Wikipedia:Schools/Arguments

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The issue of articles on schools in Wikipedia has long been a controversial one. There are a number of valid points both for and against these articles, and any recent discussion on them has simply boiled down to a reiteration of these points. In the spirit of civility and wikiprogress, we should all agree to disagree, and stop arguing the point. A failed attempt at compromise is archived for historical purposes at Wikipedia:Schools.

This page is a list of commonly used arguments for or against schools. This is not meant as a debate, but as a convenient place where people can read about and try to understand the opinions on both sides of the issue.

This is not a talk page. Do not sign your contributions. Do not argue with other people. Simply provide what you think is a good reason for keeping or deleting schools, in the appropriate section, and reword and copyedit as necessary if you think something is unclear. Do not push your point, simply agree to disagree. WP:CIV. WP:NPA. Etc.

Keep[edit]

1. m:eventualism
2. Schools are important public institutions and should probably be written about somewhere, even when they cannot sustain an article on their own.
2. a. Presently people do create school articles containing neutral, verifiable information and it is difficult to delete them, even though many think these articles are too trivial for Wikipedia.
2. b. Rather than striving for an elusive consensus to delete a given school article, some feel it is always preferable and usually takes much less energy to merge the text of the article into an article about a suitable habitation or administrative unit: a city, county or state, or a school district of local education authority of other school system, while taking care not to delete the information contained in the article. The article itself should be replaced by a redirect. (note: this particular argument for merges is not supported by all who favor keeping school articles, see #Merge and #Don't Merge).
3. Those who advocate the deletion of schools sometimes use an argument to the effect that a school that doesn't have some special attribute--apart from being an institution of learning--has no identity and shouldn't be in Wikipedia.
3. a. This is a case of special pleading; there is no Wikipedia policy requirement that corresponds to this, it's just an ad hoc condition constructed to justify opposition to school articles.
3. b. Each school is different from every other school--a look at the latest school report card or HMI inspection report of any school should be enough to establish this truism. Someone who looks up the Oratory School would not want to see a link to the report card for Mount Tabor High School, and by providing readers with a way of finding out about individual schools, including what independent or government inspectors have to say about their teaching standards, Wikipedia performs a useful encyclopedic function.
3. c. Schools are not donut shops, traffic lights, or telephone books, they're where we spend a large proportion of our waking lives, where we learn to be adults, gain skills and make friends. They play a large part in determining what kind of society we have. Schools are also community gathering points, where many students and former students can share common experiences and knowledge – a central theme to Wikipedia.
4. It is argued that wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, and that school articles only serve a narrow, local audience. However, Wikipedia is not paper and can afford to serve all audiences of reasonable size. Instead of removing material, technical means can be found to make general topics more prominent to researchers, such as rating more obscure pages "of little general interest" and demoting them in search results.
5. Schools are an excellent entry point for new Wikipedians. In reviewing their contributions, we can educate and inform them about third party verifiability and NPOV as they help build the common knowledge base. A good experience collaboratively editing something "close to home" will encourage long term involvement in a positive way.
6. It has been said that school articles are not maintainable because, for instance, every time a school headmaster or principal changes it should be edited to accommodate the change. There are two counters with that argument:
6. a. the historical view
From the historical view, that fact about a headmaster's appointment can be recorded as a historical detail: "In 1961 Jeff Smith was appointed head of Portnoy Boys". A later editor may add that in 1971 Jeff Smith retired and Veronica Spice replaced him. In any case this is verifiable information about the school (school head appointments are public information) and also has historical value.
6. b. the rejection of a trivial argument.
From the point of view of the rejection of trivial argument, the question of who is and is not the head of a school is a fact without which the school article can survive. If maintaining current staff information were considered to be problematic, the pragmatic solution of removing information about current staff solves the problem without removing other information about the school, including (in most countries) links to public sources of information about schools which go back years or even decades and give extremely detailed public information about the school and its performance relative to national expectations and to other schools in the district, region, and country. And, of course, information about who was the head teacher at the time of the inspection.
6. c. Wikipedia's editors are its readers.
We attract readers only if we provide something of interest to them. Readers become and remain editors, only if we allow them to improve and create articles of importantance and of interest to them and others. Wikipedia is often more up to date than other encyclopedia's with far fewer articles, precisely because we're so open to growth (which means a larger number of active editors). Keeping every school article doesn't mean instantly making one for every school today, so the editor count can grow with the growth of the article count. The fact there are 6 billion people in the world doesn't make it hard to maintain school articles, it means we have that many more people to recruit editors from, if and only if we provide good encyclopedic content they are interested in. Those who are interested in editing schools are as likely as anybody else to help out in other areas of Wikipedia.
7. Jimbo Wales said people should relax and accommodate those who write high school articles, as long as they're not mass-inserting a ton of one line stubs. [1]
8. There are multitudes of US city articles which could be said to be "trivial" , and one may say: 'well those cities usually have more people in them than a school'. Yet, Perth, Towner County, North Dakota, for example, only has a population of 13 people. So why include small cities over schools?
9. The determination of schools accepted and not should be consistent across the board. If one school, university, or graduate school is acceptable, then any school is acceptable. What is deemed notable, important or otherwise recordable is subjective to the observer. Discrimination should have an objective measure upon which to weigh its inclusion or exclusion. All rules or laws should be consistent and unbiased.
10. In a mobile society parents frequently move to another community for employment or other good reason. When they do so they often have a choice of neighbourhoods within that community. An important factor in making that choice is the school to which they will send their children. Developping a series of good articles about all the schools in a community helps parents to make that choice.

