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Wounded by School by Kirsten OlsonTitle: Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture

Author: Kirsten Olson

No. of Pages: 213

First Released: 2009

Synopsis (Courtesy of FSB Associates): “While reformers and policymakers focus on achievement gaps, testing, and accountability, millions of students mentally and emotionally disengage from learning and many gifted teachers leave the field. Ironically, today’s schooling is damaging the single most essential component to education – the joy of learning.

How do we recognize the ‘wounds’ caused by outdated schooling policies? How do we heal them? Kirsten Olson brings to light the devastating consequences of an educational approach that values conformity over creativity, flattens student’s interests, and dampens down differences among learners. Drawing on deeply emotional stories, Olson shows that current institutional structures do not produce the kinds of minds and thinking that society really needs. Instead, the system tends to shame, disable, and bore many learners. Most importantly, she presents the experiences of wounded learners who have healed and shows what teachers, parents, and students can do right now to help themselves stay healthy.”

Comments and Critiques: The timeliness of this book falling into my hands cannot be ignored. My son is a brilliant child. He knows more about dinosaurs and space, and did by the age of four, than I ever will in my entire life. At age four, he drew and created his own book – a Blue’s Clues book that actually had three different clues on different pages and a summary page, just like the TV show. He’s already been moved up a grade and yet…last year was a horrible school year. He failed to do any homework, shoved papers into his desk and never brought them home, was constantly getting in trouble/detentions for disrupting the class. We did not find out that there was a significant problem until well into the second half of the school year, at which time his teacher kept telling us that “Connor is too bright to be struggling this much”. As if the fact that he is intelligent precludes him from ever having difficulties in school. My husband and I tried to stay polite and work within the constraints given to us. Unfortunately, Connor continued to get detentions, failed assignments and generally struggled throughout the rest of the year. When asked, he swears that the teacher did not like him and would tell us of situations that occurred in the classroom where he was either ignored, belittled by the teacher, or both. We saw this incredibly talented, exceptionally bright, eager student who is absolutely fascinated by science turn into a sullen child who resented school and all but refused to do his homework. After reading this book, I now realize that my son has been severely wounded by school.

The main point behind this book is the fact that our world has changed dramatically over the years. The nearly instantaneous information gathering capabilities we now have should make learning even easier. However, our educational system was created around the Industrial Revolution, when information was difficult to disseminate and following orders reigned supreme. Even though our world, the technology we use, and our understanding of the brain and how we learn, have all changed completely over the years, our educational system has not. Rather, we continue to label and track children, focusing on grades and standardized tests rather than on nurturing children to think critically or actually learn useful information for their future. It’s an interesting prospect and one that explains why we cannot seem to perform better when compared to students in other countries, even though we spend millions of dollars on our schools throughout the nation.

Ms. Olson’s book is filled with stories and anecdotes taken from thousands of interviews of people who had school experiences just like my son. Some are still recovering from the pain, humiliation, self-doubt and outright trauma of the situations while others have persevered. While a large majority of her focus is on those with learning disabilities, Ms. Olson pulls no punches when she states that our current school system harms everyone – from burning out the talented and gifted to ignoring the ones in the middle to alienated and ostracizing those with problems, behavioral, cognitive or other. If we continue to ignore these traumas, we will continue to produce a workforce that is unprepared both socially and mentally for the business world and stand to lose the potential of hundreds of thousands of students who just give up.

Coming from a long line of educators in my family and having studied to become a teacher myself, I found Wounded by School to be a fascinating read only because education remains an interest of mine. As I’ve mentioned before, coming off of the school year and everything we faced with my son was also a factor in causing me to be so riveted to what Ms. Olson had to say. I was also forced to take a step back and contemplate my own experiences and how those experiences made me who I am today and shaped my own views on the educational system (there is a reason why I didn’t become a teacher). I truly appreciate that opportunity to review this book and already have a list of people and family members to whom I am either going to present the book or make them read it. Thank you to Caitlin Price at FSB Associates for this book!

If you doubt this whole concept of being wounded, I ask you to perform the following exercise, as stated in the book. Answering these questions will help you uncover your own attitudes about school and how your own school experiences shaped that attitude. Once you consider them, maybe we can all work together to ensure that our children are not Wounded by School, as we were.

1. Close your eyes and think back to your earliest memory of school. When was it and what was happening? How did this experience imprint upon you some basic feelings about the process of education? What feelings come up from these early memories?
2. What are the components of a positive learning experience for you? What makes a learning experience pleasurable for you?
3. How does what is in Question 1 compare with the material in Question 2?
4. What are you afraid of when you confront new learning experiences and in what contexts?
5. If you could design a school that incorporated the elements of positive learning experiences, what would it be like?

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