Creating a Life: The Purpose of School

by Rick on May 12, 2017

Could creating a life be the purpose of school?

Could creating a life be the purpose of school? Why not? When it is, everything works right. When schools have other ends in mind, they get discipline problems, dropouts and lower performance.

By the end of September, seventh grader Kaden was sending himself to the In School Suspension room. “The teacher hates me. What’s the point? I’ll just come here and save us both the trouble.”

But on October 4th he had an appointment with the Edge coach. Every Tuesday after that at 10:10, he would come to the coach’s office and meet with her for 20 minutes. By the first week in November he was back in class every day. On his third day back, he answered a question correctly, to the wonderment of his classmates. Now, at the end of the year, he is a participating member of the class, and actually will admit, under his breath, that the teacher’s “okay.”

Creating a Life.

Ask Questions

What did the Edge coach do? Mostly, ask questions like:

  • “What’s your goal?”
  • “What’s your strategy?”
  • “How’s that working for you?”
  • “What would be the next step?”
  • “Do you want to change your goal?”

What worked? Finally, Kaden had an adult in his corner, a person who seemed to care about him without rescuing him, who would listen to him, who seemed genuinely interested in him rather than in getting him to do something or to be a certain way.

In a matter of weeks, Kaden began to shift his perspective from someone else’s agenda to his own. Now that the agenda was his agenda, it didn’t take long for him to realize it was his life and his education and it’s stupid to give somebody else the power to ruin it, even if that person is a jerk—especially if that person is a jerk.

PS1, where everyone is uncovering the genius in every child

Edge trains people to help other people strengthen their executive function: act rather than react, make decisions, be on top of their game, be in charge of their lives, even create their own lives. Once they experience themselves as decision-makers, the range of things they take responsibility for expands rapidly from taking responsibility for their school work, to taking responsibility for their school.

In the last two months I have been visiting schools. Edge coaches are operating in 20 different schools in California and Washington State helping hundreds of children take responsibility for their homework, their relationships, their class, their community and their lives. District schools vs charter schools? It doesn’t matter. What matters is a faculty that is mobilized around a strategy for empowering young people.

Hundreds of kids is good, but we need millions. What would our lives be like? What would our government be like? What would the world be like if the 55 million young people in our k-12 schools acted as if school were a place to practice making decisions, a place for creating yourself rather than a place for following directions and waiting patiently for the teacher to fill up your brain with information? What if whole schools were places where “thinking” is creating rather than where “thinking” = guess what’s in the teacher’s head?

I think we all know the answers to these questions.

What would the world be like if the 55 million young people in our k-12 schools acted as if school were a place to practice making decisions, a place for creating yourself rather than a place for following directions and waiting patiently for the teacher to fill up your brain with information? What if whole schools were places where “thinking” is creating rather than where “thinking” = guess what’s in the teacher’s head?"

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber May 13, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Rick,
A terrific post and I wish it could be read, marked and inwardly digested by every classroom teacher, K-12. This is exactly what makes a very important difference for kids, that someone has the time, takes the time to listen, ask penetrating and probing questions and helps students find their own answers. That, as contrasted with a lot of other stuff, actually good stuff, in the curriculum will set one school apart from another in how they give kids what they need, an edge, a sharpened focus that gets to things that matter most. Then all the other “stuff” falls into place a lot easier without so much struggle and conflict. Kudos, my friend!

Mark Herman May 15, 2017 at 5:43 am

Thank you for sharing your own “genius”.

I remain baffled as to why something so fundamental and intuitive remains such an elusive concept for our system of education?

Nevertheless, I remain reassured by the wisdom and persistence of your work and others who “get it”.

Thanks!

Rick May 15, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Gary, So glad you like it. You would be happy to know that my new work with Edge is taking me to schools that want to make this change. Exciting. You’d enjoy it.

Rick May 15, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Schooling had a 19th century authoritarianism built into it and was never really designed to empower, but to get them to be “disciplined” and to sort. But things are changing–too slowly for me, true–but they are changing. The movement to graduating lifelong learners who can lead their own lives is inexorable.

Marty Dutcher May 18, 2017 at 9:05 pm

Yes, yes, and more yeses! Count me onboard with having children in environments in which they can explore, experiment, meet and participate with adults (as well as other students) who are passionate about their work, about their vision, and who are supportive of students creating meaningful and fulfilling lives. Great post!

Rick May 18, 2017 at 9:46 pm

Thank you, Marty. As you know, children are whole people, too, not just human beings to be.

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