What makes kids drop out of school? Is it always that they have personal problems like being unmotivated or being in with the wrong crowd? I think not. Moreover, whose responsibility is it to make learning interesting anyway? In this chapter of What Kills the Love of Learning, we explore something which may shed some light on what is happening here, hopefully in a less blaming way than is usually posited. I call what we'll be looking at, "The Funnel of Specialization."
"Just the Facts, Ma'am."
Are you old enough to remember the TV show, "Dragnet?" When I was a kid, in the late Fifties, I used to watch it every week. And every week, Sgt. Joe Friday would use his cold, logical, factual mind to solve yet another case. "Just the facts, ma'am," he'd say, week after week. And week after week his cold logic worked.
Five decades later, were you to watch these shows, I'm sure you would decry them stiff and shallow; prime examples of Nineteen-Fifties cardboard cutouts of life. Oddly, were you to take a good look at how we educate our kids (and if you were to set aside all the warm-fuzzy present day, educational window-dressing), what I'm sure you would find is, beneath all this warmth lives this very same attitude, just dressed up in Twenty-First Century pseudo-science. (Oops. Did I just slip into Layer 4 already? Sorry.)
Let me try this again.
In this chapter of What Kills the Love of Learning, I'm going to be introducing yet another teaching and learning concept, something I've been exploring recently. I call this concept, the "Funnel of Specialization." No coincidence, we live in what some call, the Age of Specialization.
Unfortunately, "specialization," as we now teach it, "depersonalizes" education. And "depersonalized educations" create depersonalized people, folks who do not care. About what in particular? About other people. And about themselves. And especially about learning in general. Hence, our focus on specialization has created one of the most unseen crises in our grade-based educational systems. Students who become able to tolerate this kind of factual aloofness graduate well prepared to parrot information but ill prepared to personally explore life. And students who cannot adapt to this aloofness feel anything from that "they are not being challenged" to that they'll "never use what they're teaching." Which leads many students to "work below their ability." And some kids to drop out.
How exactly am I suggesting that specialization leads to all this? To see, let's start with the following idea. Let's start with that we expect our children's teachers, and education in general, to give personal attention to our children. And it should. Yet the closer our kids get to being out in the real world, the more we depersonalize their educations. In fact, the degree to which we depersonalize education appears to be directly proportionate to the age of our students. At least up through the early years of most under graduate degrees. After which, this tendency toward teaching "just the facts, ma'am" begins to reverse.
How exactly does this happen? To see, let's take a look at how specialization increasingly affects the focus of curricula, up to and including high school.
The First Half of the Funnel of Specialization
Now if you look at what I've drawn in this chapter's diagram, what you'll see is the first half of the Funnel of Specialization. (I'll show you the second half in the next chapter.) And if you now look at the left side of this diagram, what you'll see is a column of grades, starting with Pre-K, and extending to 12th grade.
On the right then, we have the ten layers of Emergence Personality Theory, starting with the most personal layer, Layer 10, and rising to the most impersonal layer, Layer 1.
Finally, in the middle, we have a funnel shaped object which represents the three sections of the "Onion of Personality"; the core self, the middle self, and the outer self. It also represents the educational "drop out" rate.
Now for those who are unfamiliar with Emergence Personality Theory, the basic idea of this theory is that personality can be organized into a holistically interactive, developmental sequence of ten nested layers, four of which appear at birth and the rest of which develop throughout a person's life. At the same time, the content within these nested layers can be seen more like a personal history "written by the winners" than as a literally true recording.
In other words, the life experiences stored within these ten layers are not necessarily developmental. Nor are they to be taken as literally true. Rather, these experiences are simply what we currently "believe" has happened to us, and are more based on our here and now, pragmatic needs than on any actual, real world events.
Then there is the thematic element, the overall focus of the theory. In our theory, the overall focus of the theory is on how personality begins in a highly personal way, and then increasingly becomes impersonal as we age. Thus, while adults can occasionally opt for the highly personal human connections we feel in Layer 9, we more often choose the highly impersonal, head-with-feet philosophies of Layer 2, wherein we try to explain "why we do what we do."
Notice how I've used the word "personal" to refer to the number of people involved. Thus, in our highly personal Layer 9 experiences like "falling in love," there are only two people. And in the highly impersonal, broad brush endeavors of Layer 2 (such as philosophy and religion), there are huge numbers of people, all of whom fade into the agreed upon beliefs of the group.
Yet another way to see how these layers organize personality is to say they extend from the life experiences wherein we make people more important than information to the life experiences wherein we make information more important than people. Which bring us to the point of this column; how specialization depersonalizes education. And how this depersonalized specialization directly correlates to the drop-out rate.
Thus, if you take a look at the funnel in this first diagram, what you'll see represented by this funnel is the correlation between the age of the student and the degree to which these students are made less important than facts. This tendency, in fact, toward teaching kids increasingly broader scopes of impersonal knowledge, continues unabated all the way up through high school graduation.
