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Monday, September 5, 2016

"Save Me": a 15 year old girl writes to me about the misery of school

I received this by e-mail today from a 15 year old girl in Central America:

                                 Today my school had a meeting for all tenth graders in which they attempted to terrify us  (and succeeded) by telling us that this year was the most important of our lives and that if we didn't know what we wanted to be we were in for a life of starvation and eternal damnation, but chill, "we can still turn the situation around". Afterwards when I got home my dad had to listen to the complaints and frustrations of my fifteen year old self, but this time instead of trying to advise me he passed me his computer in which he had open an interview in El Pais. An interview with Roger Schank, where he said (in fancy words) that the education system was bullshit (pardon the foul languaqe, you see as a teenager I feel the need to fill everyones expectations and cliches about me). 
     The thing is, I completely agreed. Not in the way of an angry adolescent girl who hates homework, but as a concerned citizen of a country who constantly reinforces the idea that their education is shit by having kids in 8th grade who don't know how to read, or college students in their second year who have already switched majors twice. It makes me angry, in all honesty. The way we teach in our schools isn't the way I think you create successful (and happy) adults, it's the way you create the society we've had until now. 
    When I was five someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my first answer was princess (obviously) but my second one was doctor-soldier-veterinarian-actress-singer-teacher. I later found out that not only was that not a real profession, but that I had to pick one of those. And it seemed so hard, there were so many problems I wanted to fix in the world and I couldn't comprehend how it was that I had to choose at best two. So I made a decision: if I can't solve everything in the world, I can at least educate the people who can. Being a teacher was my main choice, but then I thought that I would have to be a teacher of a system I didn't believe in and didn't trust. So I decided recently that I want to change that system.
     I dream big and naively, I know. But how else do people get things done? So when I read your article, my hopes went up: there was someone out there with my same ideas! Someone who I hadn't talked to but that somehow shared my beliefs. So I got excited.
     The truth is, I started thinking about this because a teacher scared me half to death, but it feels bigger now, more important. And I want to act on it, I don't want to grow up and 30 years later find out that I'm an office worker unhappy in life and that hasn't done anything to improve this world. Because that's my main goal now: leave a positive mark here. So I should be wrapping up by now, so I will; I wrote this email to ask you one question (with possibly many follow-ups): How do I become you? What do I study to get into that life of education?
     I realize now that you probably won't read this, or even if you do you have absolutely no obligation to answer the silly email of a 15 year old girl in Central America. But I had to give it a shot. As long as it might be.
Thank you for sticking to what you believe in and for giving me at least a glimmer of hope towards a potential future.

I find this letter unbelievably sad. And the solution is so simple. We can build a virtual world academy that allows students to learn experientially with a human mentor (who might be anywhere, always available, that relies on team projects so kids are not working alone.) Want to try being a doctor? Be one in a virtual world until you are tired of it, and now want to run a zoo, or build a business, or learn to program. Let kids learn what they want to learn in curricula design by professionals. How hard is it to do this? It requires work and maybe a couple of hundred million dollars. Mark Zuckerberg could fund it in a minute. The US congress could fund it in a minute. (I once asked a US senator about this and he said: “well we could just build one less missile.”)

But we never do it. We just let kids be miserable, or, we use school for it’s true intention: indoctrination. The Washington Post reported today on the countries in Europe that are teaching that their students need to make more babies, by which they mean they don’t want to be overrun by foreigners. The true purpose of the school has always been making kids behave according to the current party line.

To quote Edward Cubberly, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education around 1900):

"Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."

We can, and must, address the needs of girls like this and kids everywhere.


laserblue said...

How did you address the needs of that girl? Did you agree to be her mentor or direct her to someone else that could be her mentor? What did you do to save her?

Roger Schank said...

Saving her may not be so easy but I am corresponding with her an will be in her country soon and we can talk