We founded a school and it always seemed to me that what kids learned was mostly out of my control (I say “my” because my wife and co-founder didn’t and still doesn’t agree, about this and about many other things in regard to the education of children).
Smart, motivated kids would come to us, more and more as we became better known in our community north of Boston, and at best we didn’t by our actions switch off their motivation and they learned. When they left us they were still smart and motivated and we didn’t reject the credit that wrongly came to us for this outcome.
But of course we couldn’t take the credit for the one or the other. Neither the smarts nor their motivation were our creations. Both had been with them from the start, and remained the most important factors affecting their school experience througout the time they were with us.
Not so smart and not so motivated kids also came to us. And we didn’t undo their “unsmartness,” nor did we motivate them to learn. They left us, four to six years later, still not so smart and not so motivated.
Right from the beginning such considerations as these made me want to shut down the school because the two things kids will most need in life, smarts and motivation, were not much influenced by what we were doing.
If we didn’t shut down (and we didn’t and the school is still alive and “well,” now, some 36 years later) it was probably much more because of the teachers who liked to teach and the parents who loved their children than because of the kids themselves, who never in my eyes made a convincing case for the validity of what we were doing to them and with them.
So why school at all? For the radical educator John Holt, “School is a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.”
I actually have an answer to the question, why school, stemming from the following considerations. Children, we agree, are learning all the time. And most if not all of what they are learning follows from what interests them, what they spend their “own time” doing, probably more out of school than in.
Children are observant, and they will even observe what goes on in school because they have no choice, because they have to be there. It follows from these considerations that the school’s principal responsibility is to make sure that good things are happening in the school where the children are.
By good things I mean all those things that lend truth, beauty, and goodness to our lives. Music (bands, choruses, ensembles, orchestras), public speaking (presentations, debates, student teaching), the sounds and rhythms of English and other languages, athletics (team and individual sports activities), discussions (of books, countries, historical periods, current events) and of course literacy and numeracy activities of all sorts. I don’t mean test prep and test taking.
The result of this school environment will be, not that the children grow in smarts and motivation, but that they become aware of at least a few of those intellectual, artistic, bodily, and other activities that throughout recorded history have brought men such great joy.
So why school? School may still be the best place to introduce kids to the best of what has come before. By and large the culture and popular media do not do that.Explore posts in the same categories: Schooling or education