What I'm saying is, we greet kids just entering school with highly personal interactions. We literally want to "make them feel at home" and do this by prioritizing what we give these little persons as "people first" and the facts they learn second.
As these kids get older though, we increasingly depersonalize their educational milieu, by asking them to increasingly memorize more and more reams of dry technical data. And when they complain that they are not interested in learning these reams of data, we simply tell them they must do this in order to be prepared for the world.
In essence, we focus more and more on the facts of life and less and less on the kids themselves. By about fourth grade then, we have literally taught them that "learning" is being able to accurately report, "just the facts, ma'am." Thus we literally make memorizing facts the focus of education, rather than teaching kids the joy in learning.
What this Funnel Represents
Now consider how this bias toward facts, not kids, affects our children's desires to remain in school. And how it affects the state in which they enter adulthood and their first experiences of the work force.
Can kids who have graduated high school parrot facts well? For the most part, yes, they can. To some degree, their grades indicate that. At least for a brief time. But are these kids prepared to live a good life in the real world? In many ways, yes, they are. But for how long, is the question.
So will these kids be personally satisfied with what they do in life? For the most, over the course of their life times, no, they won't. Moreover, we have known this has been happening for a long time now. We simply ignore it and say, for the most part, this is how life is. Life is hard. Then you die.
Am I being too hard on how we educate kids? I think not. And to see this, consider how this funnel reveals "why" kids' interest in school rapidly wanes as they approach 12th grade. Not all kids, mind you. But a lot of kids. And why? Simply because we increasingly depersonalize their educations to such a degree as to make these kids end up feeling like no one cares. Duh! Have you even heard them complain about feeling this? I have. And in many ways, they are right. No one does care. At least, about whether they personally love learning.
The sad thing is, in our hearts, I know we do care. Very much, in fact. Unfortunately, we are not living up to what we feel and in actuality, we care more about their grades and their abilities to regurgitate data than about them as people. In other words, the way we design our curricula, we care more about how well these kids can tell us, "just the facts, ma'am" than about how much they love learning. And in case you don't see how this correlates, consider this.
The funnel in this chapter's diagram represents several ideas, all at once. In this way, it literally is a fractal pattern for a part of human nature.
First, it represents how personally we address our kids as students, from the highly caring, personal connections we give them in Pre-K, to the highly impersonal way we address this "bunch of rowdy kids who need to buckle down" in high school.
Second, it represents the degree to which we ask our kids to memorize facts; the higher the grade, the more we ask them to memorize facts.
Third, it represents the Layers of Personality these kids end up in, from the highly personal Core Layers we address in their first years of school, to the highly impersonal Outer Layers we increasingly push them into all the way up through high school.
All this said, can you now see the fourth correlation; how increasingly depersonalizing education directly correlates to the degree to which kids tend to drop out of school? As we depersonalize their education, they feel less and less personally valued. And less and less connected to the value of education. Hence, Pink Floyd's, "We don't need no education."
There are exceptions of course. Quite a few, in fact. And education plays a big part in how these exceptional people come to be. How? It seems that for the kids who stay in school up to and including doctoral degrees, education becomes increasingly more personal. And more interesting.
This, then, is what we'll focus on in the next chapter, when we explore the Funnel of Higher Educational Specialization, and how by "repersonalizing" education, we create many exceptional people, in essence, adult "kids" who have again learned to love learning. As well as loving life.
So what can we do to improve this situation in early education? My answer? I'm not sure yet. Moreover, I'm not even sure how complete my correlations are. For instance, have I missed an equally important correlation? Or is what I'm seeing really as central to kids dropping out of school as I'm hypothesizing?
Whatever the case, at this point, I'm at least sure of this. What I've just shown you really exists. How am I so sure? Because it directly correlates to an entire theory of personality, a theory with which I've managed to uncover many pragmatically effective healing ideas. This theory, in fact, has already grounded an entirely new school of therapy. Which is leading me to ask, why not an entire school of educational theory and practice?
In reality, we already have much evidence for how designing our curricula in and around parroting facts kills kids' love of learning. This is a fact. Moreover, the obvious proof for this is that we need pitch fork motives, like the fear of low wages and poverty, to frighten and coerce most kids into continuing their educations into college.
My point? Why don't we focus more on teaching them the sheer joy of learning? Do we so need to destroy their innate love of learning that by the time they graduate high school, they can't wait to get away from school?
In truth, we are doing this. Year after year. However, rather than wallowing in guilt about this, let's all commit to finding ways to keep education, a "personal" experience. While at the same time, also imparting to them the facts they need to learn.
Moreover, let's work on accomplishing this together, rather than in isolated groups. In truth, we cannot learn how to help our kids until we learn how to personally connect to each other. Only then can we make these changes.
Of course, the good news is, we can learn to do this. And we can make these changes.
Until the next chapter then. I hope you're all well,