NLP offers a powerful perspective on what’s wrong with the current school system. NLP also offers solutions how to improve the existing school system.

NLP should not only be taught in schools but also used as a teaching method.

Our schools system is fundamentally broken. The approach to teaching is broken. The system is focused o creating memorized “semi-learning”, devoid of creative thought or logical thinking.

Moral foundation has been removed, replaced by “anything goes” approach, where political correctness has become absurd.

Since the report “A Nation at Risk” came out detailing the inadequacies of our educational system, there have been many other reports and studies screaming for public officials to solve the problems. The blame has been spread around to everybody and proposed solutions have been varied and numerous. In the current political fever surrounding these major elections, EVERYBODY is talking about improving our educational systems in one way or another.

But, WHY do they need to be improved? What has gone wrong? What are the problems that keep us from achieving what EVERYBODY wants? Is it the fault of gangs? Is it because of television? Is it because of declining morals and values? Is it because of the break-up of the family unit? Is it the fault of our educational system? Our correctional system? Our welfare system? Are our churches failing us? All of these have been pointed to as potential causes—and I am sure that there are more.

Proposed solutions have been just as numerous. We want the government to fix the welfare system, to change the correctional system, to put more money into education, to upgrade the television programming. We want other institutions (such as churches, families, schools, etc.) to teach more and better morals and values. The list goes on.

We buy more equipment, bigger computers, more books. We build better school buildings, hire more teachers, pay teachers more, train teachers in better teaching methods or in better classroom management techniques. We create tutoring programs, or mentoring programs for those students that fall behind. We start alternative schools for the students that are “at risk.” One of the newest trends is to start “Charter Schools.” Obviously, there are many attempts to solve the problems.

Why don’t these solutions work? In my opinion, it is because they attempt to deal with the problems at the wrong level. Most of the solutions are attempts to change behaviours and/or environments and they do not address the foundational problems of our schools.

The operation of our school systems is based upon a shaky foundation of assumptions or presuppositions that actually create the problems. They do this because the presuppositions dictate how we behave and operate the system. This is not the fault of anyone. Not teachers, administrators, or school boards. These faulty presuppositions have been inherited through the years and we feel they are a natural part of “how we do business in our schools.” Taking a hard look at them, however, gives us a real opportunity for some significant changes. What follows is a partial list.


Students naturally know how to learn in the classroom. What many students attempt to do to accomplish the academic tasks we give them, do not work. NOBODY (or at least no official part of the system) takes responsibility for teaching children HOW to learn in the classroom. We assume that they can learn schoolwork easily and naturally because they learned so well before school. We don’t seem to realize that learning in the classroom is not a natural or genetic or God-given skill. It has to be learned.

Sure, some individual teachers share some of their learning strategies with students that struggle, but no part of the school system does it on a systematic basis in a way that REALLY works. Special education teachers and “study skills centers” are usually called in AFTER the student has already experienced failure and has turned off of school.

Most of the “study skills” are just activities that don’t work very well anyway. For example, writing spelling words down several times. This is probably the most common method for learning spelling words, and it just doesn’t work very well and the students think of it as busy work.

The result is devastating to students because they assume something is wrong with them if they can’t do the tasks assigned to them. So do their parents. So does everybody else. The truth is that most students do the best they can with what they know to do. If it doesn’t work or if it doesn’t work very well, they don’t know they are supposed to do something different.

The idea hasn’t been broached because WE HAVE PRESUPPOSED THEY ALREADY KNOW HOW TO LEARN.

All students learn at the same rate and in the same way. Back in the industrial age, we designed our schools to resemble factories. We placed students in the same room according to age and proceeded to teach the content of that particular grade level. This presupposes that all the students learn in the same way and at the same rate of speed. We know this is not true, yet we continue the practice. This presupposition combined with the previous one and the next one practically guarantees that many students will be traumatized by school.

