Nov 6, 2011

Is School a To-Do List?

“What do I need to do to pass this course?”

“Can you give me a list of assignments for the course, so I know what I need to do?”

These questions, recently, have got me thinking, is school just a giant 12-year to-do list that needs checking off? And if so, what’s on this list?

The more assignments we standardized, tests we mandate, our education system starts looking more and more like that to-do list.  The thing is learning never makes the list. Discovering your passion never makes the list. Creative problem solving never makes the list.

I know teachers are going to read this and say, “Yeah, but assignments are the means of assessing the curriculum, so really, the curriculum is on the list. That’s what the to-do list looks like.”

Really? Because I’m not sure if you ask a student they can tell you what’s on that list. They can, however, give you a list of tasks the teacher has deemed important and put them on their list.  You know that list, you were a student.  You remember putting together a list for the weekend: 1. Write English essay. 2. Study for math test. 3. Finish map assignment for geography.

Is this what we want school to be? A giant list of work. Right now, school is not a place where you engage in curiousity and inquiry, for students, school is a place you do work. You hunker down, do the tasks that are required and then bugger off.

The thing is, we are framing it as a to-do list and telling students to complete it on our timelines. If you can check off the Grade 9 math tasks already, too bad, wait for everyone else. If we want school to be a to-do list, then we need to re-think how we offer that list, how we affirm that list, what’s on that list.

We need to change that paradigm.  We do that by shifting the focus, changing the nature of the work and by re-writing our to-do lists.


  • Great way to encapsulate a looming issue. When credit rescue and credit recovery reduce the course content to a list of mandatory assignments it reflects the “to-do-list” mentality and undermines the real learning. Great conversation starter. C.

    • Thanks Christy.
      It is meant to start the conversation, or to slow down our attempts at streamlining the standardization. I guess, when I really think about, maybe it is meant to be a to-do list. And I suppose, maybe that’s okay. IF that’s what the system intends itself to be. I guess, part of my struggle, is I have a higher purpose in mind for public education. I believe that we should strive for higher principles and ideals.
      I hadn’t even really thought of credit recovery/rescue when I was originally writing this post, but it is very interesting that you bring them up. What is their role in this? Does this systematically create the “to-do list” mentality for our students?

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