Should we Push or Pull in Schools?

By Ron Pereira Updated on September 23rd, 2022

child-pulling-on-a-rope.jpgMy good friend, and excellent blogger, Mark Graban posted an interesting article related to how a school is using continuous improvement methods to, well, improve things.

For those who don’t know, Mark and I live in the same town and have actually become good friends. The thing I really respect about Mark is how he will challenge anyone when he thinks he is right. That is refreshing to me as there are far too many “yes-men/women” in this world.

Anyhow, Mark and I are having a nice friendly conversation over on his blog (see bottom of the post I linked above) about Six Sigma, GE, Karoshi, and all kinds of fun stuff. But that is not what I want to write about tonight.

Push or Pull Learning?

Instead, I want to talk about one of the things Mark mentioned in another comment. He wrote:

“Do you error proof how math is taught? Do you have students “pull” learning instead of “pushing” it at them? Probably not….”

That last sentence caught my attention.

“Do you have students “pull” learning instead of “pushing” it at them? Probably not…”

I respectfully disagree with Mark here.

I am of the opinion that children learn the best when they are allowed to excel in areas they are good at and move slower in areas they are not so good at. In the traditional American public school room, the pace is set by the slowest kid for the most part.

Little Bobby and Susie

If Bobby, for example, is slow at learning multiplication while little Susie has it mastered after the first lesson, chances are Susie is going to be forced to sit there bored stiff while the grossly underpaid teacher does her best to help Bobby.

Further, if Bobby begins to “sort of” get it but really needs more practice the teacher will likely “push” on since she sees poor Susie, bless her heart, waiting so patiently.

If you look at advanced programs in schools we see children allowed to move at their own speed. No one is slowing them down and nothing is being pushed on them.  Instead, these kids normally pull… and pull hard.  There is a similar thing happening in most Montessori schools.

Time to Come Clean

I must confess I am a bit biased here since my wife is home-schooling our 5-year daughter this year. My kiddo is supposed to be in kindergarten but since she has blown through the kindergarten curriculum (a Catholic school curriculum) she is now onto first grade (again a Catholic school curriculum).

How is it going?  Well, my 5-year-old daughter, if you will allow me to brag a bit here, is already reading at a first-grade level and, oh yeah, already knows how to multiply. She had double-digit adding and subtracting down at 4 years old. And most importantly to me and her mom, she is really learning her faith.

So, had we put her in a traditional school this year she would probably be bored stiff. In fact, she could have easily been the sweet little Susie I mentioned above.

Dora Academy

Of course, the danger here is not all parents will make sure their children are doing their best to pull knowledge. To some, their idea of homeschooling may be turning on Noggin at 8:00 AM to let Dora and Boots teach them all they need to know.

In these very unfortunate situations I would agree… get that kid in school and push that education down their throats.

In Goldratt we Trust

One last thing, people like Eli Goldratt (TOC guru) are now working to change the way kids are taught. I really hope people listen to him and would like nothing more than to see experts in lean manufacturing and six sigma step up the plate as well. Our kids are depending on it.

  1. Tom Peterson

    January 24, 2008 - 11:40 pm

    This is a tough one.

    I tend to agree with you but am not sure how to change it.

    How could a public school allow 30 kids in a class to pull as you call it?

    With only 1 teacher I can’t see how it would work.

  2. Mark Graban

    January 24, 2008 - 11:43 pm

    Ron — great points (not to sound like a yes man or anything…)

    I was thinking more about “pulling” topics or subjects rather than the pace. If kids pulled “what” they wanted to learn, I’d be afraid that we’d only teach “fun” subjects instead of stuff that’s necessary.

    I absolutely agree about kids being able to learn at their own pace. I was very lucky to have some excellent public school programs that allowed me to learn at my own pace… I guess I assume that sort of education is maybe more the exception than the rule??

  3. Ron Pereira

    January 24, 2008 - 11:51 pm

    Ah come on Mark! Is that all you got? Kidding, my friend, kidding. 😉

    @ Tom – Well I never said this would be easy. 🙂

    And truth be told I could probably start another blog on this very topic (you know in all my spare time).

    But to start with one of the main issues I see is the fact our teachers are paid like crap.

    In order to be able to get to this ideal situation I think we have to cut the student to teacher ratio way down. That way we could almost cellularize the way our kids learned.

    But man it’s a daunting task indeed. But one worth attacking!

  4. J Thatcher

    January 28, 2008 - 4:57 pm

    Here’s a question:
    If the student becomes the initiation point for “pull” learning, how does the instructor continue to “push” students beyond what they believed themselves capable?
    (And yes, I’m using “push” differently there 🙂 )

    From my own education, some of my favorite classes were those where the educator challenged me.

    The idea of reducing student/teacher ratio is, of course, excellent if difficult to enact in the present socio-economic culture.

    Take a look at some of the higher level institutions with low student/professor ratios – higher retention rates, higher graduation rates, more students going on to advanced degrees, etc.

    On a much lighter note, good luck on the home schooling.
    I quite enjoy this blog – written by the editor of Secular Homeschooling Magazine.

    Yes, yes, secular; but it’s extremely well written and I think you’ll enjoy some of her insights/ramblings into the world of homeschooling (she’s very vocally non-religious, not anti-).
    Good luck.

  5. Ron Pereira

    January 28, 2008 - 5:03 pm

    Great question. I may need to think on this a bit and will perhaps turn it into an article.

    Thanks for the comment and link. I will check it out.

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