A certain percentage of students will fail and/or do poorly in school. The bell curve has become almost an icon in education which justifies the presupposition that some students will fail and/or do poorly. In fact, if a teacher gave all As and Bs, they would be accused of being too easy or of grade inflation. But what if we assumed that all students were capable of learning and we taught them HOW to succeed in the classroom? What if we expected all students to learn easily and quickly in the classroom? How would it affect our schools? How would it affect the students?

How long would any business expect to last in the corporate world if 20-30% of their product was expected to be shoddy or poorly made?

The school system is more important than the individual student The most common response to some of these presuppositions is “How else could we operate the schools?” Even if we know we are hurting students, we continue the practice so that the system can operate. We seem to be in some sort of denial regarding the trauma we are causing students. What would our schools be like if they focused on the individual success of each student? What would the effect be on the students and teachers?

More money will solve all the problems of our schools. Asking for more funding for schools dominates our lobbying and legislative activities and even our public relations. My concern is that more money is just going to be used to perpetuate the current system. And, if these presuppositions truly are symptomatic of the faulty foundation on which our schools are operating (as I believe they are), then more money will simply deter us from dealing with serious defects and we won’t look for structural solutions.

Something is wrong with a student who does poorly in school. We are a society accustomed to placing blame or finding who is at fault when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, when a student is doing poorly in school we almost automatically blame him or her. Usually, we accuse the student of not studying hard enough, or of not being motivated, or of being lazy, or of being rebellious or stupid. Many times we will label them with some form of learning disability. After awhile, when the feedback becomes overwhelming, the student starts to believe the labels and it affects their self esteem in a devastating way. Maybe the student just doesn’t know HOW to learn.

First Conclusion

The effect of operating out of these faulty presuppositions on students, teachers, and administrators is traumatic. The students get frustrated and angry and turn off to learning and school and on to gangs, drugs, and other anti-social behaviour as a way of rebelling against the system. Several of the presuppositions cause much emotional trauma to students and affects their self-esteem in a negative way. They carry this low self-esteem into adulthood which creates other problems for society.

Teachers and administrators are trapped by a system that they did not create and that does not let them do what they got into education to do–positively affect young peoples lives. They burn out and drop out of teaching because they feel unappreciated and under-valued and because they can’t realize their dream of helping children.

As any researcher or any doctoral student knows who is starting his or her dissertation, the worth of the study is only as good as the assumptions upon which it is based. The before mentioned presuppositions force everybody to continue to operate the same way they have always operated.

The bottom line is that we are still “educating” in much the same way as we always have. Sure, we have better books and high tech equipment but we still operate our schools the same way. It is time for a new foundation of presuppositions that empower students, teachers, administrators, and society in general.


So, if our schools operate out of faulty presuppositions, what would be some different presuppositions that would empower students, teachers, administrators, and parents? Imagine for yourself what it would be like to be in a school system operating out of the following presuppositions as a student, a teacher, a school official, a parent, or the public at large:

All students need to be taught HOW TO LEARN academic material in the school setting.

The school setting is an alien setting, designed from the factory model of the industrial revolution in order to educate as many students as possible in the shortest amount of time. Out of this factory mentality, most of the behavioral presuppositions listed above were born and cultivated.

The presuppositions exist to enable the factory setting and mentality. Reading from written material is an alien process. It is not genetic or god given, it must be learned—regardless if it is math facts and formulas, memorizing data and facts or reading with comprehension, or other like type academic assignments.

In order to read with comprehension the students first need to learn to decode and pronounce the words and then, secondly, they need to learn to comprehend and understand the material they are reading. In the early grades, we attempt to teach the first requirement, but we fail miserably in the second requirement.

This failure on the school’s part, negatively affects students for the rest of their school life and into adulthood.

The message of this presupposition is “before any attempt is made to teach new content to students, they must be taught HOW TO LEARN that particular content.”

All behavior has a positive intention behind it.

We all want to do the best we can. When we are faced with a problem or task for which we do not have a solution, we find a solution the best we can. If it works, even if only a little bit, it is still the best solution we have, so we use it over and over.

