Free choice

Published by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 01:54 PM

Our educational system is based on the idea that children need to be forced to do what is good for them, and it is something they would not choose to do on their own.

What if school was a place where children were helped to learn about what mattered to them?

Re: shortchanging them as adults, what if school never ended? What if, instead of graduation, you could come back at any time to learn what you needed to know, and classes were available at night and on weekends as well as during the day?

Our educational system makes a lot of assumptions about children — how many of them are positive and how many are negative?

We can’t change the system without changing people’s ideas about children and learning.

40 comments

Comment by Arwen on March 30, 2009 at 03:00 PM

Here's one idea I think maybe we ought to change on children and learning. Conventional wisdom says that the reason boys don't tend to do as well in school is because they have a different learning style (multiple intellegences and all that). I read this very interesting post last week, and it got me thinking:

http://hormonecoloreddays.blogspot.com/2009/03/gifted-girls-go-underground.html

I wonder whether the differences between boys and girls learning has less to do with learning style and more to do with motivation and personality. Girls tend to be more pleasers (that's not exactly the right way to put it, but the best I can come up with) and socially-driven. I don't know as much about boys (not being one myself) but from what I do know, I'm guessing they tend to be driven by their own interests no matter what is generally accepted.

Like I said, this has been on my mind, and I wondered where the education-driven minds of Camp Creek might take the idea.

*disclaimer - I know these are generalizations and don't necessarily fit every boy or every girl.

Comment by Barbara in NC on March 30, 2009 at 03:22 PM

I think we have this weird idea that work isn't real unless it's at least a little unpleasant. So if kids (or adults) are learning joyfully and easily, then it isn't *real* work. It can't be substantive if it's not difficult. When we think about helping our kids learn how to live, don't we want them to follow their bliss, to find work and life that brings them joy? If so, doesn't it make sense to help them do this as kids, too?

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 03:32 PM

arwen, i will read that link & get back here later today with my thoughts, but in the meantime, another link i read last week about separating out girls and boys in the classroom —

http://joannejacobs.com/2009/03/26/boys-and-girls-together-in-alabama/

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 03:34 PM

b, i agree — 

if it wasn’t somewhat unpleasant, you’re doing it wrong.

and also

i suffered, we all suffered, so you must also suffer.

Comment by Annika on March 30, 2009 at 03:35 PM

Years ago I had this book (like most of the other great books I've had, it's out of print and I loaned it to someone, never to see it again) called The Elizabeth Cleaners Street School, or something like that. It was about a group of parents in NYC who got together to form their own school for their kids - and invited the kids to all the meetings. And what's more, LISTENED to them. What they wound up with was a daily school with non-compulsory attendance, lots of activity, and experts brought in to "teach" whatever subjects the kids were interested in. They planted a community garden and did a ton of other amazing things. We're talking 17-year-olds (and younger) going to school voluntarily because they loved it and were learning. Amazing.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 03:40 PM

a, why doesn‘t every 17yo jump out of bed in the morning with a smile, looking forward to going to school? because they have zero control over where they are going and what they are doing? because it has no relationship to what they care about, what they want to know, what they think they need to know? because they aren’t real participants in their world?

i want to share some stuff i have about community schools later — places where kids and adults can come together to teach/learn what they want to know/what they have to share. it’s the same idea as in your book — and btw, i give away my favorites, too, and never get them back — i hate that!

Comment by Annika on March 30, 2009 at 03:47 PM

Nearly every time I say something about my distrust of traditional school and how great I think homeschooling is, someone gets on my case about privilege and how most parents can't afford to homeschool (single parents, both need to work, etc.) and I yell back, "Community Schools!" and then am stuck without a good follow-through. Because I've never actually seen a community school. So I am really, really excited to see what you've got to share about them.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 30, 2009 at 04:29 PM

I love this idea, and would love to have a non-compulsory community school available to all of us. When we were looking at moving, after Jeff finished school, a couple of the cities had Free Schools available (Sudbury model) that we were seriously considering. Gunnar in particular was almost disappointed that we didn't move because he was so excited about the idea of a school like that. I've tried to tell him that we can have that *at home* but he places so much value on having his tribe, that he's only interested if there's an actual school where everyone congregates. Therefore, my local homeschool tribe of parents have begun talking about what that could look like for us and investigating the possibilities. Having a place where we all can learn and grow, no matter what our age, would be remarkable.

