Schools Don’t Just Teach – They Form

Most of us think of schools, first and foremost, as places of learning, of education, of knowledge. School is somewhere we go to become smarter individuals and successful students. Rarely do I hear discussions revolving around schools as makers of people. When I heard this a few days ago, I was initially taken aback by the suggestion that schools form people just as much as they educate them. Did I hear that right? I have since bought into this theory completely and so, let us reflect on our own schooling experiences that make us, us.

Tom Popkewitz’s discussion focused on how schools are makers of people. He used quotes from educational historians, as well as tangible examples, to support this, and his argument resonated well with me. It caused me to reflect once again on my own experience in my small town public school system and the ways in which it molded me into the man I am today. I’m left to ask myself questions like, “Which point in school impacted me the most?” and “Which teachers shaped me more than others?”

There are of course two sides to Popkewitz’s argument: the good and the bad. He describes how schools shape human beings, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of America’s schools are making good people. According to an article written by John Taylor Gatto, public schools are “crippling” students because they have become too similar to prisons. He supports this claim by pointing to the Prussian origins of public education and outlining the similarities between schools and prisons. His conclusion? That public schools are shaping all students to be employees and consumers and that we are suppressing so much of what children have to offer. He finishes by stating that we must “let them manage themselves.”

'Do you think this new decor is Education Department approved?'

Credit: Google Images

Could it be true that our schooling experiences are at least partially responsible for creating both the good and bad sides of our personalities? Perhaps. This leads me to coupling my most positive experiences in school with my most negative ones. My wonderful kindergarten teacher, creating my own club in high school, serving as captain of my middle school basketball team with the best coach. My first ‘F’ on a test in fourth grade, a terrible student-teacher relationship with one of my ninth grade teachers, constant silent lunch in middle school. Did all of these experiences shape me equally? What can I deduce by reflecting on my public school life after hearing Popkewitz’s talk on schools as people makers?

Gatto’s article tells us that schools resemble prisons. If we compare this theory to that of Tom Popkewitz, what I have heard and read is that schools are pretty much prisons that shape students into the human beings they will become. As grim as that sounds, is there any validity in it? As I mentioned before, I completely agree with Popkewitz that schools make people. But Gatto’s article is not the first time I have heard schools be compared to prisons, and referencing these two theories together is strikingly eye-opening.


Credit: Google Images

What can we take away from all of this? Tom Popkewitz truly opened my eyes when he said that schools don’t just educate people – they form them as well. Gatto’s article, which I have chosen to compare to Popkewitz’s talk, reminds us that we must carefully cultivate the schools that do this forming. We must do our part to make schools the opposite of prisons: encouraging of creativity, fun-filled, and supportive of all. We must remember that schools do form people, and these people deserve the best.


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2 Responses to Schools Don’t Just Teach – They Form

  1. madisongoers1 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your outlook on the ways in which schools shape us into the individuals that we are today. Looking back on my own education, I can think of teachers, classes, experiences, and leadership opportunities that have impacted who I am today and my goals post-college. While I am blessed to have had a majority of positive experiences throughout my schooling thus far, I can imagine how negative relationships with teachers and constant struggling within the classroom could severely impact a student’s self-esteem, desire to learn, and looking at it long-term, their plans for the future. I appreciate the argument that Gatto makes but I wonder if these negative experiences have the opportunity to shape us in the same positive manner in which the highlights of our education experiences have? Personally speaking, I had a very short-tempered and insensitive second grade teacher and while this year didn’t encourage me to grow as a student, it made me much more appreciative for the dedicated and supportive teachers that I would have in future grades. While this experience could have hindered my education in detrimental ways, I was able to use this perspective to be more appreciative for my teachers who did desire for me to learn and flourish as a student. In all, I would agree that this experience provided me with a basis for how moldable and eager children are to learn. The education system should strive to foster this learning and recognize that school is so much more than an education system, taking steps to purposefully shape and mentor students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • haydenvick says:

      Hey Madison,

      I agree and it’s interesting to think about how “bad” teachers can help us appreciate the “good” ones. Thank you for your thoughts!



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