The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….


Board Games, Poker & Purpose

From the title of this post you can tell I have children who love to play games but then again don’t we all? Even when young children like to play games. Whether it’s memory, words with friends, or poker – games are fun and a great way to learn all kinds of things. Young or old we all play games and learn new ones. When learning a new game where do we start? Directions of course. You read the directions or someone else may explain them to you. We all want to know how to win the game. Put another way-what is the purpose of playing the game?

You may or may not have played the game LIFE and most likely read the directions. We are all a part of a much bigger game of life which really doesn’t come with a set of directions. In fact many people are constantly seeking to discover their own purpose. Why do we do what we do?

As a mother of 5 I am no stranger to questions of why and can honestly say that I try to give my children answers to their questions rather than the “because I said so” line which we have all heard. As a teacher I heard the same questions only applied to different items. Rather than, “Why is the sky blue?” I heard things like, “Why do I have to learn this?” And sometimes when testing time comes around, “Why do I bother reading the questions if I don’t even know the answers?”

Students are no different than us-they want to have a purpose. They may ask “Why do I have to do this assignment?” Is the purpose to this assignment to put a score in a little square in a gradebook? Not very motivating in my mind. There should be a bit more contextual information provided here. How about finding out what that student would like to do with their life? Once you know that one you can work backwards to find more purpose in their path towards that goal. (Increasing student engagement through relevancy and corresponding hope as well)

In their educational journey students have many ‘why’ questions. I think if we explored these questions a bit more we could really change what is happening at both the classroom level and the policy level.

High-stakes, standardized tests-Why? Memorizing dates, facts, etc.-Why? 7-period days/block scheduling-Why? Requiring all students to take certain classes-Why? Building schools with square classrooms, boards in the front, student desks in rows-Why? (We already know the history behind the factory model of education-but again begin the dialogue.)

If we start addressing students (and parents) ‘why’ questions we may start a dialogue to get to the bottom of these questions and possibly even ask a new question. Why not change it???