I saw a hilarious and sad Tweet imagining what might happen if we taught walking in school the other day:
If children started school at six months old and their teachers gave them walking lessons, within a single generation people would come to believe that humans couldn’t learn to walk without going to school.
Maybe this is playful hyperbole, but only barely. School has become a sort of church to which we must attribute all the good things we have in life, even when we have all evidence to the contrary.
You see this again and again in the absurd form of college graduates who can barely read but who insist that without school we would be illiterate, or in the form of closed minded ignoramuses who think that school is the only way to become “well rounded,” or in jobless barista Ph.Ds who still say you need a degree to get a job.
What’s particularly sad is that school not only takes credit for things it isn’t needed to deliver, it often sends people backwards. If walking were actually taught in school, you could imagine someone coming along with the brilliant idea that in fact students need to follow a structured, year long course in “walking” during which time they would do no actual walking, only theory. Or someone would decide all the students need iPads in order to learn walking. Top students would pass their tests but barely be able to walk because they had focused on everything BUT actual walking.
From the Tweet author, Geoff Graham, again:
After they have passed Walking Theory, they will move on to the four year study of Bicycling, which begins with two years of bicycle history, followed by a year of bicycle parts, and culminates with a year of the politics of bicycles.
Imagine if we taught kids how to ride a bike the way we try to teach them how to have a career. We’d start by showing them pictures of a bike when they’re young. We’d teach them to say the word bike, then spell it, then write it neatly. We’d have them draw a picture of a bike. We’d have them measure the perimeter of a picture of a bike. We’d have them write stories about people riding bikes. We’d ask them to share what kind of bike they want when they grow up.
It all sounds absurd but this is how learning in school happens today. Students graduate at each level with an accumulation of information but little ability to put that information into practice or to achieve the results school claims it creates. People like to laugh at the bureaucratic Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter who wants to teach her students Defense Against the Dark Arts without doing any spells, but reality is now stranger than fiction. It is not uncommon to meet students at top universities who never read and can’t write outside of narrow writing prompts.
At the same time, as schools come under increasing scrutiny, academics and administrators double down by claiming that school is the only way to ensure people learn rudimentary skills they can learn in a few weeks of practice at home like reading, writing, and arithmetic and which certainly don’t require years of compulsory schooling.
Who knows, maybe walking really is next? And then it might be normal to meet otherwise physically healthy college students who need crutches to get around their classes.
Painting: A Village School by William III Bromley