In “Slumdog Millionaire,” an impoverished little boy, homeless, parent-less and abused, grows up to become the top winner of the Indian version of the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” program.
It is an improbable story except that as an educator I was fascinated by how much this little boy who had experienced extraordinarily awful circumstances while growing up, managed to stay so humane and to learn so much outside of the school. In the film we don’t see him go to school except for the day that the teacher throws the book The Three Musketeers at him. As it turns out, this particular memory, the name of the musketeer, is the one that answers the twenty million rupee question.
In the film, the boy is filled with memories from his life, which interweave with how he gets the answers right on the Millionaire show. All his life he has been a learner: curious, enterprising, rarely discouraged, incredibly resilient, taking the battering of life on the Indian streets to become stronger. Most of us would not have made it—which makes this a fairy tale …but one with a lesson worth remembering.
Children learn outside of school—a lot, and yet today’s school policy makers and politicians still keep up the drumbeat about what needs to be changed in the school itself. As the new year begins and the new administration takes office, all manner of lists get made about the top educational reforms. The usual suspects get rounded up: teacher accountability, charter schools, technology, vouchers, choice, new curricula, new tests, evidence based on test scores, merit pay for teachers and so on.
These are all schooling reforms. And as Mark Twain reminded us: “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” This is wisdom hardly being listened to today, even with all the research reminding us that children learn more outside of school than in. This fact takes nothing away from the school, but even the best school can do only so much.
Dorothy Rich, Ed. D. is the author of MegaSkills®: Building Our Children’s Character and Achievement in School and in Life. She is the founder of the nonprofit Home and School Institute and a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board.