Having kids in school now, I think a lot about how the school system functions and what it teaches my kids.

One thing it doesn’t teach very well is independence or proactivity.

It doesn’t matter how hard a teacher or school may focus on “teaching independence” – it is inherently contradictory for a large institution that must serve many people to be able to foster significant independence. That would require allowing each kid to go in their own direction, with guidance and coaching so that they don’t get too far off track, while allowing them to choose things like how to structure their day, what subjects to study, etc.

Instead, all through the grade school years, kids are told what to do. They have no choice in what subjects to learn, or when they will learn them. They have no choice when to go outside or stay inside. They have precious few choices available to them, and those that are available to them are only token choices.

So let’s reflect on this from the discussion above. Are we teaching kids that they can be “proactive” in the way that Covey talks about? Or are we teaching them that they are controlled by their circumstances?

I argue that it is door number two: that because of the institutional nature of schools, they teach kids to gain a mentality of “being controlled by their circumstances.”

In reflecting on the changes in one of my kids since starting school, this explains a lot. There seems to be a hesitancy and timidity there which was not there right before starting school.

It bears on the discussion of science careers, because I believe that many of us first face the challenge of needing to be proactive (in a real way) in graduate school, and that is even moreso in post-doc and faculty positions (or industry positions).

While I don’t believe that students should be entirely self directed, the conclusion this leads to is that we need students to have a good deal of self-directed study and activity, combined with accountability. I.e., the student works with a teacher/coach to develop a plan of study that is acceptable, then they are held accountable to follow through on that.

This would radically change the amount of proactivity that our kids are exposed to, I think for the better.

2 thoughts

  1. Great topic! You mentioned Stephen Covey. His book The Leader in Me is a must read and I believe all school systems should take this approach. Yes the school system is an institution but in this book the reader will read real life schools that are taking a leadership approach in the students and the schools are reaping great success with the kids.

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