The fact that a student acts in an inappropriate way, does not mean that his intentions are bad. He or she may just need a more creative way or a different way to do the task.

If we accuse them of inappropriate behavior, they become resistant or fight back. If we look for the deep down positive intention behind the behavior and help them find better ways to satisfy that positive intention, then we become their allies and they don’t have to fight us or resist us. They also won’t keep using the inappropriate behavior, since they now have a better way of doing the task.

If it is possible in the world for anybody else, it is possible for me to learn

This presupposition opens up the world of possibilities and keeps us away from limiting beliefs about ourselves. It leads us to openness and finding solutions rather than rigidness. It puts us in other wonderful states such as curiosity, joy, delight, and positive thinking.

Anything can be learned if it is chunked properly.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to learning is that the amount or scope of material is overwhelming to the learner. By learning how to chunk down (or break down) the material into more manageable sizes, the task becomes more achievable.

This presupposition, coupled with the previous one, allows us to learn how to learn and succeed in practicality any situation. Also, these two presuppositions are how we think and feel about learning BEFORE we get into school.

We learn many very complex and complicated things prior to school such as talking, walking, and social skills. We do this primarily by imitating how others do it and by learning the small sub-skills first, then larger skills.

The point is, in our early years, when we see and hear others do it, we figure we can learn to do it and this engages our wanting to learn. We need the same attitude in our schools and in our students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

There is no such thing as failure, there is only feedback.

One of the biggest detriments to learning is how we error in accepting feedback. When we attempt to learn or do something, we have to stop periodically and check our progress and see if we need to make any adjustments.

This is called feedback and it is an essential part of the learning process–IF it is delivered and received properly. So many times, students will take feedback personally and think of themselves as a failure if they score poorly on schoolwork. So, rather than using feedback to make adjustments in what they are doing so they can do it better, they become traumatized by a feeling that they, as a person, are a failure.

This then goes to their sense of who they are or their self esteem and becomes a part of their identity and personality. They tend to carry this into the rest of their life.

Unfortunately, our grading systems in many of our schools encourage these inappropriate feedback responses. So, instead of feedback being a one time adjustment to a learning activity, it becomes a life-time label. We need to have a system that will focus on the adjustments to make to be successful and only that.

We choose the best behavior we know based upon the choices we have in our model of the world.

This presupposition is closely tied to the notion of positive intention. When we are faced with a problem or task, we decide upon the best approach available to us or that we can think up. We then try it out to see if it works. If, in our opinion, it works, we keep going back to it until it becomes a habit. Rarely, do we re-evaluate. Obviously, the choices we originally had might have been limited.

We intend to behave the best we know how, but because we did not have all choices available to us, others may think the behavior is inappropriate or even bad. Unfortunately, many judge the behavior and find fault with the individual rather than help find a better way to solve the problem. This presupposition frees us up to look for positive intention and help solve problems rather than assume something is wrong and place blame.

More choice is better than limited choice.

This presupposition evolves out of the last one.

The more choices we have, the better our ability to behave appropriately and succeed.

It also directs our ways of dealing with students who are having problems–figure out their positive intention and give them lots of choices in how to solve the problem so they can choose the best one. The way students experience the world is only a perceptual model. Too many times we lock in a student’s way of thinking or learning as though it was some reality that can’t be changed. The student is “just that way.”

We may tribute it to his or her family, background, socio-economic status or even race or cultural influence. In reality, it is only a perceptual model of their world that they have formed over the years and PERCEPTION CAN BE CHANGED. In fact, perceptions are changed naturally all the time.

As we learn about the world about us, we upgrade our perception and outlook.

It is a natural part of maturing and growth. When a student (or teacher) is stuck in a limited perceptual model, wouldn’t it be nice to recognize it and help the student in changing the limited perception to one that would empower him or her in the learning process.

Second Conclusion

Imagine for yourself what it would be like to be in a school system operating out of the empowering presuppositions, by going second position at all logical levels as a student, a teacher, a school official, a parent, and/or the public at large.