Race to Nowhere

Tom has said, “We tell our kids to ‘be still,’ then tell them to ‘read history books’—which are replete (100%!) with tales of people … who never sat still.”

This is obviously not the ideal way to cultivate a talented workforce. The education system in the United States still seems to be attempting to churn out well-behaved factory workers. With the enormous pressure placed on teachers to produce sufficient test results, the classroom becomes more about test preparation than exploration and discovery. Albert Einstein, long since deceased, had this to say:

“It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.”

We recently heard from Matt Lintner, a teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. He sent Tom his reflections on what children are learning, and not learning, in school in a piece he titled “Race to Nowhere.” Tom asked Matt if we could share his thoughts with you, and Matt kindly agreed. We urge you to take a moment, read what Matt has to say, and think about what you can do to help our youth learn what truly matters. Please, fan the flames of their curiosity.

Race to Nowhere

Management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” But what if we’re measuring the wrong things? Consider the following: you can graduate from high school with straight A’s without ever having:

  1. Searched for answers to unknown questions.
  2. Budgeted your own time.
  3. Discovered what most interests you.
  4. Initiated a project requiring sustained commitment.
  5. Taken risks or experienced failure.
  6. Led a team in the pursuit of a worthy goal.
  7. Practiced consensus building or the messiness of compromise.
  8. Asserted yourself, even if it meant challenging authority.
  9. Built something of value.
  10. Created art that speaks to the soul.
  11. Explored the natural world.
  12. Interacted with people outside your age group.
  13. Volunteered substantively in your community.
  14. Apprenticed in fields of your choosing.
  15. Started a business.
  16. Traveled and gathered perspectives outside your comfort zone.
  17. Acquired practical skills like saving and investing, handling tools, programming, growing food…

Perhaps most tellingly, you never learned to say “No.”

America can continue down the path of national standards, high stakes testing, longer school days, expanded calendar, merit pay, and all the rest—but none of it will cure what ills us if we’re not focused on what truly matters.

Matt Lintner


Fairfax County, VA

Shelley Dolley posted this on January 27, 2012, in Education.
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