Take the Game of School Survey

I recently overheard someone say, “School is designed and run by those who did well and thrived in it. It would be organized so much differently if it was designed and run by those who did poorly in school.”

That comment stuck with me and made me realize, again, how school is an artifact of human history rather than an ahistorical need for human survival as so many people believe. Those of us who have gone through our compulsory school years know there was more than a bit of monotony, wasted time, blindly following orders (“Stand in line!”), and general confusion that students endure during their school years. But the irony of becoming a parent is that many remember what school was like, including the boring or bad parts, but most parents decide it was all worth it because they turned out okay despite their mediocre or bad school experiences. Psychologically, it’s a weird position to put one’s self in—to know that school hurt or stunted us as children, yet to feel a debt of gratitude to it as an adult. I love William Blake’s retort to this: “ [A] blight never does good to a tree and if a blight kill not a tree but it still bear fruit let none say that the fruit was in consequence of the blight.”

What if we were really honest about what we liked about school and what we didn’t? What if we dug deeper than awards and grades and asked questions like:

  • Do you think that school is a game? That is, do you think that students “succeed” (graduate, navigate college admissions well, or leave school psychologically healthy) more from learning how to play the game than from actually learning academic subjects well?
  • What percentage of students in your school (or in general) do you believe leave school confident, competent, and in control of their lives and their learning?
  • Do you personally know any students who have left school feeling that they are not good learners, that they are “not one of the smart ones,” or even that they are “defective”or “broken?”
  • Do you have specific strategies that you use or teach to help students navigate and succeed at the game aspect of schooling? What are they?

These are actual questions posed by Steve Hargadon’s new survey, The Game of School (survey at www.gameofschool.org or https://goo.gl/forms/8ybQfTS4FgAiYlFg2). Since the survey responses are self-selecting, the replies will probably skew in the direction of those who agree that school is a game, though it will still be useful and interesting to read what these folks think as a group. For teachers in schools who want to help students game the system, the survey responses can provide some useful ideas and tactics for teaching as a subversive activity. For homeschooling parents, this survey can serve as a prod to see learning as more than a game to play in school, but as part of living a healthy, full life.