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October 25, 2012

Adults Only

I may be one of a tiny minority who think that schools are for student academic work.

Of course, sports, concerts, social programs, dances, and all sorts of other youth activities are important, but students don't need schools to do them in.

My view is that without student academic work, all the buildings, bond issues, budgets, school boards, teacher unions, superintendent and teacher training programs, Broad/Gates/WalMart grants, local-state-federal education departments, NCLB, RTT, CC, CCSSO, Schools of Education, standards projects, legislation, regulations, and all the rest of the Adults Only paraphernalia surrounding education in this country these days are just a waste of money and time.

The Education Punditocracy, including blogs, magazines, newspapers, foundations, Finn/Hess/Petrilli, etc., and even my friend and inspiration, Diane Ravitch, among hundreds and hundreds of others, are completely preoccupied with and absorbed in their consideration of what Adults are doing in education. The actual academic work of students takes place at much too low a level to attract their notice. They seem to be making the assumption that if they can just fix all the Adults Only stuff, then somehow student academic work will take care of itself. But they don't pay any attention in the meantime to whether students are actually doing any academic work or not. And they have not learned that the students, and the students alone, have the power to determine whether they will do any academic work, and also what its quality will be.

To reiterate: without student academic work, all the rest of the bustle, noise, commentary, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent will amount to nothing, so it should be important to pay attention to student academic work, should it not?

I came to understand this because for the last 25 years in particular, and for about 10 years before that, I have been fully engaged in efforts that completely depend upon good student academic work, and I have been fascinated to discover how few Education people seem to be involved with that, and that just about every one of them, though laboring away quite seriously and conscientiously, seems to spend all their time on the Adults Only matters, and to have almost no interest, other than to give it lip service and quickly move on, in the serious academic work of students.

If that should somehow change, and if student academic work were to become the central focus of what we pay attention to in education, there is a chance we might see more of it, and that its quality might improve too. But if we continue to ignore it and focus on Adults Only, that most assuredly is not going to happen. As the Hindus say: "Whatever you give your Attention to grows in your life," and we have been giving, IMHO, far too much attention (almost all of it) to the Adults Only aspects of education and far too little to student academic work.

To test what I am saying, if a kind Reader would go back over articles, books, blogs, and speeches on education in recent years, please do let me know if you find any that talk about student science projects, the complete nonfiction books they are reading, or the serious history research papers they are writing. I believe if you look closely, almost all that you find will show people caught up in what Adults Only are doing, should do, will do, must do, or might do, and there will be little to no attention to the actual academic work of students in our schools. But please prove me mistaken, with evidence, if you would be so kind.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics™

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at October 25, 2012 3:31 AM
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I am surprised that I finally found a similar voice on this subject - that education is about adults! There was a book written by a New York teacher in the 80's who said something similar - that education is about jobs for adults. In my own highly rated fairly affluent high school I noticed how teachers could just slide by on their students' work since those students were basically all going to college no matter what. My work shows that every child's innate knowledge is the same as the foundation of all the disciplines, our cognitive and biological processes are based on the same concept as the disciplines. In fact we could even say we are math! The implications for education are for a very empowering experience for students.
I have also thought that there are facts out there right now, for example, how home schooled students pass SAT's without all the $$ spent on administrations, that could collapse that schoolhouse of cards.
Lynn Purvis-Yund

Posted by: Lynn Purvis-Yund at January 20, 2013 2:17 PM

Quite correct in his assessment. But, it paints too broad a brush. Certainly I agree that certain segments and costs of educational institutions have too much focus and cost and are more the problem than the solution.

But, education really is about adults, isn't it? Preparing children for the responsibilities of adulthood, and taking the reigns of the society? In a significant sense, our problems stem from our inability to assess what knowledge is necessary to transmit to the next generations. It seems far less predictable than in generations past, and the society is so complex and specialized and choices so varied that agreeing on what is important to transmit is paralyzing.

We don't agree, and perhaps it is impossible to fathom, the core ideas. When I think about what the core ideas are, I'm overwhelmed by the realization that these core ideas are quite inadequate to the real and acute problems we face. Collective action is required but collective knowledge is missing.

The world of the adults seems void of substantive knowledge, with most adults, especially those in authority, quite unprepared for world around them, since most had no hand in its development, much less an understanding.

Posted by: Larry Winkler at January 22, 2013 10:03 AM
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