards my personal interests, rather than having to deal with a one-size-fits-all model.

Another beauty of Murray is that we were given the freedom to fail. Well, technically, no, we weren’t, because there was no such thing as failing, just being incomplete. When our work didn’t meet the requirements, we got to try again and do better. That taught me that failure can be an important step along the way to success, as well as a good teacher in its own right.

As for depending on authority, I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian by nature, and Murray’s atmosphere really allowed that aspect of me to flourish. I never really viewed the teachers as authority figures there, but as people trying to share knowledge and experiences. I formed friendships with many of them, on a more equal level than would be possible in a more traditional high school.

Murray is proof that it’s possible to go more in this direction than traditional schools do and still succeed. Not all of the techniques would work for everyone, of course, but I think that’s exactly the point; by trying to fit all students into some cookie cutter format, nobody is getting the best possible experience from their education.

Students aren’t lumps of clay to be molded into some shape. They’re more like the proverbial sculptor’s marble: A teacher helps the shape hidden within the marble to come out in all its glory.”

And, now for number 1 in the article:


“The why’s of life are far more important than the what’s of life and that’s a message that is rarely communicated growing up.” (from the article)

I constantly say to my kids, “It’s not important what I think. I’m not always going to be around to give you feedback.  Your parents aren’t always going to be around to tell you what to do. You have to learn to rely on yourself–who knows better than you what makes you happy? Who knows better than you if you are confident in a skill?  I don’t know if you copied it, or your Dad helped you, or if you found the answer on the Internet, or if you did it yourself.  If you did the first 3, you cheated yourself out of learning.”

I don’t say, “Please don’t yell out answers because it’s against the rules.” I tell them not to do it because they take learning away from other people if they get the answer first and shout it out. I tell them they are not being a good member of our group. I tell them they are making themselves look inconsiderate and selfish. I work hard in all that I do to get kids to learn self-regulation, not learn behaviors just to please the teacher.

This is one of the hardest things for many really smart/gifted kids to learn. After all, a life need is to belong–to feel accepted—and if we aren’t given that feedback by the behaviors of others around us, we seek it verbally–is this right? Did I do it correctly? Gifted/smart kids often think they have to be ranked to be successful–they have to be better than others to show their learning–they have to be perfect and always right and if they aren’t something is wrong-with them.

I don’t give a lot of grades in the work I give kids because they know whether they know how to do it or not. The conversations we have in class, their confidence in working new problems, their willingness to share with others gives them that feedback. Their parents may care about daily grades, but learners just want feedback on whether they are successful or not at that particular task. When they are  practicing a specific algorithm or strategy in math, for example, and I mark on their paper, they don’t ask me what’s the grade?  They look at the ones I marked they need to revisit and go try again. I don’t need to give grades as long as they get the feedback–and most times they don’t care if it’s from me or a buddy. I simply help when they need it, when they are confused. I ask the questions that help them understand deeper. I share info that helps them look at things from a different perspective. I listen and affirm, but don’t generally talk right or wrong. We talk “better responses” or “more efficient” or faster, more detailed, easier to understand, etc. We compare and contrast–and by sharing our thoughts and strategies, kids learn there is not one right way to do things, not one right answer, necessarily, and they learn to be flexible thinkers.

THEY know if they know the skill or not–and when they go home and Mom or Dad asks if they did well in school, and if they got an A, and they say, “I don’t know, Ms. White didn’t tell me” I believe they aren’t being completely honest-either with themselves or their parents–and it could be conscious or unknowingly. Learners know when they know how to do it confidently or not. When parents then complain to me about no grades, I know something about the kid’s willingness to communicate–or their willingness to understand their own learning.

Success does not come in the form of grades, or the teacher’s approval, or the information in a note the teacher sends home. Success comes from an inner feeling of knowledge, of happiness, of satisfaction, of confidence, of knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses and being willing to work on or accept those. That’s what I try to help children learn.

These are some of the videos I show my kids as we talk about feedback and understanding one’s own learning.

“What is success? | Playlist |
Success can mean: feeling that tingle of excitement about what you do, sticking with what matters through hard times, living a life you can feel proud of in retrospect. These talks say it all.” (straight from googling, what is success?”

So as we begin a new school year, I once again revisit my own beliefs, and my own history to remind myself that distracters and naysayers cannot change my inner core beliefs about helping my students be independent learners who are empathetic, confident contributors to our world who know how to think, communicate, justify their responses in ways that share their learning, respect others and make sense.

This article should be the basis for any school’s revisiting their school vision and mission to make sure we are supporting kids who will not be afraid of failure, but learn from it; who will respect authority, but think critically, know how to search facts and understand the nuances of putting someone else in charge of oneself, and who will choose the authorities in their lives; and who will, most of all, look inwardly for measures of success, who will be successful in life and thrive, happily, doing something that contributes to our world and feeds their inner soul much as teaching and working with kids does mine.


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