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Schools are Broken and Why Can’t Seth Godin See That?

Broken Pencil I really like Seth Godin, even though he’s pretty much against homeschooling. He’s asking hard and very valid questions about our current public education system in his recent manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?)” and casting some much needed skepticism on the status quo. Bravo I say, bring it on.

Where we part ways is his belief that parents don’t have the time, energy, knowledge or skills to properly educate a new generation of kids. Or even worse, he says we don’t have the guts to do this. I have a feeling he hasn’t crossed paths with many of the homeschoolers I know. If he knew the homeschooling moms and dads and kids I do, I’m pretty sure he’d have a different opinion.

So although Godin and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the practice of homeschooling, I still appreciate the rest of his thought-provoking work (which is prodigious, check him out if you’re not familiar with him).

I love love LOVE this talk he did in 2006 called “This is Broken.” It’s entertaining and tongue-in-cheek yet totally relevant in so many ways. Watch it yourself, watch it with your kids. Everyone can learn from it (and you’ll get a few good laughs too).



What’s ironic is that the public school system could be one of the illustrations in his talk.

Now granted, Godin gave this talk in 2006 when schools weren’t in the same state of disrepair as they are today. A lot has changed in eight years, and not much of it for the better.

This past spring in Montgomery County schools (one of the top ranked school districts in the country), 82% of kids failed the Algebra 1 final exam.



Yes, really 82%.

So does this mean the high school math students in Montgomery County are dumb?

No, not at all.

It means the system is dumb. It’s broken.

See, the school taught Algebra 1 last the year as usual, and 81% of the kids taking it passed the course based on their performance throughout the year. Sounds about right to me.

But when it came time for the final exam, 82% of the students failed the exam.

Somewhere along the line there was a major misalignment between the course syllabus used throughout the school year and the scope of the final exam.

And no one noticed this until all those kids failed? How is that possible?

I guess when the system is broken, minor details like the alignment of course and exam scope can fall through the cracks. At our kids’ expense of course.

(Though not to worry, Montgomery County figured out a solution to the problem - just add 15% to everyone’s test score! Then most of the kids passed. Brilliant! And the ones that didn’t? They were offered summer school, free of charge. Nothing like hair of the dog to cure what ails you, school systems included.)

Face palm.

Sadly stories of broken schools are pervasive. Take the recent plight of 13-year-old piano prodigy Avery Gagliano, whose talent is so impressive that she’s part of an international music exchange program around the world. She’s won many music competitions and played with orchestras across the country.

Except the DC public schools have not excused her from school to take part in any of them. In fact, they’ve assigned her a truant officer because she's missed more than the allowed 10 absences from school. She’s a straight-A student and her parents provided the school with an independent study plan so Avery could keep up with her schoolwork while traveling and playing piano in international competitions.

But that was not acceptable to the school and she faced a truancy prosecution, until her parents pulled her out of school.

Which is really unfortunate, because what a beacon of light Avery Gagliano would be, taking part in concerts and competitions across the world, representing DC public schools (or all American public schools for that matter). But instead DC public schools say she’s better off sitting in their classroom rather than developing and sharing her world-class talent.

The school system is broken.

And on a sadly related note, 8-year-old Relisha Rudd missed 30 days of school before anyone questioned the situation and thought to report her missing, and now police fear the worst.

Really, DC public schools? You can send a truant officer after a child whose parents clearly communicated with the school about her travels and educational opportunities abroad, and ignore another who missed 30 days of school and by the time anyone takes notice she’s presumed dead?

This is very, very broken.

Whether it’s arbitrary enforcement of rules, misalignment of curricula or the overbearing burden of standardized testing, we’ve lost sight of what’s important here. Our kids are living, breathing, brilliant, beautiful and creative beings who are learning the “important” lessons of complying to rules.

And let’s not even mention school shooting lockdown drills taking place in buildings across the country.

How is this good for our kids?

It’s not. And I really wish Seth Godin would acknowledge that homeschooling is a valuable and successful alternative to public education.

I think Seth Godin is brilliant, and I really hope you watch his videos and read his books and enjoy his work as much as I do, because it really does illustrate how thinking outside of the mainstream is the only way we’re going to change as a society and ultimately improve schools, workers, employers, companies, public officials, etc. The whole ball of wax.

But why not start at the beginning with acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, there’s a creative and energetic bunch of parents successfully educating their kids in a vastly different way, one that’s proving to be NOT broken?

It's a question worth consideration, Mr. Godin.



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