Good Enough is No Longer Good Enough


Good Enough is No Longer Good Enough

I received a missif from my son, the high school principal, today. I will edit the personal stuff. Here is the most interesting:

Leading a group of people through the pandemic experience (following rules, bending where we can, holding fast where we have too, and knowing that we are not doing our best work) has been tough. I also see it as an amazing opportunity for us to reshape a 150 year old institution.  I use the joke that my grandmother could walk into most high schools (including mine) and except for taking attendance (which is done electronically) she could start teaching and be fine.  While I do not ever want to throw the good out (Socratic seminars, case studies, etc.), it is crazy to me that how we teach has not fundamentally changed in the past 70 years.  This situation has provided us to look at everything we do because we do not have a choice and that good enough is no longer good enough.

I wonder…Just what are we trying to teach. By the time we are out of elementary school we should know how to read, write and cypher. Now what? We have two years of junior high, four years of high school, four years of college, what are we supposed to learn there?  History, Advanced Math, Physics, Languages, creative writing, business management, Art, music?

Are we attempting to find better ways to jam facts and knowledge into young brains? I’m sure that’s possible. Tiger moms and helicopter parents certainly succeed at doing so. The academic success of Asian children reflect the results of years of hard work, study, and memorization. It certainly can be done. But should it be?

How, Andy, do we teach our young how to think and to question?

Many of the greats in our history never graduated from, or in some cases even attended high school or college. Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, my father…Just to name a few. Although your grandfather’s formal education stopped at the eleventh grade, he was one of the most educated, smartest, and wise people I have ever known. How can that be? He was inquisitive. He asked questions. He was a voracious reader. He excelled in whatever he did. His moral compass was spot on.

Your institution is unique. It has almost unlimited funding. Virtually all the students come from wealthy homes. They are without a doubt privileged. Virtually every single one goes on to higher education in the most elite colleges and universities. But are they smarter, better educated, or have they led more positive lives than Lincoln, Gates, Jobs, or your grandfather?

Perhaps you need to ask yourself for what are we preparing our young? Are we filling them with facts, as perceived by teachers? Or are we teaching them how to question and come up with their own answers? In today’s world, facts are easy to find, but are we exposing them to various concepts, and then letting them attack them, or are we simply telling them what to believe? Based on the baloney we see on social media, I would say that so far our grade is a “D” at best.

You have the hardest of jobs.  Good Luck


PS  You Grandmother would take about 30 seconds to master electronic attendance taking…

John Van Horn

John Van Horn

3 Responses

  1. Last year one of my granddaughters went to Michigan State. About mid-year she called and said college sucks, she said she is losing brain cells. After this fall semester, she said she does not have enough brain cells left to be able to explain her view of college.

  2. No need to apologize Dad (except my current boss might be upset that you promoted me to his job, I am an Assistant Principal).

    Whenever my father starts an email to me with “Sorry about this – I couldn’t resist.” I know that I better steady myself for what is coming next. I then click on the link and realize that I have be “Blogged” by the famous JVH. Ok here is my response.

    We totally agree on the “what” of education. We should be teaching students to think (critically analyze) and to question. And in most educational environments that is exactly what teachers are trying to do. With varying degrees of success. We use content to reach that end.

    I do not think that Gates’, Jobs’ or grandpa’s formal education were fundamentally different than what we see today (Lincoln is the exception). All of them had teachers who gave them information and then tested them on it. Now whether it was their parents, a teacher, a mentor, or genetics that helped to make them inquisitive, question askers, voracious readers, or excelling in whatever they did, I am not sure (I would love to know). I can tell you that it is unlikely that it was due to the formal curriculum that they were asked to study. The formal curriculum is the “what” of education. This includes the information that is given to each student (the content), the grades that they receive and what courses are offered. The “what” is important. Children who never experience Shakespeare, or understand the scientific method, or read the Constitution (at least in the United States) are truly missing out.

    What I posited is about the “how” of education. To put it in the language of PT readers-Cars still park 90+% of the time. They have since the beginning. This is the “what” of parking. The “how” of parking has changed. Sometimes it is paid, sometimes not. Sometimes credit cards are accepted and sometimes not. Sometimes there is a structure, sometimes not. Sometimes parking policies make sense, sometimes you are in San Francisco. You get the idea. Parking has evolved over time. The reason that Parking Today Media exists is to discuss the “how”.

    My grandpa published a newspaper for multiple decades yet I think he would need some education about how to put out a newspaper in today’s market. He could learn and would be good at it, yet he would need to do things differently than he used to do. The industry has changed.

    In education, the industry has not fundamentally changed. There is a person at the front of the classroom who makes sure you learn. There are a ton of bells and whistles (laptops, smart boards, zoom, etc.). There are schools that are different yet they are few and far between. They are expensive and are experiments. Most people do not like to experiment on their children

    Every educator (at least those who are worthwhile) would state that their goal is to get students to open their minds, to question, and to seek the truth. Most would also hope to show students the beauty of their subject. How we currently do education is good. Kids learn to read, they learn to write, they can add, and most understand the basics of democracy (how they apply it is another question). Yet is that enough now. Society has changed and education has to change as well.

    You have gotten me to wax philosophical. Like a true teacher-you got me thinking. Grandma would be proud.



    P.S. Grandma would figure out online attendance in 5 seconds and then let me know how it could be done better:)

    1. And yet, everything we hear about our educational system deals with getting a ‘degree.’ If we don’t, we don’t get a good job, we don’t succeed. It would seem to me that changes need to be made at all levels of society. I was hired once by a person who told me that he didn’t care that I had a degree, but that I had persevered at college and the important part was that I had “attained” a degree. Its content was unimportant. My BA was a badge of completion, not of knowledge.


      PS You grandmother wouldn’t have cared about how attendance was taken, she knew it was a tool simply to get money to pay the bills.

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