Wounded by School

Book: Wounded by School

“Kirsten Olson portrays the realities of modern schooling more vividly and convincingly than anyone since the prophetic school critic John Holt.”
—Ron Miller, editor of Education Revolution and author of What Are Schools For? and Educational Freedom for a Democratic Society


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This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

Based on almost a decade of intensive autobiographical interviews with over 100 “ordinary” students, teachers, and parents, Wounded By School describes some of the dilemmas of those in school now. Students talk about intensive boredom and daily disengagement, while knowing that school “matters” more than ever.  Students and teachers describe a grinding lack of meaning in their work, combined with intensive labeling, tracking and shrink-wrapping of learners based on cursory tests and poor understanding of many kinds of minds.

Wounded By School identifies seven kinds of common school wounds, and tells the stories of those who have experienced them…

  • Wounds of Creativity
  • Wounds of Compliance
  • Wounds of Rebelliousness
  • Wounds That Numb
  • Wounds of Underestimation
  • Wounds of Perfectionism
  • Wounds of the Average

These stories show that while reformers and policymakers tinker with accountability plans and annual yearly progress measures, millions of learners are intellectually and spiritually checking out—and gifted teachers depart the field by thousands—due to inhospitable conditions for learning and teaching.

In addition to exploring seven types of common school wounds, Wounded By School also portrays a few individuals who have healed their learning lives and reclaimed their intellectual territory and self-possession. These stories of healing show that those who have been lacerated must be much more vocal and active in pressuring our educational system for change.

Fundamentally hopeful, Wounded By School finds much energy for reform, and an alignment with the larger business community that says American schools are not producing the kinds of attributes most needed in young adults and future employees.

An old-fashioned, outmoded institution, the American schoolhouse and concepts of learning and teaching were designed for an earlier time. These ideas no longer serve us well. This is a critical moment for individuals to band together to create change and reclaim our learning lives.

Stand up!

 A Learner’s Bill of Rights

Every learner has the right to know why they are learning something, why it is important now, or may be important to them someday.
Every learner has the right to engage in questioning or interrogating the idea of “importance” above.
Every learner has the right to be confused and to express this confusion openly, honestly, and without shame.
Every learner has the right to multiple paths to understanding a concept, an idea, a set of facts, or a series of constructs.
Every learner has the right to understand his or her own mind, brain wiring, and intellectual inclinations as completely as possible.
Every learner has the right to interrogate and question the means through which his or her learning is assessed.
Every learner is entitled to some privacy in their imagination and thoughts.
Every learner has the right to take their own imagination and thinking seriously.

—From Wounded By School