The Value of SchoolsSep 08, 2022
There are two things we know for sure about schools. First, they are very old – the first formal schools appeared in China and in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom in about 2000 B.C. Second, they are everywhere. Nearly every culture and every nation have embraced the idea of school in one form or another. Just like other very popular ideas that have been around for millenniums (like fire and beer), schools must have something to recommend them. And they do. Lots of things. And beyond the obvious opportunity for parents to get some time away from their sons and daughters as they go through puberty (although I don’t want to dismiss that one out of hand).
The first advantage to having schools is that the job of teaching can be given over to professionals. Teaching tends to be a lot like driving. Everyone thinks they’re good at it but 15 minutes on the 405 freeway through Los Angeles demonstrates that’s simply not true. And because society and jobs keep getting more complex, “kinda” teaching a kid math or English just won’t cut it. Kids have to be taught a very wide array of skills at a pretty high level in order to function and get along in the world. So it’s important not only to have a place filled with people who know how to teach but also to have a place where there is expertise across a wide range of fields. Fortunately, we have a place like that where kids can go every day – school.
There’s also tremendous value in getting a bunch of kids together and having them interact with each other five days a week. Anybody who has ever been a human being or has had to talk to a human being for more than five minutes knows that we are … well … difficult. We’re caring and callous, stingy and generous, kind and bullying, often all at the same time. It’s maddening, really. But that’s who we are. And it takes a lot of practice to get the hang of hanging out with other people. Schools allow that to happen as well, often in the context of providing really cool stuff for kids to do as a group (sports teams and bands and robotics and even German Club, if you’re into that).
Schools obviously aren’t perfect. And it’s difficult to navigate a lot of things, from curriculum to inappropriate interactions between kids to funding them in a way so everyone gets equal opportunities. But even with their flaws, they work pretty well.