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Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith is catching major hell for his string of anti-school tweets that have everyone from Jezebel to Complex calling him cray.

According to 15-year-old Smith, the world would be a lot better off if everyone dropped out of school because schools merely “brainwash the youth.”

Jaden Smith tweets about school

After his anti-school rant, the tweets (and blogs and social media feeds) predictably exploded, chalking his rant up to that of a privileged little rich kid who knows nothing about the real world.

But Jaden kind of has a point.

America’s (public) school system was not created to educate the masses; it was built to churn out more cogs in the wheel who would fill factories and fall in lockstep with whatever line the government was selling.

And while education (which is NOT synonymous with school, by the way) has been integral in helping many succeed, schools have continued to handicap kids by teaching them what to think, instead of how to think.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin explains the economic consequences of this:

Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?

Nobel-prize winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (making things that could be made somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?

Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the US economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of workers who are trained to do 1925 labor.

And if we turn our attention to Black children, I’d argue the education system has done many of them a disservice.

Far too many Black children in the public school system deal a host of horrific challenges– abysmal graduation rates, schools that continue to fail generation after generation, criminalizing misbehavior, and under-funded schools. Because of this, I’ve long since felt that many Black kids, particularly Black boys, would be better off if they “dropped out” of public school all together and “dropped in” to options like homeschooling, cooperative learning, unschooling, and other educational methods that encourage their growth and curiosity rather than bore them to death with facts and/or send them on to prison.

While many saw Jaden’s rant as irresponsible–no doubt picturing kids dropping out of school to sit on their parents’ couches to play video games all day—I saw it as a conversation starter.

Most of us have accepted the notion that attending school for 12 years and learning things in an unnatural, and arbitrary way is best. After all, we’ve been through that system and lived to tell about it.

But what if there was something better that would help kids stop racing to the bottom and instead shoot to the top? What if ditching the traditional school model was the key in helping kids become successful? What if focusing on learning how to think rather than cramming information into kids’ brains was the norm? What if Jaden Smith was actually right?

Despite being a public school teacher for six years (or perhaps because of it), I’ve chosen to homeschool my seven-year-old son. Though my family doesn’t quite get it, and my mother continues to quiz him on random things she feels he should know, my son’s love of learning is flourishing and I have no doubt that when the times comes, he’ll be just as prepared for college as a kid who spent most of her childhood in school.

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