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If School is Not Relevant

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By Shelly Blake-Plock

Imagine if schools were judged not by how well students achieved while they were in school, but in how well they achieved once they left. If schools saw their worth not in how many kids got accepted to college, but in how many kids went on to live meaningful and engaged lives and who would point back to their school years as the point of relevancy that was the foundation of it all.

If schools gauged themselves not by how many kids passed a test, but in how well it prepared those kids who did not pass the test to see themselves as worthy of respect and ready to take on the challenges of life. In fact, if schools worked to make entrepreneurs and role models of every kid who failed a standardized exam. If failure became a calling card for innovation.

If schools prided themselves on knowing the dreams of the quiet kids. If they prided themselves on helping those kids attain those dreams.

Dreams don't always fit into curricula.

Neither do successful failures.


We need schools that recognize failure as being as much a matter of how well one fits into a prescribed system than how well one understands, well, much of anything really.

And kids know we are blowing smoke when we give lip-service to how everyone should think outside-the-box and then we hand them a box and tell them that everything they've learned should fit back into it. And when they leave things outside-the-box we define them as failures.

We do this at our increased peril.

Because we are all failures of one sort or another. And though we like to focus on what we consider positive, it is more often the case that we live in a world comprised of systems of struggle and unanswerable questions. And we fail on a regular basis. And we need students who understand how to fail.

And we know this, yet we continue to punish students who fail -- as though our invented system of textbooks and number-two pencils were a better predictor of intellectual and creative capacity than life itself.

I wonder if I did a good enough job explaining that to my students. I wonder about the students who slipped through. I wonder about the ones who failed out.

I feel like they are the ones we should be talking to.

They are the ones who understand the impact of schooling. Enough of the smartest kids in the class always getting to answer the questions. I want to hear from the kids for whom school didn't work. I want to hear from the alumni who feel cheated by the system. I want our schools to be judged by how well we respected the humanity of the student who graduated with the lowest GPA and how we celebrated and engaged his or her capacity within society.

Because we are a society, we are connected one and all; and ultimately, if school is not relevant for that kid, school is not relevant for any kid.

Shelly Blake-Plock is an educator and blogger-in-chief of Teachpaperless, where a portion of this post originally appeared. He's the writer of 21 Things That Will Be Obsolete in 2020.

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