He starts testing week today (Lori - I couldn't talk him into taking off on a road trip this week. He didn't want to let the teacher down), so this is a particularly relevant topic to me, as I wish for something different and more meaningful for him.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 04:52 PM

a, absolutely — everyone could homeschool regardless of privilege if we had homeschool charter schools.

Comment by Amy on March 30, 2009 at 06:11 PM

"We can’t change the system without changing people’s ideas about children and learning."

This right here shows you are much more optimistic than I. I don't think we CAN change the system. I think it's so broken that it would have to be completely destroyed and built up again in a different way, and I don't think anyone with real power can do that. It's too massive an undertaking. And yes, we can create little oases of change--community schools or charter schools (we have lottery applications in right now, and I'm not sure if I want them accepted or not, because then I'll have to make a decision)--but that's not truly changing the entire system. It's like building a tiny little dam for the ocean.

As for Arwen's point on boys and girls, I just finished reading The Trouble With Boys by Peg Tyre, which discusses the ways in which schools do not fit boys. It should be required reading, and the schools' failure of boys is affecting girls, too. I could go on an on, but I think everyone should just read the book, so I won't. :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 06:55 PM

i agree with you, amy — i don’t think the system can be *fixed*, i think it needs to be *changed* to something completely different.

i like your analogy but i think it’s even better if you say a tiny little boat rather than a tiny little dam. you can make a little lifeboat with your own school (which i did for 8 yrs) and save X many people — but they never last.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 07:14 PM

i meant the lifeboats never last — not the people! ha ;^)

Comment by Andrea on March 30, 2009 at 07:52 PM

I wish I could find a school like this in my area that we could afford.

Comment by Brynn on March 30, 2009 at 09:55 PM

I love these ideas. I dream of a lifelong, intergenerational community learning center. A place where teachers and students are viewed as one and the same. I have given these ideas a lot of thought. Two place of inspiration:

http://www.creatinglearningcommunities.org/book/overview/ellis1.htm

http://www.infed.org/

Our educational system short changes everyone!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 30, 2009 at 11:58 PM

gathering up some things on community or free schools to share, i come across this quote by ivan illich (from "deschooling society", 1971) — and think of the oft-recurring question about homeschooled children and their socialization:

“School does offer children an opportunity to escape their homes and meet new friends. But, at the same time, this process indoctrinates children with the idea that they should select their friends from among those with whom they are put together. Providing the young from their earliest age with invitations to meet, evaluate, and seek out others would prepare them for a lifelong interest in seeking new partners for new endeavors.”

in other words, let children develop their social skills more naturally!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 12:11 AM

“The planning of new educational institutions ought not to begin with the administrative goals of a principal or president, or with the teaching goals of a professional educator, or with the learning goals of any hypothetical class of people. It must not start with the question, ‘What should someone learn?’ but with the question, ‘What kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?’” — Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” — ibid.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in by the door. Moreover, such new institutions should be channels to which the learner would have access without credentials or pedigree — public spaces in which peers and elders outside his immediate horizon would become available.” — ibid.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 12:30 AM

“Education should be a lifelong enterprise, a process enhanced by an environment that supports to the greatest extent possible the attempt of people to “find themselves” throughout their lives.” — Turning Learning Right-Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg, 2008

“In the world outside the classroom, examinations are seldom used to determine the competence of a person. We evaluate people by what they can do and how well they can do it, not by such test scores as are currently used to set “standards.” The use of such standards in schools is based on the assumption that children undergo the same developmental process, at the same basic rate, from birth until maturity. The truth is that every child has his or her own highly specific and original way of growing up. To deny this diversity is to deny the very existence of individuality.” — ibid.

