Kin Lane

Unpacking the Argument That School Strips Away Children’s Creativity and Desire to Learn

It is an argument you see surface on a regular basis via news reports, blog posts, and social media sharing. That our public school system strips away the creativity, curiosity, and ability to learn, while spreading a belief that our children are born knowing everything and this knowledge is stripped away by our public school system. It is one of those emotional tumbleweed types of narratives that just blows around, but in reality has no roots whatsoever, but it makes folks feel smart to repeat, share, and perpetuate.

I believed in this narrative for most of my life, and it is something I would regularly repeat and share, completely unaware of the damage it inflicts, and without any ability to ever pause, step back, and think about whether it was true or not. I have done a lot of listening, thinking, and unpacking of these types of emotional tumbleweed narratives over the last couple of years, and because of my access to educators over the last decade through my wife I have come to realize just how ignorant this narrative is. It is something I encounter regularly on social media, so I figured I’d write up my thoughts around it and share this as my responses, keeping my knowledge within my domain, while also help push back on this damaging narrative.

First off, kids are not born geniuses. Look across all of the children you know or have known throughout your life—-are they all born geniuses? No. There is a wide mix of personalities of cognitive abilities present, and while there are a handful that would do just fine without ever going to school, most would suffer greatly. Saying schools just strip away curiosity and destroys children’s ability to learn seriously takes for granted what happens as part of the public schooling process in this country. It reduces the important contribution of teachers and their influence and nurturing of students in the classroom, in favor of generalizing school being just about the handful of bad or wider group of mediocre teachers. We learn so much in K-12 elementary in this school, and have our eyes opened to so many amazing concepts—-why would you be in service of shutting this down?

Another aspect of this narrative I’ve learned after leaving the white community where I grew up is that school is the only thing that lifts up many children of color out of the situation they were born in. Upon realizing the scope of how the public school system feeds, socializes, and educates poor students, I stepped back and thought a little more deeply about my own circumstances, and came to realize how the public school system was my lifeline out of poverty and set the stage for my career. After thinking about this deeply I am appalled that I would so casually call for the dismantling of our public education system after receiving so much from it, pushing me to see what it does for others. It is the only path out of troubled families and communities for so many in this world—-why would you be in service of shutting this down?

If you are endorsing the schools are bad and strip away children’s ability to learn you exist in a privileged position. You are willfully ignorant of what schools have done for you, and overlooking many positive experiences for a handful of negative ones. Dwelling on the negative. Wallowing in your privilege. While actively denying and destroying a lifeline for other children too simply enjoy breakfast and lunch each day, and have the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and be part of the social fabric of their communities. It is fascinating to me how little assessment of all of this I had done in the past, which ironically was due to the anti-schooling rhetoric I was programmed with growing up. In the last decade I have seen first hand the forces in this country who are anti-education, or more precisely anti public education. This isn’t about education or schools being bad, this is about white supremacy and white privilege, and about defunding, privatizing, and profiting from education and schooling for poor and people of color—-do you want to be allied with these forces?

What I have learned in the last 5 years is that this discussion is complex, and while there are a lot of problems and challenges, there is also massive benefits and value in the system we have. I have leaned that there are a lot of smart people who care in the education space, and that while narratives like this feel good in the moment to believe and share, like many other similarly destructive narratives they originate and are perpetuated by the privileged to maintain the control those in power enjoy. It is the same people who believe that spending $600 billion on military makes more sense than spending $70B on education, and education is something that we spend too much on. These people aren’t talking about education and schooling for their children—-they are fine. They are talking about education and school for the masses. We are all better off it all of us are educated. Let’s stop bashing on the public educational system, and invest that time in understanding the scope and complexity of it all, and seeing where we might be able to help out, even if just a little bit.

I didn’t finish high school. I got kicked out. I didn’t go to a university. I didn’t see the value of school, until I saw the elevated platform I was perched due to the fact that I a white heterosexual male. Then I began learning more about how much work goes into educating people in this country. Then I realized who were actually behind these types of narratives. This all gave me pause. Allowing me to step back and think more about why these type of tumbleweed narratives have spoken to me historically, and why social media makes it so easy for people like me to perpetuate these false narratives. It leaves me wondering how many other similar narratives exist that I haven’t fully unpacked. I am disturbed at how my lack of education and critical thinking primes me for receiving these narratives. I am reminded of how my business day and lack of attention to detail prevents me from ever pausing and unpacking if these narratives have any truth, and if they are in any damaging to the world around me. All leaving me painfully aware at how critical public education is to the health and well being of the world I live in, and wanting to do whatever I can to support and improve upon the public education that exists in this country.