What Do We Assume About School and Learning?

One of the trickiest things about coming up with creative solutions is the tendency to pass over things we assume to be true. Those hidden, taken-for-granted views that might offer opportunities for rethinking and reinventing our practice, if we just recognized them and contemplated them. Personally, I find that  uncovering my assumptions is the most challenging aspect of the Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking models. The world is a busy place, and we can’t always be thinking about all the information coming our way. That’s why we create assumptions. They make our everyday life more manageable because they make our thinking less effortful. But assumptions also limit our thinking by closing off opportunities for deeper reflection.

To aid our own rethinking, the rethinkED team has compiled a list of assumptions about school and asked others to contribute as well.

Readers, please add your own assumptions–or assumptions you know others have–to the comments section! Our hope is that articulating assumptions will cause us to question them and offer opportunities to reframe our thinking. What aspects of school and learning do you never really think about and just accept as the way things are? What things do all schools have in common simply because they are all schools? What do we reward in education? What do we punish? What assumptions can you uncover? We’d love to hear them.

DISCLAIMER: These assumptions are not necessarily held by the members of the rethinkED team. Many of these assumptions are simply widely held beliefs that we know other people hold or assumptions that we solicited from others. All assumptions deserve attention if we are really committed to rethinking…*

  • Students should be compared to each other.
  • Kids need grades.
  • Tests should last a whole period.
  • Kids need tests, quizzes, and sometimes “quests.”
  • Schools need departments for distinct areas of learning.
  • All students should be graded on the same criteria.
  • Learning at school requires a specific set of tools: pens, notebooks, books, rulers, calculators, protractors, etc.
  • School learning occurs separately from “real-life” (homework, “summer” reading, etc.).
  • Learning occurs within contained spaces (i.e. the classroom).
  • There are “good” students and “bad” students.
  • Schools are not equal–there are “good” schools and “bad” schools. (But is that determined by the perception of schools’ curricula or the perception of the students who attend them?)
  • Students need expert teachers to impart knowledge to them.
  • Education is content-oriented and content-organized.
  • Learning is quantifiable through grades and test scores.
  • Some things are more worth learning than others.
  • Students who cannot perform at the expected level should be “remediated” or medicated.
  • A student who can work or learn more quickly is a better student than those who work or learn more slowly.
  • Routine is conducive to learning (schedules, periods, semesters, etc.).
  • Learning needs to occur within hierarchies (first grade, middle school, high school, college, grad school, etc.).
  • Students need to sit during classes.
  • Lectures are an efficient way of getting students to learn.
  • Organization, accountability, and attention to detail matter more than creativity.
  • Students are consumers.
  • Education level is often confused with intelligence.
  • Schools teach social interactions.
  • Education needs to be reformed.
  • School is really screwed up.
  • School is boring.
  • School is like Las Vegas–what happens in school, stays in school.
  • Education is based on the factory system of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Grades are the biggest motivator for kids.
  • Boys are naturally better at some classes and girls are naturally better at some classes.
  • Grades don’t matter until freshman year, and especially junior year and senior fall.
  • Junior year is the hardest year of high school.
  • If you screw up in high school it “ruins your life.”
  • The smartest students get the best grades.
  • Where you go to college is a reflection of your intelligence.
  • Incorporating technology into the curriculum will help our students learn.
  • Rigorous courses require lots of homework.
  • Private schools do a better job of educating students.
  • If a student isn’t learning, it’s the teacher’s fault.
  • If a student isn’t learning, it’s the student’s fault.
  • School should primarily be about academics.
  • Desks and chairs in a classroom are the best furniture for a learning environment.
  • Students benefit from a class where questions are asked and there is a rapid fire session of answers. (i.e., silence represents a learning vacuum)
  • Staff members are not required to intervene in conversations, regardless of what is said, where small groups of kids are standing at lockers, in between classes. Kids need time to just be kids and figure it out.
  • Decisions by committee take longer and are not necessarily better.
  • Calculators and other technology are distracting and do not further learning.
  • Kids need feedback in the form of grades; they don’t pay attention to written comments.
  • Middle School teachers are not qualified to teach High School. Lower school teachers are not qualified to teach in middle/upper divisions.
  • Homework at the middle level should be appropriate 30-45 minutes per subject.
  • Parents are meddlesome; they create more work.
  • New students struggling with adjustment need to give it time and work harder.
  • Teachers who have experience do not need to mentoring. Teachers who are brand new will need sufficient amounts of mentoring.
  • The best classroom management approach is to be kind but firm.
  • A disciplined environment produces more respectful students.
  • Standards have fallen since I went to school.
  • Those who can’t do, teach.
  • Students retain information when they can connect it to prior knowledge.
  • Everybody at school cares about kids.
  • Everyone in a school community is a person of good will.
  • Students have too much homework today.
  • Socialization is as important as curriculum in the early years.
  • Students don’t like to learn new things.
  • Students don’t use free time well.
  • Students don’t like school.


5 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Karin Storm Wood,

    Very interesting post. I would add:

    Often teachers are people who, as students, liked school. Their own experiences as students can present a significant perceptual bias — for example, a bias toward specific teaching strategies and styles that worked well for them (but perhaps not especially well for many others).

    More fundamentally, previous positive experiences as students can make it hard for teachers to understand the full range of valid reasons why school is not a happy or easy prospect for many students.

  2. Karin Storm Wood,

    Hmmm, a few more:
    • The content-oriented and content-organized approach (Math department, English department) could never be replaced by a skills-oriented or skills-organized approach (Innovation department, Analysis department).
    • It’s impossible to assess creativity, problem-solving, and resourcefulness.
    • Educators who refer to “intelligence” all have the same definition in mind.
    • Teaching skill can be assessed without any information about what students are actually learning.

    • Joy Hurd,

      Thanks, Karin! These are some great additions. I’m especially interested in the department question: Does the current departmental structure of schools limit or enhance student learning? Does compartmentalizing academic disciplines hinder integrative thinking?

      I’m also a big believer in focusing on the “learned curriculum.” Why do we look at a teacher’s syllabus instead of the final exam?

      Thank you for reading and contributing!


  3. JP Jacquet,

    A couple more assumptions….
    – The job of school is to prepare students for the World.
    – The way things are is the way things need to be.
    – A teacher’s strong personality drives student learning.

  4. Dominic Randolph,

    From Kris Randolph-in the “Assumption Department ” I would add :
    – Students need homework .
    – Some subjects are more important / noble than others ( Marth and science
    vs. foreign language for example ).
    – Pedagogically , it is better to have two or three teachers per year teaching you the same subject matter rather than one for the whole year .
    – Parents should be involved in their child ‘ s day to day life at school.
    -Parents should not be involved in their child’s day to day life at school .
    – Where you go to school determines who you are once and for all .
    – School needs to happen in a set building with classes , a library, a cafeteria ,
    offices and corridors .
    – Coed education is better.
    – There is what you learn at school and what you learn in life and these are two separate things.
    – Those students who can ” do school ” are the best learners .

Add Your Comments

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <ol> <ul> <li> <strong>


%d bloggers like this: