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My Ideal School Wouldn't Be A School

Teachers College Record, Sept 1970

Publication Date: 2010-10-23

Ohanian Comment: I am working on a paper about what students of all ages like and don't like about school. I want to know about what kind of school they'd design. Patty Wirth's 26-year-old essay seems like a good place to start.

Patty Wirth was 13 years old when she wrote this essay. She resents being more and more controlled. Ohmygod, think about our government-directed schools these days.


I don't want to be controlled. I can
feel myself being squashed. Very few
of my teachers ever seem to say
anything spontaneously. The ground
we will cover has already been
mapped out.


Now things are mapped out by committees appointed by the White House.

Where is Patty now? Impossible to say. Doing a Google search on Patty Wirth produces some possibilities (though we must remember that her name may no longer be Wirth:

  • The Rocking Z Ranch, surrounded by the splendour of the Rocky Mountains, and Patty Worth invites guest to enjoy the stunning scenery while learning new riding skills and enjoying the relaxed Montana way of life.

  • Waubonsee Community College (Sugar Grove, Illinois): Birth Care Staffing Specialists, Inc. Nursing Scholarship
    This new scholarship was established by owner Patty Wirth, who is a labor and delivery room nurse with more than 25 years of experience. It is awarded to a returning student who has completed the first year of WCC?s nursing program and is 30 years of age or younger.

  • Wirth, Patricia: Greenhouse/Gardener, Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Individual contributors: Chip and Patty Wirth: MAISON FORTUN? ORPHANAGE, HINCHE, HAITI

  • Patty Wirth, Director, Branch Staff Training and Development, Edward Jones: Making Sense of Investing

  • Patty Wirth of St. Louis, instructor of Performance Based Training, Standards Of Practice Manual For Community Health Workers And Community Health Occupations

  • Patty Wirth, Owner, The Funnel House, Long Beach, CA: Offering homemade cookies, funnel cakes, lemonade and coffee. Come create your own ice cream sandwich or funnel cake sundae!

  • Patty Wirth: The Benton Park Association (St. Louis) successfully executed its Project Blitz with the complete clean-up of trash and debris and the planting of 20 saplings.

  • Patty Wirth: Kitchen, Slinger Elementary School Staff (Wisconsin)

  • Patty Wirth: Florida real estate


  • This is undoubtedly a foolish endeavor, but maybe it's useful for us to examine our values, our prejudices, and our hopes about what education can and should do as we consider what Patty might be doing today.




    Midwest Suburbia
    First of all, to look at me you'd never
    think I would write anything protesting
    anything. I look and am middleclass,
    sheltered, etc., etc., etc. But the
    main reason I think I am (was?) so
    oblivious of big issues is because of
    schools. I am in seventh grade, go to
    an ultra-"good," modern, junior high
    school in the suburbs. The teachers
    there, and the ones at the last year of
    elementary school, talk about how sad
    it is that kids today don't have any
    consciousness of people in the inner
    city living in slums?but as I said
    before, it's mostly because of the
    teachers that I am that way. Not once
    in school have I had any dis cussions
    concerning the draft, Black Panthers,
    or any controversial issue. Excepting,
    of course, the stuff I had on drugs?
    but then I had no opinion to express
    whatsoever.

    I don't have an opinion on anything.
    I'm being more and more controlled,
    and I'm not learning any-
    While the Record has seldom published
    pieces by thirteen-year olds, the editors
    felt an exception was warranted in this
    particular instance. Miss Wirth's ambivalence
    toward the school and "the system"
    is not uncharacteristic of the conflict
    experienced by so many of today's
    students; and our purpose in presenting
    her piece here is to underscore the warnings
    that the teaching process must be
    changed.

    I don't have an opinion on anything.
    I'm being more and more controlled,
    and I'm not learning anything. I remember a feeling 1 had in
    the first grade?like a sponge soaking
    up knowledge that I'd always be able
    to use: reading, writing, etc. 1 haven't
    had that feeling once this year. It's just
    taking down what the teacher says,
    memorizing it, taking the test? and
    promptly forgetting everything. I'm not
    getting any impressions, experiences,
    I'm not interested, per example,
    sometimes when we are reading page
    307 in class I feel like jumping up and
    saying, "Who is really interested in
    this? Who thinks this is fascinating?"

    I "learn" stuff, how to write mor
    pheme strings, how to conjugate
    Spanish verbs, but will I ever use
    these when I'm older? There is a pat
    tern: I learn morpheme strings, not
    necessarily because they'll help later
    in life, but because how else could I
    pass to eighth grade? In eighth grade
    I'll "learn" equally useless stuff so
    I'll pass to ninth grade, tenth grade,
    eleventh grade?if I can just make it
    to college! In college I'll study' so I
    can get some well-paying job, marry
    some clean-cut guy, and settle down
    in a house in the suburbs. And anyone
    who breaks the pattern is looked
    down upon and given a weird name
    like?hippie.

    I'm getting in a rut, and I'm not
    having any new experiences. And if I
    would say this to a teacher, he would
    probably smile gently, cross
    Teachers College Record
    his arms and say, "I understand your
    point, but I'm sorry, you're wrong."
    Or, "But if you don't get an education
    . . ." and the unspoken part of the
    sentence is, "You won't be like
    us."

