The Schooling Paradox

A Problem: The Schooling Paradox

There is an intriguing paradox in education that I want to spend some time discussing in this blog.

Educators engage in an intellectual world of ideas while also navigating an organizational structure called school. Ideas for better learning options (or opportunities) often clash with the reality of the structure of school. We envision what the possibilities for learning can be and must “fit” those ideas into the limiting structure of school. The paradox is that the more we discuss “learning” the more we strengthen “schooling”.

There are a few ways one can choose to handle this paradox. I have seen educational leaders spend their time in the “idea arena” as they build programs that will benefit children only to become discouraged as their dreams become bastardized in the structure of school. On the other hand, I have witnessed educational leaders who start their thinking within the limiting structure of schooling. Doing so prevents them from reaching the adjacent possible and keeps education in a box of mediocrity. Effectively navigating the paradox is the most important challenge facing educational leaders today and starts with spending some time understanding the problem.

A Solution: A Quick Exercise

I suggest a simple exercise for educational leaders to undertake to explore where people are in their system. I have used this exercise in numerous workshops that I have facilitated and it always leads to significant discussion. I start by asking the group to create a list of words to describe learning. I set the stage by reminding the participants that learning occurs every day in multiple ways and does not have to be in a formal setting (like a workshop). The “tone” of these descriptive words revolve around discovery, self-paced, relevant, rigorous, life-long, etc. After the words are placed under the heading “learning”, I use that as the right side of a T-chart. I then complete the T-chart by asking the participants to create a list of words that describes schooling. The words used to describe schooling invariably are not as fun as for learning. Examples include structure, rules, social isolation, testing, State tests, not fun, etc. The discussion then centers around a simple question: Why doesn’t your system focus on learning and not schooling. Of course, there are many excuses reasons why we allow ourselves to be drawn into “schooling” instead of learning and these can be debated ad nauseam. What is important for this blog series is that we recognize this paradox and focus on learning (and learners) all of the time.

A New Reality: No More Paradox

The question is simple: how can we create a learning system that actually lives in the world of ideas? “Schooling” is the narrative around which educational policy decisions are made. Let’s focus on how to shift the narrative away from schooling and toward learning thus eliminating the schooling paradox.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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1 thought on “The Schooling Paradox

  1. This is EXACTLY where I feel I am stuck right now. I cannot wait to continue exploring ways to make out of the box ideas a reality within the walls of the system. I know it can be done, I am just not sure how to make it a reality yet.

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