Exemplary argument[edit]

Taken from Talk:Bishop Blanchet High School.

Q: Encyclopedic? I don't think so — Why is this high school given a Wikipedia entry?

A: Why not?

Actually, I think you're asking two questions:

  1. Is it encyclopedic?
  2. Should it be tolerated? What if everyone did this?

Encyclopedic has several senses. Let's look at each of them:

  • From Wikipedia: "An encyclopedia is a written compendium of knowledge."* — "Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of facts, truths or information gained in the form of experience or learning (a posteriori), or through introspection (a priori). Knowledge is an appreciation of the possession of interconnected details which, in isolation, are of lesser value."* This is true for this article, at least potentially. This article is an encouragement for students to consolidate their knowledge, as defined above, and to interconnect it.
  • In my understanding, encyclopedia means encompassing, well rounded education. A school should empower its students to become responsible citizens.
  • "Encyclopedic" can mean: similar to Encyclopedia Britannica. If this is what you were asking then the answer is: "Of course not!"
  • You may ask: "But is it relevant for the readers of Wikipedia?". This school has probably had some 10,000 students in its history. Add their parents, and you'll see that it shaped and touched myriads of people's lives.

Should it be tolerated? — I don't see why not.

  • Wikipedia is the Founding Fathers' dream come true. John Adams: "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right... and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean the characters and conduct of their rulers." (This was originally in reply to deletion of some criticism. For more quotes see the discussion).
  • It doesn't hurt. Wikipedia is not paper. Even if every school in the world had an article, I don't see any problem that couldn't be solved technically.
  • You may say "it clutters the recent changes list". Wikipedia does indeed have a problem with that. Many articles are deadweight and should get deleted. But a school article is a living part of our political environment, written and viewed by enough people who care. (Again, a mere technical problem: I think Wikipedia should allow users to filter their recent changes lists intelligently, e.g. by excluding every school outside of their county.)
  • Wikipedia's mission statement is "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." If you look at the translation into other languages, you'll find that this does not (primarily) mean "free of charge", but "free" as in "freedom of information". I don't see how anyone who shares this value could not tolerate an article about a school.