“From our discussion it can be seen that the ideal school environment for young people to become educated in should have the following characteristics:

• Learning takes place through self-motivation and self-regulations.

• Equal status is given to all interests.

• The output of learners is judged through self-evaluation, a concept that includes the freedom to seek outside feedback.

• Learning groups form based on common interests.

• No artificial distinction is drawn between learners and teachers.

• All members of the learning community participate fully in regulating its activities.

Such a school is permeated with an atmosphere of comfort, self-confidence, and bustle. Given the freedom to fail without censure, students will often challenge themselves to work hardest on their weaknesses. Although there is no set curriculum, such a school develops in students many valuable tools that prove their usefulness when they reach adulthood. In addition, students at such a school will be well prepared to function as citizens in a democratic society. Undergraduate programs in colleges and universities have become extensions of traditional high schools. All the failings we have attributed to K-12 schools apply equally to these institutions. Colleges appear to be serving the
primary social function of keeping young people out of the workplace for an additional four years and enabling them to continue to exist without the need to participate as full members of the larger adult society.” — ibid.

“Adults who have already pursued a career in one field and want to change to another will turn to these graduate schools for “retraining.” Although lifelong careers will doubtlessly continue to exist, we can expect more and more people to undergo several career changes during their lifetimes. As they do so, graduate schools will have an increasingly diverse age mix among students. Because of the rapid development of new knowledge and the rapid obsolescence of the old, adults past school age increasingly want further education for one or both of two reasons: they either want to increase their work-related competence, or engage in learning for its own sake, as an end in itself.” — ibid.

“Because of a continually increasing life expectancy, there is no longer any upper limit to the age at which a person can participate fully in the intellectual and productive life of the community. For this reason, retired persons should be permitted to attend classes (if they are not filled) at no cost in any publicly-supported university or college. The presence of these older people in undergraduate and graduate classes would enhance the learning possibilities of the usual kind of students. There is no longer any need to retire at a specified age. It is likely that the concept of a “retirement age” will disappear in the human condition—or perhaps, more properly stated, society will welcome the return to an age-old practice of treasuring old age.” — ibid.

http://changethis.com/47.02.TurningLearning

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 12:40 AM

mary leue’s personal story about starting the albany free school in 1970 (it is still open today):

part 1: http://www.spinninglobe.net/histfsml.htm

part 2: http://www.spinninglobe.net/histfreeschool2.htm

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 12:44 AM

“Once people understand the Sudbury philosophy, they often ask "why doesn't everyone send their children to a Sudbury school?" My answer is simply that many parents do not believe or trust that their children are motivated to learn. I cannot count the number of times that a parent has told me, "it sounds great, but my child would just play all day and never learn anything _ she needs to be pushed". Out of politeness, I do not question this belief. In my mind however, my response is, "if your child is not motivated, she would still be lying in her crib, crying for food when she was hungry". The child was motivated enough to learn how to walk, how to eat solid food, how to talk and many, many other skills. It would truly be easier for children to just lie in the crib and cry for food, but they choose to take the harder path of learning to move from babyhood to childhood. Likewise, children will choose to take the difficult and empowering path of moving from childhood to adulthood.”

http://www.lifeteaches.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=47&Itemid=57

Comment by Dawn on March 31, 2009 at 01:06 AM

Oh, that last part about older people in the undergrad classrooms... Humblodt had a great program for this. I loved it when "retired students" were in my classes. They added so much to the diversity of the discussions. So refreshing!

I agree about a complete shut down and reworking of the system... It is such a massive undertaking I just don't see it happening.
There are those boats out there... unfortunately they are just so far and few between... as many of you have expressed with them not available in your area.

I tried to make my classroom one of those places were students had some control over their learning. I was lucky enough to teach subjects that were not on the standardized test so I had a lot of flexiblity which I passed on to my students. The most frustrating part of it all was that we would just be getting going on some great discussion and the bell would ring! The whole system is just set up for failure. Even those school that do allow students choices,etc... tend to fuction within a system that works around busses, bells, lockdowns, and all of the other baggage that seem to engulf schools beyond recognition as a place of "learning"... Yes, they are learning but what are they learning!?

