Moulding people into a system

The school system assumes that everybody learns in the same way, in the same rhythm, everything at the same moment in time.

We find it completely normal that every child learns to walk at a different age – my daughter needed almost double (!!) the time to learn to walk compared to my son. We also know that the age on which they learn to walk (9 or 18 months) doesn’t say anything about their performance (in for example sports) in later life. But at school, we still ask children to all learn at the same speed in classes which are horizontally organized, even if we know for a fact that everybody has their own rhythm and learning style.

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etcetera. It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons. Read more about this concern and an example in this blog post.

Schools kill creativity. This is the punchline of the most watched (and highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet) TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Children are born with a lot of creativity but our school system moulds all the creativity out of them. Watch his talk over here:


A popular diagram shows that at age 40, all creativity is knocked out of an average human being. Where are you on this diagram?

Source: George Land and Beth Jarman


The moulding continues after school

Also in after-school life, we continue to mould people into something they are not. In my TED talk, I shared my experience with the ‘personal development plan’ at Unilever. In order to get higher up into the management hierarchy (the only way to achieve more status), you have to develop your management skills. These have been defined as a set of skills on which you are supposed to score ‘good’, but not ‘too extreme’.

My profile instead was pretty extreme – my ‘passion and energy’ (A) went way beyond all boundaries, causing me to act like a ‘jumping puppy’. What I was lacking was (E) control and structure. Instead of focusing on my strengths and how Unilever could benefit from these, I had to cut back on what I was really good at and work hard on my so-called ‘development points’. So basically I had to try to become somebody else. And despite all the talk about diversity, the corporate system basically creates average people.

A worrying amount of people around me confess that they are not really happy. They have a high level on the status ladder: a “good” job (eg high up in the management hierarchy), partner plus well-behaved children, big car, beautiful house. Despite all this, they are finding they are lacking ‘something’ – I think it might be ‘value’. But they don’t dare to get out anymore: “I have a high mortgage, all my life is set up according to my high salary; I can’t just quit”…

Do you have similar experiences? Did you also find yourself, or people around you, trapped on the status ladder? What did you/ they do? Please share in the comments!

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Claire Boonstra

Claire Boonstra, founder of Operation Education - feeding the movement to revolutionize education. I have lived many different roles in life - as a student, engineer, corporate employee, wintersports-blogger, strategic marketing manager, mobile future event organizer, augmented reality startup co-founder and now an education reformer and public speaker. But I am also a mother of three young children, a daughter, wife, sister, utopist dreamer, asker of difficult questions, visionary, improv dancer, skier, former glider pilot – and most of all a human being in search of how I can best balance my three main priorities in life: my family, my personal wellbeing and my mission to feed the movement to revolutionize education.

5 thoughts on “Moulding people into a system”

  1. Nothing to do with the topic but something to share. Many children dis functioning , eat very bad. By cutting E numbers and changing to fresh food retalin is often no longer needed. Please add real food to your program.

  2. Eén van de problemen in het onderwijs begint bij de kleuters. Kleuters stromen op verschillende momenten in het jaar. En afhankelijk van je moment van instroom doe je 1,5 tot 2,4 jaar over groep 1 en 2. Nu zou dat geen probleem zijn, als we per kind zouden kijken wat het beste is voor dít kind, maar helaas gebeurt het te vaak, dat het gewoon door moet op basis van datum van instroom. Want stel je voor, dat je een kleuter langer de tijd zou geven, dan spreekt de inspectie weer van zittenblijven….
    Daarnaast zie ik als intern begeleider op een basisschool vaak genoeg kinderen die wel heel veel talent en potentieel hebben, maar helaas niet voor de ‘schoolse vaardigheden’.
    Wat ik op zich wel een goede ontwikkeling vind, is het handelingsgericht werken. Daarin is het de bedoeling dat de positieve en belemmerende factoren van kinderen in beeld worden gebracht en dat er zoveel mogelijk moet worden bereikt met het aansluiten bij de positieve factoren. De truc is natuurlijk, om belemmeringen om te denken richting een kans en daadwerkelijk wat te doen met de informatie.
    Helaas blijft echter de focus van de meeste mensen (inspectie, overheid, bestuur, maar helaas ook ouders) de opbrengst van de cito-scores. Ik werk op een jenaplanschool en ik zie absoluut goede dingen. Ouders zijn hier ook heel blij mee, zelfs de inspecteur zei, dat hij z’n kind met een gerust hart bij ons achter zou laten. Alleen, al die goede dingen zijn niet meetbaar. En tellen daarom niet mee. Dat betekent echter niet, dat ze niet belangrijk zijn.

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