Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dreaming Redux

It might have been helpful if I had first said WHY I want to start a school.

I had a great education. I think part of the reason it was so good, however, is that school was interesting to me. I took full advantage of the opportunities that were given to me. I was able to study sciences, history and literature at the highest level offered in my school. In addition I was able to do drama and debate. I participated in mock trial and learned a lot about government. I traveled with various teams and groups both to compete and to watch. I learned much about community from being part of the strong culture in our school.

I have spent many years pondering why I enjoyed school so much, but I've also realized something that every school must come to face sooner or later: my education primarily prepared me to be a successful student, and by extension, a teacher. I'm not certain that it prepared me all that well for other things. I've come to believe over the years that school should prepare students for more than just more school. It should prepare them for what the culture of their chosen fields of study will look like. In other words, they should spend less time in science reading textbooks and more time experimenting, collaborating, publishing and crunching numbers. History students should also spend less time in books (unless they are primary sources) and more time relating current events to older ones. History should have a heavy component of geography driven by cultural studies to achieve true understanding. Math needs to be studied in the context of real-world engineering problems so that students see how it is practical, useful and lucrative. You get my drift. And always, always, in every single course, students should be writing, writing, writing all the time.

We need to enculturate children to be citizens of the world and not just into school, or even just into the United States.

My other gripe with school is that it is too compartmentalized. English. History. Biology. And so on. The problem with that approach is that students miss completely the connections that make the world exciting, wonderful and functional. For example, how awesome to study evolution as a unifying theory of biology while simultaneously studying the naturalistic literature that rose out of the time, or the political and religious forces that came into play while society turned more to science than faith. How truly fantastic to overlay all of this with the era of colonialism and discuss exactly what was going on in the western psyche that made this colonialism okay. Did increasing secularism make this better or worse? Are we so different now? Is the US ideal of democratic governments in the middle east just another way to gain resources we don't have? To spread Christianity? Is it different?

I want students to leave school learning to ask questions, not just to answer them. And I want them to know how to search and search until they find answers, or at least better questions. I want them to know how to think critically and engineer solutions to complex problems. I want them to be able to speak in front of a group, write a paper that is truly professional in whatever subject is given them, to present their findings and hold a smart discussion, to write a resume any young person would be proud to hand off.

Schools need to be structured in ways that tailor a child's education to their needs: Smaller schools. Technology. Teachers more often as tutors instead of "sages on the stage." A cohort of student-colleagues and teachers. A cohesive framework in which to work. Teachers paid like professionals who are paid full time to work full time.

Stay tuned . . .


Janssen said...

What a well-developed concept. I agree with you on ALL of these issues.

Erin said...

I hope your dreams come true. You're on to something. And it's good.

Sherry said...

I love your idea of writing, writing, writing. We are dealing with issues where I work of reports with typos going out the door, even though everything has been proofed before it leaves. The problem? We have a lot of great researchers who really know how to find dead people but who don't know how to write a good sentence. Those same people are proofing. If I lived near you, I'd let you educate my kids.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I love your idea of connecting the various subjects, and making education applicable to real life. I hope you'll include a class on financial management.

Christie said...

You have an amazing brain! This post really got me thinking about what made my personal educational process successful and my own teaching philosophies. Just a little thinking along those lines almost caused a brain cramp due to all the possibilities available. I really admire how you've thought extensively about education. And I think you're right on! But you forgot FUN. I maintain that part of my appeal as a teacher of 7th graders is that I'm a goofball. I delight in finding ways to use squeaky, rubber chickens for educational purposes. (a Squeeze-that-chicken quiz/contest, anyone?) Of course more mature students will likely appreciate a more mature approach. :)