Autocomplete, Buffets, and How Schools Are Set Up to Fail

There are all sorts of fun things you can do with Google’s autocomplete function. You can start typing strings of words and see what pops up. (I just tried “what do people” and Google suggested “see in Birdbox?”) You can play Google Feud, which is more fun than you might expect.  You can also read this or watch this:

But if you hate fun and would rather be frustrated, then start a query with the words, “Schools should teach” and be prepared to be blown away by the sheer number of problems people think schools should attempt to fix (which is weird, considering how many of those same people seem to have little faith in schools’ ability to teach anything).

If you follow “Schools should teach” with every letter of the alphabet, you will soon understand exactly how schools are set up to fail and why teachers feel like pulling their hair out trying to keep up with the expectations.

To save you the trouble, here is what Google “suggests” schools teach:

cursive writing skills

etiquette

life skills

taxes

entrepreneurship

sex education

character education

home economics

religious education

reading with only digital materials (I didn’t make that up)

students how to fail

students to protect the environment

classes on friendship

you how to be happy

intelligent design

emotional intelligence

practical skills

world religions

abstinence-only education

a second language

art

sign language

self-defense

foreign languages

financial skills

good behavior

gun safety

handwriting

keyboarding

Latin

how to cook

values

conflict resolution

morals

manners

mental health

meditation

media literacy

 

At least there’s nothing that starts with ‘q’ or ‘z’.

Yet.

More is not better

You may have noticed that reading, writing, math, social studies, spelling, and science do not appear. I didn’t omit them. Google did. Which says something, though I’m not sure what.

You may have also noticed that a lot of what people want schools to teach are important things. In fact, you may have agreed with many of the items on the list above. If so, you can understand why legislators, school board members, and superintendents eagerly accept responsibility for so many subjects and skills. It’s hard to be against teaching kids manners, or conflict resolution, or handwriting.

The problem isn’t any one thing on the list. The problem is the list in its entirety. It’s like my diet. No one food is making me fat, but when you put them altogether … well, let’s just say I need to reread my own book.

While most schools don’t try to teach everything, they also don’t do a very good job of drawing some firm lines about what they will and will not teach. My guess is that most schools take a stab at about 80% of the items above and many others that aren’t included (it doesn’t take much effort to come up with things not suggested by Google).

Schools suffer from the same fallacy that buffets and genre-mashing movies do: They believe that more is better. Click To Tweet

A larger variety of food will appeal to more diners. Offering crab legs, lasagna, and sirloin steak pretty much covers everyone, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love a buffet?

Mixing genres will attract more moviegoers. Because if you like buddy movies,  comedies, and mysteries, then why wouldn’t you want to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and that other guy?

Offering more to students will make more of them (and their parents) happy. We’ve got something for everyone! Latin, cooking classes, mental health screening, boater’s safety, and AP Chemistry!

The problem with that kind of thinking is that when you do more things you invariably sacrifice quality.

If you want a good steak (or good crab legs or lasagna), you don’t go to a buffet. Buffets offer a lot of food, but none of it’s the kind of thing that’s going to impress a date.

If you want a good movie, you don’t watch Netflix’s genre-mashing Brightwhich Rotten Tomatoes said, “tries to blend fantasy, hard-hitting cop drama, and social commentary — and ends up failing painfully on all three fronts.”

One can easily imagine a similar review for the many public schools that make the same mistake of trying to please too many people:

“The school tries to blend rigorous academics with conflict resolution and proper etiquette, along with a focus on life skills such as tax preparation and gun safety — and ends up failing painfully short of the mark on all six hundred fronts. Three thumbs down.”

Critic Brian Lowry called the movie a “bloated, expensive mess.” The New York Times called it “a loud, ungainly hybrid that does not serve police procedurals or fantasy spectaculars very well.”

Our public school system might aptly be described as a “bloated, expensive mess” that doesn’t serve its students, their parents, or the people working inside of it very well.

When you try to do too much, you end up doing very little well.

We should stop asking schools to solve every societal problem. Until we do, we shouldn’t expect any more from them than we do from a buffet dinner or the latest Hollywood mash-up. Schools won’t get much better until Google completes the phrase “Schools should teach” with the word “less.”


Related:

Schools Should Do Less

 

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One Reply to “Autocomplete, Buffets, and How Schools Are Set Up to Fail”

  1. It would be interesting to see some research that compares different cultures’ family dynamics and values with how muany of the topics/skills on this list are taught in schools. I am a supporter of women having equal footing with men in their employment opportunities. However, we in the US need to get better at working and parenting at the same time. Both of my parents worked, but I still learned social skills, manners, tolerance of diversity, work ethic, responsibility, and many other traits AT HOME. When I was a child, schools reinforced some of these traits, but it was expected that they were taught within the family. Somewhere along the way, society decided schools needed to do this. As the traditional nuclear family structure became less prevalent, maybe we should have provided more parent/family training instead.

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