The idea of free choice is a wonderful one... to be able to come and go as a learner at any age! Wonderful! I guess we could make that happen if we spent more money setting up places of learning and less money on professional sports!! Just a thought!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 01:55 AM

brynn, thank you for the links!

dawn, i believe it can happen. we could put new systems into place and phase them in. we just have to want it to make it happen. my feeling about this for the past several years is that the u.s. will get around to it after some other country jumps in .. australia, maybe? i really had high hopes for their open donew basics project. *someone* will do it .. and then countries like the u.s. will quickly decide they can’t afford to be left behind. but until someone jumps, ...

i agree with you so much re: transitions! they destroy learning. how can *anyone* learn when they are interrupted every 40 minutes? early childhood classrooms where the children are herded from center to center, constantly interrupted and told it’s time to go to the next area — drives me crazy.

re: funding, i think we have plenty of money, buildings, materials, etc. — we just need to use them in a different way!

Comment by Carrie on March 31, 2009 at 02:27 AM

How does this translate to home school?

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 02:30 AM

as homeschoolers, we have the opportunity to make education what we want it to be *now* — without waiting for society, politicians, education programs, teachers’ unions, etc. etc. etc.

we can envision change and institute it the next day. we can change our minds about what learning is, and the next day we can start to put our ideas into practice.

Comment by Alice on March 31, 2009 at 08:41 AM

"Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags."

My goodness Lori, that is so true. Is there any wonder that so many of us go through life feeling inadequate - looking for the right way to do thngs, instead of doing things instinctively. It makes me thnk of parenting - we need a manual, we need birth classes, how to breastfeed classes, how to bath the baby classes - and we feel so relieved when the child is old enough to be entrusted to 'expert' hands in the school system. So true! (I have noticed that many SAHM mothers I know, are sending their children to childcare at 2, because they get more stimulation than at home, or the teachers do a better job than they do).

The revealing of facts reminds me of the ESL course I did years ago. We teachers had in mind the concept or facts that the students were supposed to learn. We would elicit from the students what we wanted to present on the blackboard, we would then get the students to 'discover' the language we wanted them to use, and then we would get them to repeat back the language in 'spontaneous' conversation. You know it was exhausting - I felt like I was tricking the students into learning - and I was putting in all the effort!

I funny anecdote from back then; our practice students were middle aged, adults - very heavy, staid, individuals. Our course encorouged us to get our students up out of their seats, move around the classroom and talk to each other. The trainee teacher who had the most success at getting the students out of their seats and moving around the classroom was an ex tour leader. She had her students up and in a line in no-time:) She didn't have so much luck in getting them to learn English though.

Alice

Comment by Dawn on March 31, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Lori... I think I am a little tainted from my experience trying to make changes in a huge school... 3,000 students! We were just starting the school within a school model when I finally left to be a full time Mom... Since then I have talked to friends who say it has been a struggle and that too many teachers are fighting it!

I'm just not sure about what it is going to take to turn the US around... and Canada for that matter. It seems they pretty much have the same system in place. I thought 9-11 was going to be a wake up call for the US but...

The funding... It is very discouraging to see the WAY the money is spent. It really boils down to priorities.

I think as homeschoolers we are doing mini-experiments everyday...which can eventually benefit everyone...
I was told my a seasoned teacher not to homeschool my kids because we need caring parents who want to make changes in the system... for me it was just too great a sacrifice to have my kids suffer in the mean time... I can see myself getting involved in a more direct way once these two little souls are out and about doing their own thing!
These conversations are good for everyone... the systems in place effect us all!

Comment by Cordelia on March 31, 2009 at 12:33 PM

Thinking about the distinction between work that is hard vs easy, pointless vs. meaningful, fun vs. boring, and the different ways these categories can, but don't necessarily overlap. At my son's kindergarten, the children worked in multi-age groups on all subjects, and each child worked on an extensive project. The learning was a messy, organic thing, with the children partners in the curriculum, but it was by no means always easy or pleasant for them. When the children had to be tested, we all worried about test anxiety, "don't stress my kid with tests".We just wanted them to love school. The funny thing was, the kids sort of enjoyed the the testing. My son told me testing was fun because "usually when you think you have an answer, someone asks why you think that, and you have to figure out how to explain it, but on a test, you just say "a" or "b" and you're done. The only hard thing, they said, was having to sit quietly while other people work. Well, yeah, I get that too.

