Health & Well-Being

How Schools Can Smother Education

It’s time to reset our priorities.

Bill Wood

Let’s follow up a bit on the issue of imagination and how children develop through thinking about things they’ve never seen or experienced.

Most of my life I’ve believed that classrooms are moving away from education to teaching students how to pass standardized tests. Now there’s evidence to support that belief.

American education in the past 20 years has made little progress compared to other nations. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that the U.S. most recently ranked 23rd, 39th and 25th respectively in reading, math and science. American education has never been so low.  Standardized testing has failed our children. 

The big question here: How do we teach children to solve complex messy issues in an increasingly complex messy world. Where’s imagination? Where’s the training to apply creative thinking?

Chicago writer, educator and publisher Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu specializes in the African American experience. In fact, in one of his 65 books, he talked about how schools are failing Black boys in particular. His belief is that children want to go to school. They may fight separation from mom and family every day but, generally, all kids want to learn. It’s the school classroom that can shut down that eagerness by the fourth grade. Dr. Kunjufu concentrates on Black children, Black boys in particular, who see no males that look like them in their early elementary school experience and development. It’s my elementary study that generalizes this to the wider community.

From a Gallup article: “Sir Ken Robinson, who delivered perhaps the most famous TED Talk in history, argues that schools often kill creativity. Not only that, but schools overly focused on standardized tests (and on teaching to those tests) actually kill dreams and independence.”

Don Clifton

There’s now an effort to look at what the classroom would look like if we made a U-turn from teaching children how to pass standardized tests. It’s called CliftonStrengths and it was developed by Don Clifton, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

CliftonStrengths asks: “What if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people? That question led to a groundbreaking insight into human development: People develop (and succeed!) by focusing on their unique natural talents, not by obsessing over their weaknesses.”

Here’s more on CliftonStrengths.


Isn’t it amazing that after we waste a couple generations of children we again consider educating them where they are and what they’re capable of accomplishing. Instead of fitting square children into round holes, we can look for the square holes that they fit.

Maybe we’ll ultimately learn that Dr. Kunjufu’s schools don’t need to shut down a child’s imagination, creativity and desire to learn.  Maybe those centers of education will learn to educate students. Again.

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