Delete[edit]

In the debate, arguments used by those who oppose keeping or merging school articles include:

1. Individual schools are not inherently encyclopedic and there is nothing to distinguish insignificant schools like this one from thousands of nearly identical schools around the world. WP:NOT states "Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of items of information. That something is 100% true does not mean it is suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia."
1. a. Granting inclusion to non-noteworthy schools is like handing students a passing grade just for showing up to class. Minimal standards encourage minimal accomplishment.
1. b. A school may become noteworthy if it distinguishes itself in some way. Its academic performance might be exceptional. It could win sporting championships. It could earn a place in Guinness World Records. Its students might perform outstanding charity work. Its walls might feature beautiful student murals. There are many forms of noteworthiness. Wikipedia inclusion should be something a school can aspire to achieve.
1. c. Schools that feel motivated to strive for Wikipedia inclusion become better schools.
2. Unless the article demonstrates that this particular school is significant among other schools, it has no unique identity and can be adequately covered by a general article like middle school or secondary education in the United States. Every donut shop "affects thousands of lives," as does every phone book, every traffic light, etc. Rows of things performing identical functions are not responsible for nor creditable with the individual experiences of that function.
2. a. A school is indeed a location where people spend a significant portion of their lives. So is an apartment complex. So is any business enterprise. All such places are shaped by the personalities of the people who work and live there. That form of putative uniqueness is not itself encyclopedic. Its value must be measured by the results it produces.
2. b. Most human beings will master basic literacy and arithmetic in any adequately instructive setting. An institution that only imparts such routine information, while laudable, is non-noteworthy.
2. c. It is not special pleading to establish some standard of noteworthiness for keeping a school article. Such standards exist for churches, businesses, clubs, and other institutions. It is rather special pleading to exempt schools from common standards.
2. d. The pro-schools case attempts to blur the distinction between primary, secondary, and higher education. Traditional encyclopedias include universities and equivalent institutions. Only primary and secondary schools are subject to challenge.
3. Creating articles on schools, arguing on WP:AfD about them, or maintaining schoolwatch pages distracts our editors from writing about, or improving articles on, topics that would actually be found in a printed encyclopedia.
4. Articles are very difficult to maintain, e.g. a change of headmaster needs reporting in order for it to be kept up-to-date. Since there are a vast number of schools in the world, no one will actually do this maintenance. See Wikipedia:Maintenance.
4. a. The argument that towns are sometimes of equal or less significance fails this maintenance test. Town information is readily available to be populated and maintained by bot. Stubby school articles are of no value; lengthy school articles are impossible to keep current. Moreover, a town article is an excellent place to put a brief description of its schools.
4. b. For most schools, only residents of the area surrounding that school know, need to know, or care that the school exists. Those people already know more about the school than we do, without our getting into overly specific levels of detail (e.g. writing about the buildings, the capacity of the bleachers in their football fields, etc.). One does not consult an encyclopedia for information about a school; if they need to know more about it, they can call or visit the school, consult the school's website, etc.
4. c. Many schools have identical names. There are literally hundreds of schools called "Washington Elementary School" in the United States. Wikipedia disambiguation is not well suited to distinguish a great multitude of similar entries.
4. d. An inadequate and inaccurate school article does not introduce young people to the virtues of an encyclopedia. It invites them to belittle the encyclopedia. It is hard to regain the credibility lost on one insignificant subject a new reader knows well.
4. e. More than most articles, school articles are magnets for vandalism.
5. We don't need to have information in Wikipedia unless it has encyclopedic value. If information on a school is verifiable, people who want it can get it without our help. Otherwise, it fails Wikipedia:Verifiable anyway.
6. Wikipedia is not paper, but our resources are still finite. Bandwidth, disk space, and server speed are all limited at some point. The time of Wikimedia's developers is limited. We could not have articles on absolutely everything even if we wanted to. Prioritization is needed.
6. a. There are approximately 6 billion human beings on earth. Conservatively, estimate that 1 billion of those are of primary or secondary school age. Again conservatively, estimate that only half of those actually attend school. If every school has 1000 students, then that presents 500,000 separate article candidates for the schools category alone. This number is equal to 60% of the total current English language articles and nearly seven times the entire Spanish language Wikipedia.
6. b. In order to keep such a group updated it would take 685 editors each verifying and editing one article every day without holiday for two years.
7. Wikipedia is not the Yellow Pages nor free web hosting to advertise the school.
8. Since most of the editors who know about a given school went there (or to a nearby school) themselves, this could lead to articles about specific principals, teachers, and students, none of whom have any notability aside from being associated with a "notable" school. Just because a famous person went to a school does not mean that the school itself is notable either.
9. If the school is largely unheard of outside its own district, all our article does is give the school free advertising. Other types of "free advertising" articles for local individuals, clubs, and businesses get deleted in AfD without question.
9. a. Some schools are for-profit enterprises. To grant them free advertising creates conflict with other Wikipedia policies.
9. b. Conversely, it would be an inconsistent policy to reject for-profit school articles as advertisement while keeping equivalent articles about nonprofit schools. Therefore there need to be notability standards for all schools.
10. Many schools lack reliable verifiable sources. A school's own website may be of questionable reliability as they are at best written by those employed by the school and usually portray the school in the most favorable light with little if any external review or scrutiny. Sometimes school websites are created and maintained by the students themselves.
11. Simply being a school grants no special consideration. There is no guideline or policy on articles which is specific to schools, as a result each article on a school must adhere to Wikipedia:Notability (organizations and companies). This includes the requirement of significant coverage in reliable 3rd party sources.