Comment by Barbara on March 31, 2009 at 01:41 PM

I have been taking advantage of all the wonderful and free museums in London as a place of learning.... not everyone is so lucky to have world-class museums in their neighborhood to use as a springboard for intellectual exploration...but there is so much inspiration out there, regardless of where you live-- an attitude shift really can open up so many opportunities.

community colleges often have community adult classes, and often childrens programs in the summer, but they are usually under-utilized... I think people are so burnt out on all the other stresses of life that taking a class?? learning a new skill?? for pleasure?? ... must seem unthinkable...

I do think more people are coming around and realizing they are not living the life they had hoped for, and want to do something about it ... part of the situtation must be that as a culture, we are so geographically spread out, that it is a lot harder to all group together and really go full force and support things.

hmm... so much food for thought again lori! and I am enjoying reading tom hodgkinson's stuff from the telegraph! thanks for sharing the link in the weekends' open thread.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 31, 2009 at 02:18 PM

alice, i think you are absolutely right — john holt writes about how school convinces us that we can’t learn unless we’re in school and unless they *teach* everything to us in tiny bites. we lose confidence in ourselves, then that carries on .. forever.

re: that “tricking” the students — that is what i have seen in so many schools that say they are doing project-based learning. it is like watching a puppet show — the teacher controlling everything, but creating an illusion that the children are leading. one asst. teacher who worked at one of those schools told me it was exhausting and debilitating, and because the administrators forced the teachers to do it that way, the teachers were convinced you could never do it the “right” way!

dawn, yes, believe me, i understand! when i was operating my school, my staff and i had conversations all the time about *how* to inspire change in the system — do you try to convince the kids? the parents? the community? the educators/administrators? the politicians? change one faction’s minds and you still have everyone else to deal with. and — the system is so *big* and has so much inertia.

and i had the same experience — teacher friends who were angry that i wouldn’t be participating in public school, because public school *needs* my bright kids and *needs* parents who care, etc. but i’ve already been in that system as a student, and i know that change wouldn’t come in time to help my children; i think they will be much better innovators and agents of change after being homeschooled!

cordelia, my main beef with testing is that it determines what is taught in schools — it sounds like your son’s school was wonderful!

barbara, i’m glad you enjoyed tom h’s column — it made me laugh! :^)

there are a lot of underutilized resources .. and maybe with the economy, people will have more time and appreciate more the free things we have available. and maybe when they are out of work, they will take advantage of educational opportunities in the community.

but re: learning a new skill for pleasure .. i know a lot of older people especially who pursue hobbies that require tremendous amts of self-teaching .. it seems we are capable of teaching ourselves, finding mentors, and discovering opportunities when it is something we really care about!

so true re: being spread out as a culture, but then, the internet allows us to exchange ideas and find like minds that we maybe can’t find in our immediate vicinity. maybe the desire for something better will spread!

Comment by Cordelia on March 31, 2009 at 06:28 PM

I agree with you about the ills of testing. When I visited schools in my area, I actually heard a Kindergarten teacher telling her students that they had to work hard on [some isolated math task, maybe "what comes before and what comes after"] because "the class did not do very well on that part of the test (this was right after the week of distriict-wide testing.) I don't think it even occurred to her that 5 is a little young to start learning "for the test."

And, even though I tend to be a little skeptical, I do think we have to live our lives as though change were possible. Certainly giving up won't get us where we want to go.

