What Is School For?: More Contemporary Issues (with questions from Guest Blogger Chaz Mortimer)

As you may have noticed in my last posting, one of the things I keep thinking about is the question that my winter term students asked in discussion: what is school for?  This seemingly simple question asks us to dig much deeper into the values and politics that are used to frame education in our country and in our communities.  Is school for creating global workers?  Is school for keeping students submissive and tracking them into pre-decided career paths?  Is school a sorting mechanism?  Is school for instilling values?  Is school for creating educated voters?  Is school for learning how to pass tests?  Is school for replicating the status quo?  Are schools for silencing voices?  Is school a place for creativity and exploration?  Is school a place for job training and narrowing focus on skills?

On a related note, I received a Facebook posting on the PDXEAN page from Chaz Mortimer, also featured in an earlier post on the idea of using “quiet time” techniques with students to promote learning and self-awareness (his words appear in teal):

Wanted to bounce this ‘dilemma’ off of you… as I work in the public schools using music technology, I am trying to find a balance between merely “exposing” students to new experiences vs. training students with practical industry standard career skills. I tend to error on the side of “exposing” kids to new experiences no matter what resources are available, however when I talk to professionals in the field of audio engineering (etc) they feel like that approach actually hinders the students that want to go on and study in college or go straight into the profession. They feel that if the students are not learning on the real industry standard equipment, they learn bad habits and are ill-prepared for, and have misconceptions about, serious college study and the professional world… Most of these professionals have not worked a lot in the schools, but I DO understand where they are coming from for sure. At the middle school level, it seems to me, it should be all about exposure… Many High Schools, however, are beginning to tout “Audio Production” programs or call themselves “Media Arts Specialty Schools” but most budgets leave the students training on tools that make my professional colleagues grimace. Beyond budget and equipment, though, I guess my main question across disciplines is, ‘at what point do we as HS teachers push kids to look seriously at career and professional expectations, and at what point do we hold back and let the students interact with the material in a more adolescent(?) exploratory manner?’

These are great questions, and I hope that some of you will pipe in with your opinions…come on, add your voice to the conversation!  This is the kind of question that should be discussed and that can make us all better teachers.

In terms of the question about how to get the equipment that teachers need to create innovative learning opportunities for their students, the larger school budget (and our tax system) is a bigger issue.  If you go to the Portland Public Schools website, you’ll see that the superintendent will be coming out with her 2012-2013 budget proposal in early April. Check back here for a discussion of the budget when her proposal comes out.

And in the meantime, do check out Donors Choose, a site where local teachers fundraise for school equipment, books, and the like — all not covered by the basic school budget.  The work that Chaz does in classrooms is greatly enhanced by some work he’s been doing with iPads, for example.  But not all students have access to this kind of technology…and as he points out in his post, there is a great need!

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3 thoughts on “What Is School For?: More Contemporary Issues (with questions from Guest Blogger Chaz Mortimer)

  1. Chaz, you ask:

    “I guess my main question across disciplines is, ‘at what point do we as HS teachers push kids to look seriously at career and professional expectations, and at what point do we hold back and let the students interact with the material in a more adolescent(?) exploratory manner?”

    From my experience, as best I can remember, it is a very individual experience, particularly at a high school level. But I’m glad you “error on the side of “exposing” kids to new experiences no matter what resources are available”.

    I was allowed to ‘soar’ with those teachers who let me, and the experience of soaring is most important.

    • Thanks Rod… I like that term “soaring.” I think I too had that opportunity, and I’ve seen a few of my own students do it…
      And it IS a very individual experience…that cuts right to the heart of it. I find that I run across this question more in designing goals for programs and outlining courses than in actual real life practice, funny enough. Usually the class reveals what they are ready for and we go from there….

  2. What is school for isn’t a matter of opinion in America. Its what the founding fathers intentions. School is about creating skilled labor & an educated civil society. Education is the corner stone of Jeffersonian democracy. Now what should school be about is a matter of opinion. Personally the overuse of technology in education is contributing to dehumanization & destroying some astherics in music production. That is why vinyl is making a comeback in some arenas. In terms of dehumanization. Readily available information isn’t as emotionally powerful as an actual experience. A virtual tour of a slave plantation viewed on the same equipment as Spongebob or other silly things diminishes the impact I believe. And this is from someone who graduated with a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology in an online courses. I can’t exactly explain why too much technology is a bad thing but I think jazz is a prime example where rote information may result in a more technically proficient musician but the lack of human interaction & experiences diminishes that musicians ability to become an expressive artist. In fact look at the connection of words EXPERIENCE & EXPRESSION.

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