Merge[edit]

Into political units, neighborhoods, and districts[edit]

Arguments in favour of merging most school articles into the city, town, village, borough or neighborhood they lie in. If that is impractical it is preferable to merge them with the school district.

  1. Most school articles are short, and will remain short. In most cases there is not much to say about the school either, so it is doubtful they need a separate article.
  2. At a local level schools may well be a notable public institution, but on a larger scale most people have not heard about them and do not care much about them either.
  3. However, it is conceivable that a person reading about the location will be interested in any institutions of education based there, and that includes the local schools.
  4. The small amount of attention most school articles gets make vandalism towards them more difficult to detect since fewer people, if any, have such articles on their watchlists.
  5. It is easier for users to add information about a single school to a merged list because one does not need to create a whole article about a school.
  6. It is easier to verify articles when merged with common links. Many of the sources used to verify schools such as Ofsted reports in the UK cover many schools.
  7. Merges are reversible.
  8. Counter argument to "don't merge argument about redirects do not work with categories": categories are not used in some sites to which wikipedia articles are re-destributed such as answers.com. Categories should not be used as the exclusive way of organizing information, making this a weak argument against mergers.
  9. The school district, unlike most school articles, particularly those on elementary and middle schools, is likely to meet notability guidelines

Into school groups[edit]

Charter, parochial, private nonparochial, and public noncharter schools may be organized so as to have common ownership or shared management.

A group of schools with which individual schools are obviously identified probably should be written up in a single article; whereas a group of schools with which individual schools are only subtly identified could be written up either in a single article or, for each school that is notable, in separate articles. Obvious identification applies where a group of schools in which individual schools have similar names or a common name root, so that probably many or most people can guess or identify the group from the name of an individual school; but subtle identification applies where the school names are very different so that most people cannot guess or identify the group from the name of an individual school.

Within an article on a group, individual schools can be listed, and should be if sourcing provides weighty information about an individual school. Not all individual schools should be listed if they are not separately weighty or controversial, and some editors reportedly believe that individual schools proposed but that are both not yet open and not sourceably controversial should not be listed. Arguably, if a schools group or many of its schools are controversial, newly proposed individual schools should also be listed, even if not yet open and not controversial at the time, but then if a newly proposed school is not open or controverted even after a month it should be deleted from the article. Even for an individual school not listed but which is likely accepting applications for teachers and students, a community to be served by such a school arguably should be listed. In any case, if some individual schools are not listed in the article and if the group's official website, a government website, or another reliable website lists individual schools, that website should be listed in the External Links section.

