School vs. Education vs. Learning – Part 1

Am reading Insurrections of the Mind … 100 Years of Politics and Culture in America.


Among its first essays is one by Randolph S. Bourne titled In a Schoolroom.  Bourne describes slipping into a recitation at the suburban high school where he once studied as a boy.  The teacher allowed him to observe and, as he sank down into his seat, the odd sensation came over him of passing into a helpless, impersonal world where expression could be achieved and curiosity asserted only in a formal and difficult way.  As he looked around, the class seemed to divide into two camps, the artificially depressed who were considered to be the “good” children, and the artificially stimulated held to be the bad children.

For the “bad” children, who are simply those with more self-assertion and initiative than the rest, all the careful network of discipline and order imposed on a classroom by the teacher is a direct and irresistible challenge.  Sitting in the classroom took Bourne back to marveling at the exhaustless ingenuity of the “bad” children, usually boys, in disrupting the peace that stems from recitation …

These children were spending the sunniest hours of their lives, five days a week, in preparing themselves – presumably by acquisition of knowledge – to take their place in a modern world of industry, ideas and business.  But what institution, Bourne asked himself, in the grown-up world bore resemblance to this artificially divided classroom?  The business of adult American life was actually run on the plane of personal intercourse, through the quick interchange of ideas, and with the understanding and the grasping of concrete social situations.

Even with the best of people, Bourne reflects, thinking cannot be done without talking.  For thinking is primarily a social faculty requiring the stimulus of other minds to excite curiosity and arouse emotions.  Even private thinking entails a conversation with oneself.  Call this thing that goes on in the modern schoolroom schooling, if you like. Only don’t call it education.

Amazing to see the date of Bourne’s essay.

November 7, 1914.

That’s right.  One hundred years ago.

10 thoughts on “School vs. Education vs. Learning – Part 1

  1. Thanks, Dr. Press. An interesting thought – my son, who is 9, is often ‘punished’ in school for wanting to discuss his ideas. His teacher agrees that his intentions are not to be disruptive or distracting, and generally he is simply talking his way through a problem or project. His teacher seems to understand that, but still she wishes for him to remain quiet. We’ve discussed (argued really) that there is extreme value in external processing, and for some kids (like my son) it is a cornerstone to their success.

    Think I’m going to offer her a copy of this book for the holidays 🙂

  2. Schools are no longer designed to assist anyone in achieving their ‘potential’ or to raise the bar for society. Rather, schools, especially modern schools, are intended to process children for the minimum time frame prescribed by law and to proscribe independent non-herd thinking. Proof? Among other factors, there is a much greater emphasis on eLearning than real learning, flash and pop and not human experience. Local schools broadcast how they have marvelous ‘pupil to computer’ ratios, but downplay the 30:1 pupil teacher ratios. An industrial model of ‘academic manufacturing’ will not serve well a human population in great need of real life training.

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