Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Room of One's Own: Building a School with Kids

No Lemming Left Behind (2009)
I grow tired of the education arguments. They seem so circular, pointless really.  It seems to be either all "Rah Rah Rah, public education is the best!" or "Look at all the students public schools are failing." Neither is particularly helpful, but perhaps that isn't the intention. I know we get a lot wrong in public education. I have seen it first hand as a teacher, administrator, and mom.  Saying so does not mean that I want pubic education dismantled. I just want it to be better (in)formed, more relevant and inspiring for all who participate, but especially for the kids.

I was driving a car full of kids today who asked me would I consider opening a "home schooling classroom" (their phrase, not mine). When I asked them why, they offered these reasons:
  1. I won't get detention for reading ahead in a book.
  2. We can game.
  3. We can go on lots of field trips (to NYC, to the shore, to the lake) and hike, look at tide pools, just go outside.
  4. I wouldn't have to sit at a desk.
  5. I wouldn't have to sit still.
  6. I  might learn to read. It's hard for me now and I don't like it.
  7. I could stay on one thing for awhile and really learn it.
  8. I could study history and travel around and write about it.
  9. We could skype with other kids, like the ones we game with now. (They named gamers from three continents).
  10. I wouldn't get in trouble for talking.
  11. Instead of just reading about something I could make stuff.
  12. No stupid homework.
  13. I could make animated films.
  14. I could do real chemistry.
  15. I could bring my iPad to school and use it.
  16. You won't take my phone away if you see it & give me a detention. 
  17. No test packs. 
  18. Sometimes I want to do the teaching.
  19. I could make mistakes and not get an F or be threatened with getting an F.
  20. We could have fog days*.
When I asked what they would miss about school they had two responses: friends (although they seemed to think all their friends would be enrolled in the home schooling classroom) and certain foods sold in the cafeteria.

I thought a lot about their responses and realized that it wouldn't take much to build the type of school (or home schooling classroom:) that would honor their rather meager requests.  Embedded in the different ideas expressed was the idea of choice. It seemed to be most paramount and I know that it is a necessity for learning deeply.  Choice matters and we should honor it in schools. I also thought about their desire to experience the world more directly. Is it really such a foreign concept to want to experience the world and remake it through various forms; to connect with others within and beyond our national borders; to be able to use the technologies they use everyday freely while learning?

I know some classrooms (in public schools) that approach these ideas, but no schools that fully embrace experiential learning and choice.  Nonetheless, it seems only a matter of will to make such a school with kids.

Any takers?

*Fog days is a family euphemism that means playing hookey from school in order to make photographs because it is such a great fog day to shoot.


  1. I've long fantasized about creating the Margaret Donaldson School; it sounds like those pesky children stole my plans.

    Hey, Newark's got some money--who knows?


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