Cover of "Schooled"Cover of Schooled

The book Schooled arrived at my house as I must be on a list at this particular publisher.  I put the book in my pile and then ended up seeing it at the local book store which put Schooled closer to the top of the pile.  I had not heard about the book until I opened my mail. 

Schooled is written by a former teacher at the Dalton School in NYC.  The book centers around a new teacher, fresh out of Columbia University, teaching English at one of the elite private schools in Manhattan.  As the teacher, Anne Taggert, starts to navigate the private school world of parents and students, she enters the underground world of tutoring.  Hence, the story unfolds.

I grew up in the public school system.  The private school system is a completely different world.  Every private school is different and each school has reputations that precede them.  The tutoring aspect of many of the private schools is something that amazes me.  My friend and I have had many conversations about this particular topic as both of our kids schools are totally different.  There are many tutors, as Anne Taggert in the book, that are not really teaching the kids how to do the work but are doing the work for them.  We both ask ourselves, what is the point? 

My friend guesses that about 80% of the kids she knows are tutored.  80%.  That is a pretty shocking number.  It makes me wonder if the curriculum that is put forth in the school is not in touch with the abilities of their students.  If that many kids need a tutor to get through the curriculum, are they actually learning or just holding their head above water. 

I also wonder if kids are given the opportunity to find themselves through learning.  You get to school, a curriculum is forced upon you, mostly math/science driven and it ends up you are a fantastic writer or a photographer but weren't given the tools or opportunity to figure that out because the school didn't provide that.  Many of the kids in private school who are tutored and if you believe the book or the chatter on the street, that the tutors do the work, what happens when the kids get into college.  How do they get by there?  Or is it just that the hardest part about college is getting in? 

Obama is only giving out cash to states that are following the plan that Arne Duncan ( Secretary of Education ) is putting forth.  Granted this particular book is private school driven which comes with a completely different set of issues from public school…the biggest one being the parents expectations as they are paying for the education over and beyond their taxes but as we change our system to be more in line with a 21st Century education what does that mean? 

Many schools have the same amount of teachers, same curriculum from 1960 with a completely different set of learners and issues in 2009.  How do we help steer kids down a path that is the right path for them.  Left brain thinkers, right brain thinkers, kids that would be better suited to being a mechanic or a writer or a on-line game developer or even a surgeon.  In France they assess a kids path around the time they are 14 and send them in that direction.  I am not sure that is the right answer as there is something to be said for all kids learning basic math, history, english and science yet at what point do we separate different learners.

Is it an interesting topic of debate which we should be having as huge sources of cash are being distributed by the federal government to each states education system.  This particular book, although certainly trite, recognizes that it is the kids that need to learn not the adults hand holding their kid through the process.  Otherwise, how do the kids become independent adults through their own intellect. 

One line from the book that I couldn't agree with more is "Students become so accustomed to their tutors assistance that they were now conditioned to mistrust their own abilities".  That is something that shouldn't happen in any education system.  How does this country continue to be the best if in private schools there are 80% of the kids in some schools being tutored and in public schools they are being forced to teach to a test and standardized curriculum that doesn't allow for creativity or left brain vs right brain thinkers.  At one point, something will give and we will have lost an entire generation of writers, artists, surgeons or even mechanics. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Ellen

    In Newton our idea of public higher education seems to be about the physical structure right now. We are currently building a 200 million dollar plus high school for half of the high school population as we have two high schools. Newton North and Newton South. We will have a beautifully Graham Gund designed high school soon. I wonder if the parents think that this will motivate their kids better. This particular school will replace a school that is exactly 32 yrs. old. Will there be any money left in our budget for what goes on inside? I don’t have a clue. For me, my Newton North High School building was over 100 yrs. old. Our education was about the teachers and curriculum not the physical structure. We were rated number 3 in the country at that time. Today, I don’t think we are even in the top ten. We will have the distinction of having the most expensive public high school building ever built in America right now. I just hope there will be something left in the budget for teaches and programs and supplies.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Our school is going under a renovation right now too but in all fairness,the physical structure of the school did not match with the curriculumdesigned for today. Science labs that are literally 40 years old just don’tcut it. Personally, I am thrilled to see the physical structure gettingattention but it was completely built around the teachers input of what thecurriculum would be able to look like in a 2010 facility.