    And that's what I think is the main
    problem. They consider themselves
    superior, and either say, "I refuse to
    discuss such ridiculous trash," or "It's
    just a phase, you'll grow out of it...
    when you get mature like me, you'll
    realize how wrong you were." And
    that's what I think is really sad, because
    that's what the whole problem,
    as some call it, "The Generation Gap,"
    or whatever, is about: They think
    they're superior. I guess I would prefer
    the first person, he is all but saying he's
    scared, but the second person is what's
    really scary because if he "knows" he's
    better, he'll never understand what
    anyone ever does. And I know I'm
    tired of having my life controlled by
    people who set the pattern down. I
    think the whole system of values has
    changed; they grew up during the
    Depression when money was
    everything, and to them it's still security.
    But for me I think the important
    thing is individuality, independence, I
    don't know if there is a word for what
    I want, but I do know that what I'm
    going through now can't be right.

    Everything is narrowing down. In
    first grade we were encouraged to
    write stories and read them to the
    class, and we continued to be encouraged
    through fourth grade. Then
    in fifth grade there wasn't really
    enough time for that, it became less
    important, and there was more text -
    book material, more homework. In
    sixth grade we were introduced to the
    facts that one-sentence paragraphs
    were out, and all paragraphs should be
    about the same length. (God!) But I was saved by
    "creative writing" where I could still
    express myself without fear of making
    (horrors!) a grammatical error. Now in
    seventh grade the creativity has been
    dropped out almost entirely. Several
    people I know who have finished
    school say that subjects they really
    liked before junior high, high school,
    etc., they hated after their "education"
    because they weren't free to expand on
    their ideas.

    Another thing which I think is wrong
    with my (the?) school(s) is the
    textbooks. We have to cover the
    material we have to cover the material
    we have to cover the material! I carry
    a mental picture around of one of my
    teachers pulling my class through a
    waist-deep ocean of mud? which in
    reality is pp. 327-331, Nos. 1-50?
    saying "Onward, children! We must
    make it by Tuesday!"

    Another example of this: One of my
    teachers saying to us, "C'mon, if we
    can just get through these last two
    pages, I'll let you do something fun for
    the rest of the period." And then there
    is the teacher who says, "Good
    afternoon, class. Open your books and
    turn to page sixty-six. John, would you
    care to read for us?" Am I learning
    anything from that?

    I mentioned before the lack of dis -
    cussions. I have never had one dis -
    cussion in which I was really involved.
    There is no free exchange, no real
    communicating. It's just to have the
    teacher say, "And what do you think?"
    We all obediently raise our hands.
    "Johnnie?" And the kid meekly states
    his answer which is always right or
    wrong, never just an opinion.

    The kids in the schools are one big
    inconspicuous blob. On the first day
    of school our principal warned us,
    "Don't dress in clothes that attract
    unusual attention or that are conspicuous
    in any way." And that's the
    whole thing. Fit into the pattern, the
    Establishment, or you'll be an outcast,
    you'll be looked down upon.

    Maybe I seem really hostile. But
    maybe that's because I am. I disagree
    so completely with everything the
    school says, and yet I can't disagree. If
    I would mutter "Oh, Jesus!" when the
    teacher mentioned hippies, pot, or
    campuses, there would be a shocked
    silence; and the teacher would proceed
    to bawl me out.

    I don't want to be controlled. I can
    feel myself being squashed. Very few
    of my teachers ever seem to say
    anything spontaneously. The ground
    we will cover has already been
    mapped out. I can't really break away
    though. Cute clothes and money are too
    important to me. But I really don't
    want to be the middleclass-y type of
    person. I'm kind of two people right
    now, and I don't like being that way.
    But the reason I have this big conflict
    is mainly because of the schools.
    My ideal school wouldn't be a school.
    There should be much more freedom,
    not this 8:30 to 3:30 bit.

    You would sign up for different classes
    and go when you had the time, thus
    having much more freedom and more
    experiences. The classes would be
    much more liberal, and everybody
    would learn together instead of having
    the teacher dictate to us what we have
    to learn. The classes would really be
    discussions, and the English-mathscience-
    history thing would not exist.

    I don't know if the above is really
    what I want. I do know it would be
    1000 percent better than what I'm enduring
    now. I know I don't want the
    textbooks. But I also know that the
    schools can't or won't change for a
    long time. When and if I would talk to
    my principal about this, he would
    probably say, "What about grades?
    How will we know what learning level
    you're on? etc., etc., etc."

    My sister, who is now teaching a
    "free school," dropped out of high
    school in her junior year and went
    straight to college, My brother also
    dropped out and took his senior year
    by correspondence. But what I'm saying
    is this: Most people get pretty fed up in
    high school. But I'm in seventh grade!
    I've got six more years to go! I know I
    can't learn anything this way, but I
    really want to learn. And something
    has got to change because I'm really
    dead sick of this whole "education."

    Editor's Note
    While the Record has seldom published
    pieces by thirteen-year olds, the editors
    felt an exception was warranted in this
    particular instance. Miss Wirth's ambivalence
    toward the school and "the system"
    is not uncharacteristic of the conflict
    experienced by so many of today's
    students; and our purpose in presenting
    her piece here is to underscore the warnings
    that the teaching process must be
    changed.


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