Redirects can be added from the name of each individual school, allowing categories that are limited to schools to be assigned to the redirects, while categories appropriate to the schools group as a whole would be assigned to the article about the group.

Grouping by ownership or management avoids the problem of associating schools with political jurisdictions such as cities when the schools may serve multiple jurisdictions or with districts when charter, special, or private schools may occupy their own districts regardless of their geographical preference areas for students.

Into larger types[edit]

Charter schools are the subject of one article, it has been suggested that articles be created on charter schools in each U.S. state (e.g., charter schools (New York)), and these articles can list schools and school groups. This concept can be extended to other nations and other school types. If a list grows to be too long to keep within such an article, lists can be separated onto their own pages and linked to from articles on types.

Don't Merge[edit]

Arguments against mergers:

  1. While there is no consistent approach to school mergers, the most common suggested approach, is to merge to the school district, however:
    1. For many jurisdictions, a school may be inside the physical boundaries of multiple school districts (operating in parallel), but is operated by just one, and many people (even some locals) will not know which is appropriate. Many merge/redirect proposals. mistakenly link a school to the wrong district
    2. While many jurisdictions have just one district in a given spot, many schools aren't part of any district at all. Charter schools and private schools are, by nature, normally independent of any district. A merge/redirect could falsely associate a school with the district its physically contained in, but not actually operated by.
    3. School district boundaries are often very different than municipality boundaries, and it's easy for people to look to the wrong district.
    4. Most people interested in a school, simply don't care about the district. For instance, a football fan might be interested to know about the high school a famous National Football League player started playing at, but not know/care about the school's district. S/he may be interested in that school's football program, and other alumni who turned pro, but won't find such information in a school district article (or update such information, if they have it).
  2. Redirects do not work with categories. People find articles in categories, like Category:High schools in California, which lets people pick a school, by knowing the approximate article name (but not typing it exactly). They needn't know which district it's in, or even if it has a district.
  3. Links work with merged district articles, but poorly. A link to an individual school article can be made from several places, the town/neighborhood article, the school district article, articles on a special type of school (like Alberta charter schools), or any article where the school is relevant. With merges, one must pick a single place to put the school's information, and all other places must either point to this merged-article (which may contain hundreds of other schools and/or other unrelated information) or they must repeat information about the school in each location.
  4. Merges to districts often ignore that districts can easily have their borders changed, or be eliminated entirely (requiring the movement of all information about the school). An editor might think to update the district article, but probably won't remember to look for all the redirects (pointing the school name to the district article). A person interested in old school, newly apart of a new district, may not be able to find it (as its still in the old district's article), and may even add it to the new district's article, without removing it from the old one.
  5. Some novice users are intimidated by huge district articles listing many schools, and are unlikely to add relevant information, specific to their school. For instance, adding notable alumni for one school, in a list of many schools is very hard. Also, when a separate school article is necessitated, a novice is unlikely to know how to undo a redirect. A vicious circle is created: the merge prevents expansion, and the lack of expansion is used to justify the merge
  6. Many school districts have hundreds of schools, and district articles that list them all, are more difficult to maintain. Separate school articles effectively split the work of maintenance. An editor interested in only one school, may update that schools article, but might be less likely to update information in a large table of schools they're not interested in.
  7. Often, the problems of district mergers, are handled by merging to other places. But, this creates a problem of predicting where to look. One school goes to the neighbourhood, the other to the town, the other to the county, and some even go to the country. It is possible that, if information about a school is added, it's added redundantly, in various places, and is left in out-of-date/inconsistent state.
  8. Ultimately, if information about a school is worthy of having, its worthy of having in a place that can be found and updated.

See also[edit]