Comment by Lisa on March 31, 2009 at 06:39 PM

I wonder if a shorter, more intense school day and year would help too. I see this in the Charlotte Mason approach in my own homeschool. My daughter tackles more things more willingly since it's in small doses. I also disagree with the move to mandatory school till age 18. After about age 13 there is no point except warehousing if a kid does not want to be at school or does not want to learn. I wonder if a day-time curfew for school hours wouldn't be better and provide a better learning atmosphere for those who DO show up for school? {Radical thought.] I think one way schools could accomodate some choice is to have an "intersession" term--a 2 or 3 week period where kids learned what they wanted to between normal school terms. One other thought: why in God's name [other than to provide workers at fast food joints] do we make teenagers start school at 7:30 and, bouncy, bright-eyed 7 year olds go to school at 8:30 or 9?? Why can't we make Middle School and High School go to 6 pm? Oh, I remember why, that would interfere with sports and the Constitutional Right to try to make the NFL or NHL or NBA....gosh, silly of me to think of school as for academics. [Yes, I'm a tad jaded on the whole sport thing.....]

Comment by Susana on March 31, 2009 at 09:40 PM

Yesterday the kids and I met a little girl who told us she was in grade 1. I asked her what it's like, she said quote unquote "My teacher is bad. She gives us work to do every night. We never have fun". Meanwhile her zombie dad blabbed on his cell phone non stop. So she doesn't have fun at school, and then her dad brings her to a park and ignores her the whole time.

I am trying to find the words to express my sadness/frustration/disbelief around adults' not valuing children, their own children, so I can't even begin to see what needs to be worked on first...creating new ways of schooling VS creating new ways of inspiring people to care for their own children. Lori, you are so insightful I think you might understand what I'm trying to get at...

Comment by jeannine on April 1, 2009 at 01:37 AM

Hi Lori, Thanks for stopping by, you're a great blog friend! And an education inspiration!
;0)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 1, 2009 at 02:04 PM

cordelia, exactly! why should five-year-olds even be aware of the test? isn’t testing supposed to inform *us* as to what *we* need to do better? why are children frightened, threatened, and punished to get a good result for *us*?

re: possibility of change, you just need to look at our new president to know that things can change! i want to be on the side of that change.

lisa, really interesting ideas — but what do you think about those who say the school year should be *longer* and summer vacation should be replaced by a few two-week breaks during the year, in order to help children retain information they tend to lose over the long summers?

re: the shorter, more intense days — i’ve read several times that for the 6-7 hour school day, students get a ridiculously small amount of actual instruction time. if we made the day shorter, we would have to eliminate a lot of transitions, wasted time, etc. — can that be done? we had a shorter day and a no-homework policy at my school, because lack of wasted time allowed the children to get their work done *at school* (imagine that!) .. but some parents were worried that their children didn’t have homework!

re: warehousing kids from age 13-18, but that’s exactly what we want to do, right? keep them off the streets and out of the low-paying jobs, keep them out of the world and our of our way?

so true about high schools starting earlier and earlier, even though study after study shows that those kids need more sleep and are naturally keyed to wake up and stay up later .. but who cares about that?!

and i hadn’t even thought of the sports angle...

susana, that is a sad story, and i have similar ones. and i agree with about valuing children — and childhood! we are at a place where people think extracurricular activities have a high value and time for kids to hang around at home and do nothing is expendable. i wrote something awhile ago that i should post here about how if we could just make it trendy for kids to do *less*, we’d be all right.

thank you, jeannine! ;^)

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 2, 2009 at 01:33 AM

With all of the complaints I have about public ed in our lovely state, I will give them credit for switching around the start times. In our district, the elementary schools start at 7:45 and the high schools are 8:15. Still not late enough, but better.

One thing my high school did (and the school Gunnar is switching to next year does) is have classes on alternating days for longer time periods. So on MW, there are 3 90 minute classes and on TTh there are 3 other 90 minute classes, and on Friday they go to every class for 45 minutes. I know I always got a lot more out of my block classes, and I think he will too.

I think the glimmers of good practice almost frustrate me more, because I wonder why they can't do more than just dip a toe in the water. I just want to shout out "jump in!! The water's fine!!"

