University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham sparked a lively Twitter conversation about the purpose of school with his tweet about whether schools should teach kids how to do their laundry. He wrote:
“A student can go to college w/out knowing how to boil water, drive a car, sew a button, use a hammer or do laundry. In the backlash to the gendered-ness of Home Economics, we forgot it teaches kids important skills—regardless of gender.” @Forbes https://t.co/Gyj1iaXC73— Phyllis Fagell, LCPC (@Pfagell) February 19, 2019
Willingham is not arguing that kids should not learn how to do laundry but is asking who should teach them. Clearly, he does not think it should be classroom teachers.
But what if nobody at home or in the community teaches them how to clean their own clothes? Is there a place in school for lessons on basic life skills? Is this asking schools to do more than they should — or a way to handle real problems as they present themselves in the classroom? Is the purpose of school to teach academics or more?
Consider the Jennings School District, which serves several thousand students in a low-income jurisdiction just north of St. Louis. Washington Post reporter Emma Brown wrote about this district a few years ago, noting that the superintendent at the time, Tiffany Anderson, made real gains after she decided to expand the idea of what her schools should provide and make them a focal point of their communities. She installed washers and dryers in schools so students could do their laundry (and learn how) and introduced a medical clinic, provided free groceries and offered families other support.
So what is the job of a school?
In support of Willingham’s tweet, one person asked:
Agree. This is mystifying. How about teaching tying shoelaces - is that up to teachers too?
Well, for those preschool students who do not have Velcro on their shoes and find their shoelaces undone, would it really be out of bounds for an educator to teach this? In fact, many already do.
Here’s part of the compelling Twitter discussion prompted by Willingham’s tweet. What do you think about all of this?
YES.— Eric Kalenze (@erickalenze) February 19, 2019
I have a chapter in my book called 'Too Scattered to Matter' that attempts to take this very thing on. You said it much better (and in many fewer words) than I did, AP. :)
In an ideal world yes! But what is wrong with learning cookery, sewing, DT etc at school??? Practical skills complement academic subjects and are a lifeline for the non academic!!!— Jax (@jordyjax) February 20, 2019
“School is meant to teach the knowledge of past generation”— Jeremy Negrey (@JeremyNegrey) February 20, 2019
This is NOT what school is for.
I’ve taught my daughter how to read and maths. Last year in yr 7 I had to buy a few text books so I could teach her the curriculum for a couple of subjects where she had useless teachers. And Ive also taught her how to cook, clean and do laundry.— Dyslexia Awareness (@sydney_dyslexia) February 20, 2019
What if your mom doesn’t know how? Or you don’t have a mom? And your lack of clean & appropriate attire (buttons on, ironed, etc.) keeps you from getting a job you’re qualified for?— Jeremy Negrey (@JeremyNegrey) February 20, 2019
Or how about financial literacy? There’s a cost to society for ppl who can’t manage money.
If you don't know how to boil water perhaps college isn't right for you.— Angie (@angelimanza) February 19, 2019
This is racism in a new form. Some students only deserve to learn laundry and how to use a hammer. That’ll keep them too busy to consider those AP classes.— Cheryl Dobbertin (@CherylDobbertin) February 19, 2019
There is a market for these life skills. It isn't universal but it does indeed exist.— I stampout ignorance (@stampingout) February 19, 2019
Public education reaches far more people and is funded by tax dollars, making it the only service that has a chance to reach most young people. I'm not saying that means it should be responsible for all of this, but when you move away from public education access becomes an issue— Jared Cosulich (@jaredcosulich) February 19, 2019
Agree. This is mystifying. How about teaching tying shoelaces - is that up to teachers too?— Max Coltheart (@maxcoltheart) February 19, 2019