Last week, we wrote about the death of liberal-arts education. Now we’ve found a school that’s banned curiosity altogether.
You are only allowed to use your own knowledge, your own class notes, class handouts, your own class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments unless specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.
Students were also banned from speaking to friends or family about their assignments, or doing outside research (especially online). Even complete strangers were off limits:
You may not discuss/mention/chat/hand signal/smoke signal/Facebook/IM/text/email to a complete stranger any answers/ideas/questions/thoughts/opinions/hints/instructions.
Though the tone is light in parts, the rules were still enforced with a promised failing grade and an honor code referral.
I grew up in a family full of teachers. I’ve heard stories and had debates over disciplinary actions and cheating at all levels, from kindergarten to college. I’m also a product of public schooling, and I’ve seen, first-hand, the challenges that faced at least my teachers.
But enforcing rules like this turns schools into assembly lines. Those who fall out of line, who want to move faster (or slower) or in a different direction, get stamped “defective” and shipped off to the outlet stores.
Westfield Principal Tim Thomas defended the decision by saying that the teachers “were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others. They should not be allowed to use materials classmates cannot get.”
There are myriad factors that aren’t being taken into account: demographics, poverty, and a slew of other important issues with our school system. But for a school to try to even out the playing field, which is admirable, it ought to help make those resources accessible, not suppress them. Extend library hours. Open up computers to students during lunch. Work with nearby college campuses to request volunteer tutors. To the best of its ability, a school can make information available to all who seek it out.
Isn’t the most valuable—and, some would argue, educational—part of school the independent pursuit of knowledge that doesn’t come from textbooks? To ask students not to look for outside sources, not to explore, and not to talk about school with the people around them is archaic at best, oppressive at worst.
For more on this subject, watch Ken Robinson, the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin award, give an amazing speech about today’s educational paradigm on TEDTalks. Or watch an animated excerpt below.