The Lifeworld of Schooling

For over a century two instructional worldviews have dominated the managerial systems governing school systems. The dominant instructional worldview lodged in main offices throughout the country is what Sergiovanni has termed systemsworld thinking. The appeal of this mode of thinking is a set of beliefs about teaching and learning that fit perfectly into what Tyack & Cuban (1995) called the basic grammar of schooling: the way schools divide time and space, classify students, splinter knowledge into subjects and award grades and credits as evidence of learning. Listed below are instructional beliefs embedded in systemsworld thinking.

1. Children are deficient and schools should fix them.
2. Learning takes place in the head, not in our body.
3. Everyone learns, or should learn, in the same way.
4. Everyone should learn the same subject matter.
5. Learning takes place in the classroom, not in the world.
6. There are smart kids and dumb kids.
7. Specialists who must maintain control should run schools.
8. Knowledge is inherently fragmented.
9. Schools communicate the truth.
10. Learning is primarily individualistic
11. Competition accelerates learning.

While systemsworld thinking provide school administrators with the managerial tools to control the movement and document the progress of diverse student populations, they promote a set of instructional beliefs that are in direct opposition to how children learn—the “lifeworld of schooling.” A school designed to optimize the learning opportunities of children and adolescents would craft organizational structures and pedagogical strategies around the following “lifeworld” beliefs:


Adolescents will not learn well in schools with a “one size fits all” mentality. The present organizational structure and instructional delivery systems of the American High School were designed to sort and sift students. It was not designed to accommodate the individual physiological and cognitive needs of adolescents. Optimum learning environments for adolescents must provide teenagers with realistic options in the following FIXED characteristics of the American High School: a) school schedule —when school begins and ends; b) the length of the school day; c) the teacher; d) course of study; e) movement during the school day f) type of learning environments; g) how outcomes will be accomplished and evaluated

Adolescents, as well as adults, do not perform well in an environment dominated by the belief that “if you do not do what we tell you, we will hurt you.” Most schools have accepted the erroneous belief that the proper mixture of rewards and punishments will move the obstinate, dispirited, lazy, and recalcitrant student to try harder in school or to attend school more regularly or to behave in school. There are three corollaries to this belief. First, the greater the reward offered (or the more noxious the penalties associated with not complying) the harder students will try to behave and to learn. Second, all students (e.g. poor, middle class, and minority groups) perceive rewards and punishments in essentially the same way. And third, student effort is maximized when rewards are distributed on a competitive basis.
Educational and industrial psychologists have documented for years that rewards or punishments do not motivate individuals. Rather, all human beings, including adolescents, will develop strategies and plans to accomplish goals THAT MAKE SENSE TO THEM, THAT CAN REASONABLY BE EXPECTED TO LEAD TO BENEFITS, AND IS WITHIN ONE’S CAPABILITY TO ATTAIN THE GOAL.


The most noticeable truth about learning is the wide range of abilities, talents, and interests that enter classrooms each day. An essential goal of any form of schooling should be the optimization of those diverse talents, not the marginalizing of talents that do not fit well into the grammar of schooling. The goal of any institution of learning is to foster settings, relationships, and activities that provide students with another point of view, another way of seeing the world, another way of representing the world.


In an advanced industrial society, educational systems replace the family and community as the primary means of helping young people develop their talents, decide what should be valued (what is true, beautiful and good), how to behave towards each other and the search for meaning and purpose in life. Together these “functions” of education address the inner need of human beings to make sense out of their environment and ultimately, to find one’s role in constructing a culture that is able to approach its circumstances with care and attention to the common good.

Systemsworld thinking, however, departs radically from what teachers have believed to be the intrinsic purpose and value of education —- respect for others’ values, treating others decently, open-mindedness to different opinions, creating a discriminating mind, to reason in a deliberate way, to understand divergent points of view, to develop a curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and the drawing out of one’s genius, nature, and heart.

Today, contemporary society perceives “education” as a means to something other than education itself. The goal of most schools is to teach skills which prepare students for the next level of schooling and ultimately, to gain the necessary qualifications or certification to get a good job. The need to prepare students for instrumental ends has transformed curriculum and instruction from developing a distinctive way of thinking about contemporary culture to a more or less monotonous diet of disjointed facts.
It is no wonder that young people have no desire to sustain a state of deep involvement in schools where they are barraged by inert bodies of knowledge and pressured to memorize information for the next step on the ladder. Researchers have long documented the finding that the threat of not getting a good job, or not graduating, or not scoring high on a standardized test is NOT meaningful to most adolescents. What is meaningful to young people are activities and relationships that begin with the interests of the young person and culminate in understandings and performances that


Human beings learn best in communion with other individuals, particularly individuals who they care about and who care about them. Taking notes, listening to a teacher, and completing worksheets at a desk for six hours a day will result in binders filled with papers but little understanding of what was presented in the classroom. Deep understanding of concepts and ideas and the acquisition of complex skills require “instructional conversations.” The language that accompanies joint productive activity is the major vehicle for the development of intersubjectivity, the internalization of concepts, the development of discourse meaning, and the development of higher cognitive processes.


Human beings learn best in environments that are comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and contain ready access to a variety of resources which could be used to demonstrate an understanding of a discipline. modern corporate training center, and that is what a school should look like.” Unfortunately, most schools resemble turn of the century factories with egg crate configurations that pay little or no attention to aesthetics or comfort.


All learning involves two basic instructional moves: First, there is the delivery of information—definitions, facts, procedures; Second, what is the learner supposed to do with the information. Systemsworld schooling consumes hour upon hour of classroom time on the delivery of information and little or no time on what students are supposed to do with that information. There is always comes a time in the course of a year when a student will raise their hand and ask their teacher: “ So, Mr. Jones, what are we supposed to do with this information.” Actually, in the real world of schooling, the question goes something like this: “Mr. Jones, this class is so boring, who cares about the ___________, or, ___________, or __________. Confined within systemsworld schooling, teachers respond with systemsworld answers: “It will be on Friday’s test;” “this a required class;” “this class is a prerequisite for _____; “ All of these systemsworld responses ignore the principle rule of learning: ALL KNOWLEDGE IS RELATIONAL. Unless a learner sees a real world purpose to all the facts, definitions, and processes, then all of this information will fly out of the mind with minutes of completing Friday’s test.

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