Schools are Countercultural

As a undergraduate (who majored in English Literature with a minor in Journalism) I became a big fan of Anthony Burgess, Hunter S. Thompson, and Douglas Coupland – notably all counter cultural authors and icons.  Of course, I also had a deep love for the radicals of the literary cannon (i.e. Milton).  Later, as a graduate student, I discovered other counter cultural education writers (those who railed against conventional wisdom).  People like Gerald Bracey, Diane Ravitch, and Alfie Kohn.  I suppose my attraction to dissidents makes sense; as a younger drummer I looked to unconventional bands like The Replacements, Husker Du, The Descendents, and other non-pop culture music.  Even today, I play in a band that is devoted to Americana.  That’s not a genre easily palpable to many… and we like it that way.

With that type of background, one can wonder how I pursued the career of a high school principal. After all, isn’t it conventional wisdom that the education system conforms children, stifles radicalism, and enforces the rules of society?  By reading a historical accounting of the American education system, you would think so.  But it was only recently that I realized that schools are truly countercultural; we are unconventional in what we teach and expect.  Here’s a simple run-down of what I am talking about:

  • Schools teach personal accountability – does American culture, in general?
  • Schools teach acceptance of others – does American culture really do that?
  • Schools teach integrity – does American culture?
  • Schools teach hard work and focus equals success – does American culture?
  • Schools teach children to listen to others – does American culture listen to opposing points of view?
  • Schools teach that it’s the mind that matters most – does American culture value mind over appearance?
  • Schools teach the dangers of drug use and the importance of natural highs – does American culture?

And these are just a few of the values that schools teach and promulgate. I’m sure you can think of many more.

American schools stand alone in their towns, neighborhoods, cities, and regions; what goes on inside schools six to eight hours a day doesn’t occur in American culture when school is out.  We are against the grain.  We are radical to American culture.  We collide with American culture.

So when someone says that American education is having a corrosive effect on American culture, I would point them to the local five o’clock news, the popular programs on cable (e.g House Wives, those Kardashians, Honey whatever), and ask them if schools created that.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

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