A sad little metaphor

This past semester, visiting scholar Bilge Kalkavan and I chuckled over a metaphor of school as an amusement park. We hypothesized different booths, like those where you get to knock down clowns with a ball or toss rings around bottle necks, but organized like school instead of an amusement park. Would it work? And what might we learn from the way an amusement park actually does work?!

Consultant

What can I help you with?

Entrepreneur

Well, I created a new amusement park for kids and it’s not going as well as I hoped. 

Consultant

Oh?

Entrepreneur

You see, the first weekend the line at the entrance went way down the street! Everyone wanted to get in. But by Wednesday there were no lines, and by Friday hardly anyone was in our park. Then on the weekend, well, I can’t go on like this. [imploring look] I’ll go broke!

Consultant

Perhaps you should tell me a bit about the amusement park.

Entrepreneur

Yes. Thank you. [wrings hands] I hired eight specialists to run eight different booths. Each booth is stock full of super cool information. Kids can learn about science and math, about history and geography. They do sports and learn languages. It’s fantastic.

Consultant

It certainly sounds good. How does it work?

Entrepreneur

Oh, it’s very well organized. Every child who comes gets to hear all the same information. They visit all eight booths!

Consultant

They all do the same thing?

Entrepreneur

Right. Really interesting lectures about all these cool subjects. And they get the same amount of time at each booth. It’s guaranteed! [knowing look] There’s a schedule, you see, and a clown who blows the horn according to the schedule, and then the kids all move from one booth to a different booth.

Consultant

Ah, so they choose where to go.

Entrepreneur

No, no. We tell them exactly where to go. That way it is very orderly. Like I said, everybody hears all the same information, for the same amount of time.

Consultant

[hesitating] Right. And what if they aren’t interested in a particular booth?

Entrepreneur

Well they should be interested. I hired experts in these specialties and they work very hard to share with the kids what they know.

Consultant

How do they share?

Entrepreneur

That’s the beauty of my business plan. They all have a plan we created before we opened. They follow the plan. It’s all written down. They just have to tell it to the kids.

Consultant

What if, well, what if the kids aren’t all interested in all eight things?

Entrepreneur

They should be interested. They are all important.

Consultant 

[coughing] To you.

Entrepreneur

Excuse me?

Consultant

Have you thought about what to do with the kids who already know a lot about one of these specialities? Or maybe those who really don’t know anything at all?

Entrepreneur

Well. of course the kids are different, but they do all have to learn the same thing. Our workers adjust. And we have this little game for them at the end, before they switch booths.

Consultant

Game? Is it ….

Entrepreneur

They do this little exercise so we can see which kids understood everything and which ones didn’t.

Consultant

… it is.

Entrepreneur

It is what?

Consultant

A bit what I feared, perhaps. What do you do with the kids that didn’t understand so well?

Entrepreneur

Oh, they go on to the next booth with the rest of the kids. We have to stick to the schedule you know. It’s very organized.

Consultant

You want my advice?

Entrepreneur

Well of course. [hands on hips] That’s what I’m here for. How do I get them to come back next week? How do I fill my new amusement park?

Consultant

That’s a hard one, but I think I have an answer. 

Entrepreneur

Yes?

Consultant

I think you have to make it required. Not just for the kids in your neighborhood, but in all neighborhoods. Everywhere, in fact. 

Entrepreneur

Required. Yes, required. There will have to be lots of new amusement parks. 

Consultant

And they will all have to operate the same, more or less. Otherwise kids from one amusement park might want to switch to another one.

Entrepreneur

I see. So we all get some kids who come to our parks and learn at our booths. 

Consultant

And learn the same things. And follow your schedules. And play your games at the end. 

Entrepreneur

[Rises to shake hands.] You have been so helpful.

Consultant 

I wish that were true.

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