Posted by: Kenn Hermann | February 4, 2008

What if School is the Problem, not the Solution?

The following painful letter came from a young friend who has been a public school teacher for just 7 years. He gave me permission to post it on my blog. As a college professor with similar concerns gathered in over 3 decades of teaching I have been fumbling for ways to respond to it. What have your teaching experiences been? What advice would you give him?

What if schooling is the problem? I am struggling . . . as I sit here in the public school in Anywhere, USA. I have been struggling to understand the passion and excitement my administrators and peers seem to have about the state mandated test we are supposed to be preparing students for….I am sick of the bells ringing, the crappy text book writing, the lack of time to discuss local politics and issues that are relevant to my student’s lives. I desperately want to get kids thinking about this world, our past as a country, issues of justice, how they spend their time, community building, service and active participation in their neighborhoods…. The longer I teach (it has only been 7 LONG years) the more convinced I become that we teachers and the public system of schooling are part of the problem. I feel like I am living a divided life. I come to school every day and teach kids to rely on me as I push state standards down their throat.That is NOT who I am.

The other day I asked my daughter how she learned to add (she is adding already at her Montessori school) she told me she has always known how to do it! I think kids are naturally intuitive. Our bells and disconnected content, our state mandated curriculum, our tests (Every year from 3-8th grade and one in 10th grade..state tests, aptitude tests for classification, IQ tests to identify the gifted and disabled) and the TV have so robbed kids of their natural intuition to learn and to grow. We have taught them to be materialistic and to comsume MORE. I mean I’m gonna spend my 500$ check to help stimulate the economy-how bout you? We should send them back! I asked my students recently why literacy rates were so much higher after the American Revolution-before kids were made to go to school for 7 hours every day. My students blame it on the TV and internet. Interesting, huh?
HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to quit, but do NOT know what to do. I need a pep talk so that I can be faithful.


  1. I lasted 12 years in an inner-city private high school. Now I teach at a university, having worked briefly at two private schools, both of which closed. I don’t think the mission of “lower education” has ever been to encourage real thought. John Taylor Gatto, though a little extreme, has my vote for the most accurate depiction: bore them into subjission so they will be good workers. It’s all about training the work force. I think your student should try to find a congenial school and/or seek an advanced degree in order to teach in college.

    Rick Stansberger

  2. I would encourage your friend (and mine) by saying that I’m so glad he’s fed up!

    I recently read ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ by Walter Brueggemann. He talks about the royal consiousness and the feeling like things will be status quo forever and ever, amen. He says that prophets show us that the strange route to newness is anguish, mourning, and weeping. Our weeping cuts through all the crap and exhibits boldly that things ARE NOT OK.


  3. …(I got “cut off”)…

    So maybe what’s in order is a time of collective mourning over the state of education in this nation.


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