What are the characteristics of schooling that make schools schools?

In my research, one of my respondents made the comment:

“On the other hand [in contrast to good education], schooling means: classrooms, no learning and knowledge; when things are learned it has nothing to do with information, it is not interesting and not cool.”

From her perspective there were certain characteristics of schooling that make schools schools.  She held those characteristics up as being anti-educational.

The first of the characteristics is that schooling is done in a classroom.  The great Athenian educator, Socrates, avoided classrooms.  He chose to conduct his lessons in the midst of life being lived.  Cole, in her book, A History of Education: Socrates to Montessori, wrote that:

“… Socrates taught, but not in a school. It was in the marketplace, in the gymnasiums, and in the streets that Socrates carried on his life work of teaching young and old Athenians to know themselves, to know what was good, and to know what conditions influenced the development of virtue. He did not withdraw from life in order to study it under carefully controlled laboratory conditions but rather went joyfully out to meet it where it was whirling along at its busiest” (Cole, 1966, p. 10).

This is of course where Jesus did most of his teaching as well.

When my respondent said that in schools there was no knowledge and that when things were learned they had nothing to do with information, I interpreted that to mean that there was a disconnect between the information being communicated through the classroom lessons, and her everyday experience of life.  How much of school work is relevant to how many of the students?  Sure, a very small minority of the students will go on to higher education, and will spend the rest of their lives contemplating the esoteric and the ethereal, disconnected from the challenges and frustrations of living in a fallen world that requires practical wisdom to survive.  And much of school and schooling prepares those few for such a life.  But what about the rest?  Are they being equipped with entrepreneurial skills so that they are not dependent upon finding a job? Don’t have to depend upon government support?  Can they be productive and get paid for their initiative and industry?  Are they being taught how to be useful through mastery of practical, hands-on skills?  Are they interacting with a range of people, outside their peer group, and being challenged to develop communication skills in a range of circumstances, through a range of registers?

During the beginnings of the Global Financial Crisis nearly 53% of new university graduates in the United States of America were either unemployed or underemployed, and they had upayable study debts of between US$30,000 and US$300,000 at the end of their schooling experience; no employable skills, and no entrepreneurial skills (Weissmann, 2012).  At the very same time, young unschooled teenagers were earning between US$200,00 and US$1.5M annually from internet-based businesses [completely without schooling, but because of relevent unschooling, very entrepreneurial and productive – during a world-wide depression] (Investopedia, 2012).

I would suggest that in the majority of schools, the answer to all the questions above is, “No!”  Children are corralled into age-segregated classrooms, they are given mountains of busy work, required to memorize information for tests, but not shown how the information applies to developing healthy relationships, how to solve complex ethical challenges, or how to be productive and useful in life.

When my respondent said that school and school work was “not interesting and not cool”, she was indicating that the information being communicated is standardized.  Each of the attendees in a school classroom is uniquely created by God.  Their learning styles, passions, interests, and call of God upon their lives are unique.  But how can one teacher cater to the uniqueness of all the students in the classroom.  It is not possible.  I tried for 26 years, and was a complete and utter failure.  And it was not because I am a poor teacher.  I am a good teacher, and I have many one-on-one successes to demonstrate that I am a good teacher.  However, the classroom with one teacher taking care of nearly 30 children (and many more in non-western classrooms) is not an environment that can facilitate individuality.  Montesorri classrooms come close, but not as close as the unschooling environment.

Of course, there are many more characteristics of schooling that can be discussed.  However, these were the characteristics that came to mind from the response of one of my respondents.

Cole, L. (1966). A History of Education: Socrates to Montessori. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Investopedia. (2012). 10 Successful Young Entrepreneurs.   Retrieved 31/05/2014 12:30 AM, 2014, from

Weissmann, J. (2012). 53% of Recent College Grads are Jobless or Underemployed — How?   , from