Monday, 21 January 2013


Schools, organizations, kids and the future   

When schools began to be compulsory, the model was, following the industrial revolution, to make little workers of the students.  Like their fathers, and later their mothers during wartime especially, in the factories, they were to follow instructions, work diligently at whatever was assigned as their task – reading, writing, arithmetic – and produce good work or the right answers or whatever it was that the teacher wanted.  In the factory setting the foreman was the leader/teacher of the work group and the boss/manager was the principal.

Schools are still organized around the work day schedule whether 8 AM to 5 PM or the five-day week or the nine or ten months per year.  There are some notable exceptions where some high schools, recognizing the different bio-rhythms of adolescence start later in the day and have early evening classes.   Some even have some terrific week-end activities.   There are some year-round schools that take time off throughout the year rather than the long summer break fostered by an agrarian society that needed children in the fields.  One great disadvantage of the long summer for many students is that the first part of the following year is spent in review and catching up where they left off last year.   What if schools could break out of the adult mold and respond to children’s needs in developmentally appropriate ways?

Now it seems that students have moved up a notch or two but they’re still in the organization or company mold only this time they are the managers, trying to manage their time and their resources, their schedules and their activities, their homework (increased significantly over that of the previous generation) as well as their school day, friendships, parental expectations and future plans (both strategic and long-range).  Some schools are even preparing these young protégés for the next move up the ladder to the CEO ranks and have co-opted, with the best of intentions, a leadership theme.  How else can these young worker/students climb higher on the ladder of success and achievement?
Are they only fulfilling the expectations of those adults who surround them?  Or, as we might hope, are they being encouraged to ask their own questions about meaning and value, purpose and direction?  Are we helping them to become intelligent and critical participants of the very system that often fails to inspire and support them?  Are they developing a zest for learning, exploration, discovery and expression?  What other questions must we examine carefully to know whether or not we are serving their best interests or only those we have decided are important?   .

“The Organization Kid” (  following by 45 years The Organization Man is one look at the students in the beginning of the 21st century that remind us that authority of parents and other adults – teachers especially, was not only back in vogue but in fact may make a significant contribution to the way young people are able to live comfortably, securely and productively within specified boundaries of respect, responsibility and restraint.  The downside to all of this is what I found for so many years when asking the following question of students in numerous private and public high schools:   Why are you here? Why are you here in this particular school at this particular time?  Similar question of an organization:  What is your business or profession? What do you hope to achieve as a result of your practice? 

None of the students that I recall answered that they were there “to be students.”    Some responded that they were there to “receive an education” but that suggests a high degree of passivity in the same way that someone might respond by saying to get something by doing simply what is required as a means to an end.  What they did say in vast numbers, was that they were there to go somewhere else and “to get ahead” which meant to go on to the next place, to get a job.  In college preparatory schools they were there to get ready to go on to the next level of education.   Their response was sufficiently intriguing to pursue the conversation by asking them to explain the purpose of the next step and the response was equally future-oriented, to prepare for the next stage of life – it was something like this – high school, college, perhaps graduate school, good job, lots of money, comfortable life, early retirement so that they could really do what they wanted to do.  Why must they wait so long to do “what they really wanted to do?”  

I queried a recent graduate of a prestigious university that many aspire to attend about what was next now that the long sought degree was in hand.  The response
was, again, intriguing.  She said that she really wanted to teach and that she thought further that she would be really good at it.  But, she also said in the next breath that she was accepting a job at a bank because it paid almost twice as much and she wasn’t sure she could afford to teach just now.  However, her hope was that someday she would get to teaching, because that is what she really felt passionate about and that was where she believed she could make a difference.. This bright, attractive, energetic student was a math major, eager to share her enthusiasm for math with younger students and could easily contribute to a school in numerous other ways as a coach, advisor, mentor and role model.  Perhaps she could do some of those things from the offices of a bank but her presence and impact might not be as great as it could be if she had found a way to
pursue her passion and not make the compromise because of 15,000 dollars. 

There are signs of a shift in the paradigm from adult-centered and teacher-centered learning to more student-centered learning that capitalizes on their genuine interests and abilities.  Less emphasis on adult generated assignments and more on student originated topics that are relevant, timely and often extraordinarily creative and productive.  There are numerous examples from science experiments that tackle real world issues in the areas of environmental concern to health care and medicine to other global topics such as poverty, hunger and social justice.  For the future, I’m putting my money on the kids! 

© Gary Gruber 2013

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