What is School? (Guest post by Heidi Allum)

My longform piece “What is School?” is available for free PDF download at matthewoldridge.com.

This piece is H. Allum’s take on the question: what is school?

CC image by manginwu

What is school?

Funnily enough, if I were to go around and ask the general public, I am sure I would have various answers. But, I can bet on this one: “Ugh. A place where I was forced to do stuff that does not apply to my life.”

School seems to have become this antiquated (how many professions take breaks and dismiss by a bell?) place where kids go, and presumably learn. General public think they understand what happens in school, teachers feel torn to provide ‘old school’ lessons, because that is what parents know and expect, and to teach in a problem solving manner that they may not be comfortable with themselves. Students ride this wave — some being able to figure out what works for them, work the system, and then be successful. Some do not.

The question that fires me up is “What should and could school be?” — because though there is work to be done to make school connect to our very tumultuous and ever-changing world, school can be amazing; and there are many who are trying to make it so.

I see school as a place where students (heck, teachers too!) can explore and learn together. Students have the space, and the safety, to try things out. To ask questions. Develop their own understanding (and, maybe even develop some wrong thinking, have the tenacity to re-examine and re-learn), and to make connections between ideas and experiences. I want my students to experience learning in a way that makes sense to them.

Not only that, I want school to open up. We have so many avenues now where students can ask questions of experts, can see their ideas and wonderings happening, and can share with the community and a wider audience.

School is a place for mess, talk, and making friends, too. Teachers should be supporting this, and giving feedback of the processes of their learning in a way that makes them ask more questions, and dig deeper.

School is also an huge industry, especially when we look at the amount of debt that the graduates accumulate over their lifetime at the post-secondary.

School can be, and should be, a community. A place of openness and exploration. A place where when kids leave, they ask “what’s next?”