Thursday, 27 December 2012

School Is Dead - Chapter 1

In my enthusiasm to start reviewing this book, I got a bit carried away. Some of the comments I made about the Introduction were in fact relating to content from Chapter 1. However, there is still much to learn from the first chapter, so here goes...

The Case Against Schools

1. "Most of the children of the world are not in school."

This is the opening sentence from this chapter. Can this still be true today? Maybe it was the case back in 1971 but how about now?

Freidrich Huebler in his blog suggests that in 2004, 86% of all primary aged children were enrolled in schools worldwide. While there is always going to be a big difference between enrolment and attendance, this is an encouraging improvement on figures from 1970.

World Bank data suggests, for example, that in 2010 in Timor Leste, 117% of primary aged students were enrolled at school. (Apparently figures above 100% are explained by over-aged or under-aged enrolments and grade repetitions.) Even so, talking with colleagues who have worked in Timor Leste, attendance at school is irregular and infrequent for most students, despite the enrolment data.

2. "No country in the world can afford the education its people want in the form of schools."

Even in affluent Australia, the government is hard-pressed to provide funding for schools. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that enrolments in non-government schools in Australia increased by 35% between 2001 and 2012. Currently about a third of all Australian students attend non-governemnt schools. The annual budget fights over allocation of funds between government and non-government sectors is an indicator of the financial pressure that schools face in trying to provide the education that is expected of them.

3. "While children who never go to school are most deprived, economically and politically, they probably suffer the least psychological pain."

Reimer makes two points here. The first is that school education gives economic and political power, or is provided for the children of those who already possess this power. 

The second point is that those who are "unschooled", who live outside the parameters of schools, including the indigenous and tribal communities of the world who have no schools, suffer no great loss as a result of not having schools. In fact, he suggests that those who have a little bit of schooling suffer great damage psychologically because they learn that they have no power, that they will never be free of the domination of others and that they will be condemned to a life of poverty. While the idea of living an idyllic life in the jungle in a traditional community far from the influence of schools smacks of the "noble savage" character popular in Victorian fiction, perhaps there are some benefits to be gained from such a lifestyle. Or has the progress of the world gone so far as to bring disease, hunger, war and pollution to even the most remote corners of the globe?

4. "The main thing children learn in school is how to lie."

What? That's a rather bold statement. Where is he coming from?

Well the idea is that schools require children to complete a set curriculum. Success at school is a product of being able to "play the game" or "beat the system", authentic learning is compromised in favour of studying for the test. Tom Chapin sings a great song about this - "It's not on the test". 

Reimer also suggests that the pressure that schools put on students to conform forces them to be untrue to who they really are. 

While we may have made some progress in this area over time, involving students in curriculum choices and encouraging individual research and inquiry, there remains in many education systems a Day of Judgement - the SATS, the HSC, the GCSE etc.


So there are many ideas here to think about. Good luck with your own personal journey.

By the way, Craig Dwyer (@DwyerTeacher), a colleague in Japan, found a .pdf copy of "School is Dead". Just click on the title. Thanks Craig. Hope you enjoy it.


  1. I love the quote about "playing the game" of school. I remember having a conversation with my parents about this. My brothers and I had different educations and we all "played" differently. The told me that I played the game of school well, but I hated it. My youngest brother played very well (and is still playing today as a soon to be doctoral student) and loved it. And my middle brother hated the game of school and let everybody know it.

  2. I always wonder how many of our students feel the same way - that they are not engaged with what is going on but are just going through the motions until they can escape out the other end of the sausage machine.


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