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Rebecca Elliott discusses “American Education: Flawed by Design?”

True Curriculum

Rebecca Elliott blog 1 graduation photograph

Rebecca Elliott, MPH

Lesson 2: American Education – Flawed by Design? Part I

Last time we talked we explored the topic of education, its purpose, and how given our idealistic definition of education, America’s version may not add up. Today, we’re digging further into the design of the American education system, specifically, the message that the physical architecture is actively sending to students through its layout and structure. I should warn you before-hand, the message itself may shock you. Let’s get started.

What colors were your
school?

Be The Change Poster
School Garden
School Mural

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School. What type of imagery comes to mind when you hear that word? Is it a bright and colorful playground, with lots of grass, and flowers, perhaps a vegetable garden? Is it sunny, well-lit classrooms, with big windows and sprawling plants? Maybe even a class pet? Do you think of brightly colored hallways and gorgeous murals? While this may be the image of school you cling to from your favorite childhood chapter books or your go-to nostalgic film, how well does this schoolyard utopia measure up to your real world experience of actually going to school?

For many people who attended traditional public schools, especially in under-funded inner cities or rural areas, the images that come to mind when one thinks of school may not be the most pleasant memories. There are flashbacks of walking into a large, dull, gray building. One with a leaky roof, asbestosis, infestation of mice and roaches, no heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. The school grounds were rocky and colorless, there was hardly any grass, if any, and instead of beautiful flowers, there were weeds, and bushes full of poison ivy. Inside the large grey box was no better. The hallways were stripped of all life, with lead-filled paint peeling from the walls, and hard, gray, cracked tiles on the floor. The classrooms were claustrophobic, and unwelcoming; the chairs were hard and cold, the posters on the walls have been stapled up there for the past decade, and all the seats face straight ahead, no room for any movement or flexibility. Ugly picture, right? But, if we’re being honest, how much more accurate were the images I just described compared to the ones you thought of in your head? Of course, not everyone had the experience of a school that looked like it had just been bit by a vampire, but way too many of us have, which begs the question, why? Why are our schools designed to look dull, suffocating, and hopeless? Why do American schools like, and feel, like prisons?

Prison to school pipeline


What are you trying to

Additional Sources

  1. Wiley, A. (2021). Aggregate – Schools and Prisons. [online] We-aggregate.org. Available at: <http://we-aggregate.org/piece/schools-and-prisons> [Accessed 29 May 2021]. 
  2. Chen, G. (2021). A Relevant History of Public Education in the United States. [online]. Available at: <https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/a-relevant-history-of-public-education-in-the-united-states> [Accessed 29 May 2021].

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