Can Schools Replace Teenagers’ Jobs?
Her column is cast in terms of preventing summer “learning loss” among students, but Julia Steiny’s subject is really the degree to which schools have conflated “schooling” and “learning” — making children with an aversion to the former avoid activities that are explicitly the latter, whether during the summer or school-year off hours.
… institutions have an evil tendency to become more important than their missions and their clients. Health-care systems can compromise health. Schools can become antithetical to learning.
[Ivan] Illich says, “The pupil is ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence. …” This is sad, but too often true. He further notes that schools “discourage both the motivation and the financing for large-scale planning for nonschooled learning.”
It’s peculiar, therefore, that she would head in this direction:
Why don’t schools teach kids about themselves and their immediate environments? What could be more interesting? Harness kids’ narcissism by helping them figure out where and who they are, investigate what their community wants, audit the school’s energy use, promote recycling, learn to do minor repairs. These skills need academic support, and kids could use them tomorrow at home. Treat the immediate world as a learning lab, so kids get a big hit of the pleasure of mastery.
At the very least, leveraging schools as the hub connecting children to the world around them risks tainting an even broader swath of activities with the “schooling” feel of imposed work. Indeed, we’re back to Robert Whitcomb’s suggestion, which I mentioned the other day, that imposed community service in high school might sour students on voluntary service once they claim the freedom of college.
In general, I agree with Steiny that schools could do much to make learning more fun, but part of the reason that young adults are disengaging from civic activity is that, as a society, we allow school to be their one responsibility. “Investigating what their community wants” and pursuing practical skills sounds an awful lot like the role of a summer job. To increase that activity, we’ll have to focus on factors that sap the marketplace of such gigs (a slow, business-unfriendly economy) and that direct them away from young adults when available (labor laws and illegal immigration).