    2. Gotham Gal

      Our school is going under a renovation right now too but in all fairness,the physical structure of the school did not match with the curriculumdesigned for today. Science labs that are literally 40 years old just don’tcut it. Personally, I am thrilled to see the physical structure gettingattention but it was completely built around the teachers input of what thecurriculum would be able to look like in a 2010 facility.

  2. TanyaMonteiro

    I’m fascinated by people and how it is we “turn out” as we do. In case Ken Robinson’s Ted talks have moved under your radar (some how I seriously doubt this) Anyhow, I’ve included the link below to his talk on “do schools kill creativity” and also a link to a more recent set of questions that continues to ring true to my mind. It’s long, but some gems in their like his advise to someone was “expose yourself to possibilities” a rather difficult way to learn if one is spoon fed from the start. I also enjoyed the last question on his book “The Element” and finding each one of ours? Isn’t that was school (life) is about?

    1. Gotham Gal

      I’ve watched all the Sir Ken talks. Interesting man and listening to himspeak on the topic is thought provoking. I believe education is at one ofthose inflection points where we will see change because many schoolsprobably do kill creativity. Teachers can earn a tremendous amount of moneythrough tutoring or home schooling and we will lose many of the best who optto go that route (less stress and possibly more intellectually stimulating),there is also the creation of the charter schools and huge amount ofwealthier families who now choose to send their kids to private school andopt out of the public schools available to them. Also, the public schoolsdon’t have the funds to provide a proper education for a plethora ofdifferent learners walking through the hallways, which is where the death ofcreativity comes in. I could go on and on but somewhere along the line, oureducation system (K-12) went down an uninspiring path that barely makes surethe trains run on time for many of the students. At one point there will bea collision.

  3. jonathanc

    Terrific post. I can relate on so many levels. I have not read the book, but I am the parent of a recent Dalton graduate. Your point about college admissions reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” – he argued that testing is a filter which applicants need to get through and probably not much of an indicator of how you will do in college (or life). But you still need to get through the filter. Parents enable the whole thing by paying crazy amounts to college prep people because they perceive that going to the “right” college is so important – it is a seen as a very bad bet to lose.One thing I loved about Dalton was the lack of AP classes. This did not mean the classes weren’t taught at an advanced level (they were)…rather it means they were not designed simply as data dumps to get kids through the AP tests. The result was that kids often needed to supplement their test prep work with, you guessed it, tutors. This applies not only to APs, but SATs and SAT2s. Given a choice of teaching to the tests or giving schools the freedom to explore subject matter in a more imaginative way, I go with the latter (although my wife reminds me it is sometimes begrudgingly), even if it means succumbing to hiring tutors or not getting a good score on a college exam. Teaching to the test means fewer “ah ha” moments in education – when that light bulb goes off and kids get excited about learning.I think the notion that tutors do the work for kids makes a good sound bite, but does some disservice. Good tutors can figure out which concept a kid is lost on and help them understand it. Missing that one theorem can make everything after it impossible to understand, like taking out a domino in a chain. Sure, a teacher should be able to figure out if a student is not “getting it”, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I can help with thrashing out an idea for a history or english paper, but physics or chemistry – forget it. For parents, the job is figuring out when outside support is needed, finding the person with the right skills, giving good supervision (e.g. telling a tutor “your job is NOT to write her paper), and getting feedback from everyone involved (including teachers) to see if it is working. There are parents who sub-contract the whole thing out to a tutor(s), forgetting that they (the parents) have a role to play. Under those circumstances, it is no surprise that the path of least resistance is for tutors to do the work. And there certainly are parents who push their kids to academic levels and styles that aren’t appropriate (and use tutors as life preservers), to say nothing of schools who think the definition of giving learning support to their students is a copy of suggested tutors and phone numbers. Schools like Dalton, who have extensive learning support (my daughter both received and gave peer tutoring) and emphasize meeting with teachers one-on-one (the Dalton ”Lab”) are on the right track.

    1. Gotham Gal

      The parents have a huge role to play. It isn’t just about getting the A’s,it is understanding how you got the A’s or why you didn’t. It is aboutunderstanding the material and figuring out what material you like best.Those “ah ha” moments should be something that everyone wants to continue tohave for the rest of their life. That is what life is all about.