Posted by: chrisdavis | February 14, 2009

My Informal School Survey

Some inner clock is ticking in every life, warning us we have appointments to keep with reality: real work to do, real skills to learn, real battles to fight, real risks to take, real ideas to wrestle with.”–John Taylor Gatto

Yesterday I was subbing in Middle School: 6th grade, to be exact. This is my favorite age because the kids are still young enough to be fun but not old enough to be “cool”. And, they tend to tell you the truth when you ask them a question.

So, I thought I would take a completely unscientific survey of these kids’ attitudes toward school by asking them to choose between 2 sets of possibilities.

My first set of possibilities went like this:

1. You have learned how to study and get “A’s” on all your tests. When you graduate from school, you will have a perfect 4.0 average because you have made straight “A’s” in all your subjects. Unfortunately, you are only good at studying for (and taking) tests; but after you take a test, you forget most of what you studied. When you graduate from school, you will have a great school transcript, but you will not know very much, and what you do know won’t be the things that will help you very much as a grown up.

2. You really love to learn and you remember almost everything you ever study in school. Unfortunately, you are not good at taking tests, so that you never make above a “C” on any test you take. When you graduate from school, you know more than most of the other students, but you graduate with only a low “C” average.

After I asked for a show of hands to see which of these 2 possibilities the students would choose, I then asked them to choose from a different set of possibilities as follows:

1. There is no such thing as public school, so you will never go to school. You will never be “in a grade” (like 4th or 6th or 12th grade). You will never take school subjects (like math, science or history). You will never use school books. You will never take school tests. There are no school sports or cheerleaders. Your friends will not be “school” friends because there is no school. Instead, your friends will be members of your own family, your neighbors or anyone you want to have as friends. There are lots of adults in your life (including teachers) who will gladly give you their time, wisdom, experience and encouragement, but no one will ever force you to learn anything unless you want to learn it. Because there is no school for you to attend, you get to decide, for yourself, how you will receive an education (if that is even something you want). You may teach yourself some, or all, of the time. You may even go to work or start a business or do a combination of any of the above.  If you grow up stupid or uneducated, it will be your own fault.

2. Everything about school is the same as it is now: You will continue going to school just as you are doing now until you graduate. Teachers will tell you what you are supposed to learn and you will be given tests to find out if you have learned it.  The grades you receive throughout your schooling will become your permanent academic record.

I was surprised at their choices. Well, maybe, not all that surprised.



  1. Wow. That’s really good stuff Chris. Really good. I thought it was curious how the Lord has obviously put you smack dab in a government school….it seemed odd to me, I’ll admit.

    Anymore though I am learning not to question Papa’s leading. And then I marvel at the wisdom behind the steps, which at the time, can seem irrelevant.

    I am also seeing more and more that the most effective “ministry” (bleck, I actually hate that word) is through individual interactions much like you describe. I’m sure your impact on some of these kids will last for a lifetime.

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