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 01:40 AM

there is so much data about how high school students need a later start date!

interesting about block classes. i’ve spoken with teachers who hate them; they feel like they have even fewer days to cover more and more material that’s mandated. i wonder what the majority of teachers think.

lol re: the glimmers frustrating you more … it is frustrating, too, that solutions are found that work but then they aren’t more universally adopted. but — i can also really identify with this — when you are in the education business, all the players are constantly changing. every year you have a new group of kids in X grade. if you are a high school, 25% of your student body changes every year, and you only have students for 4 years each … just as you win over the support of one group of parents, suddenly 25% of them are gone and 25% of them are brand new and have no idea what you’re trying to do. teachers leave every year, especially the youngest ones (because schools pink slip them first, so they take jobs elsewhere). school boards change. and so on. it’s like trying to find your footing in a swiftly moving stream.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 2, 2009 at 01:49 AM

I find that really interesting, since they get effectively more time - there are fewer transitions in a blocked schedule, so they have extra time to go deeper into a subject. At least that was my experience. Our science, English, history, art and music classes were blocked so that there was time to really delve into material. I know that our teachers loved their blocked classes.

Of course this was, ahem, 20 years ago, before high school was only about testing. I was encouraged to see it in practice at this new school. I think they do it primarily because it's an arts based curriculum, and you can barely get supplies out before a 45 minute class is done.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 02:10 AM

i am really interested, too. i am going to try to find a link to a blog post i just read in the last few days that obliquely mentioned this same idea — they were talking about how teachers are being loaded with more and more material to cover in a year, and block scheduling just gives them even fewer days to cover the same material.

we kind of do block scheduling, except our blocks are weeks long. ;^P

block scheduling would be much better for an arts-based curriculum, since so much time is wasted on set up and clean up! oop, jinx. you said the same thing. lol

Comment by Pamela Wallberg on April 5, 2009 at 08:54 PM

At my reggio-inspired school (toddler & prekndergarden) I recently held professional tours and discussion groups for some of the Kindergarden teachers in two of the local school districts.

They all oohed and awhed about the environment and had a lot of great questions - but were continually saying "but that would work in the school system because...."

I wonder how possible converting education to new approaches is: how can we teach our children to think outside of the box, to come up with multiple solutions to problems, and to truly learn, when the teachers so often forget that they can be thinking outside of the box and finding multiple solutions to problems as well.

Some schools are making change in the city that I live, but there are still too many people contributing to the idea of "can't".

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 5, 2009 at 09:40 PM

pamela, i assume you meant to say they were continually saying it *wouldn’t* work in the school system?

we had this same experience over and over — i’ve written about it some here — of visiting educators standing right in the center of the room with their arms crossed proclaiming it would never work in their school, with their students … sometimes even proclaiming it shouldn’t work at all, even surrounded by all that evidence! there was always this implication that we had somehow found the perfect children, the perfect staff, the perfect situation, and it was not replicable.

agree with you completely about educator attitudes — if we want to encourage the children to have certain learning dispositions, they need to be authentically echoed by the adults. the inside must match the outside.

re: people saying “can’t” — i think there’s a real feeling of challenge that makes some teachers shut down. they are simply afraid — afraid that they really can’t, afraid of doing something different, afraid of having new expectations thrust upon them. we need to treat them the same way we would treat children in a new situation — let them explore new ideas freely, not force them to change against their will. one thing that i found greatly reduced teachers’ reluctance to consider a new approach was simply making it a choice — allowing them to try new things rather than forcing them to change everything at once.

*that*, i believe, is a real challenge for administrators and even parents who are fired up and want change *now*. again, they have certain values for the children, but not necessarily for the teachers.

we need to work to put these ideas and experiences out into the community but also bring along the values behind the work. so we can win them over! ;^)

Comment by jacqui on March 1, 2010 at 04:33 PM

I think the education system is a true success to its purpose......It churns out productive (sometimes) workers that will swap their life for a few coins. Only to keep the pyrymid functioning....
If children were helped to learn about what mattered, there would probably be less people on dole, because they would be doing what they loved. We might even have equal distribution of wealth/food in the world.......

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