on Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Can we make something better than schools?
That was the question that jumped out at me on the brand new TED-ED forum when I signed on tonight. It was written by a curriculum developer named Don Duggan-Haas, and it made me very excited about this new development by the TED people, who are taking their successful model of spreading ideas that matter into the realm of education reform. Yes! If you're passionate about education, check out that link!
Anyway, I just had to respond to Don's question, and I thought you might be interested in reading it, as well. Here is what I wrote:
After teaching in the public schools for ten years, I'm now at a very alternative charter school (primary age) that doesn't look anything like the schools we all know. There is little-to-no direct instruction, and the emphasis is on the social-emotional development of the children. We are loosely designed around the Reggio-Emilia approach to early childhood education, with some Rudolf Steiner and Howard Gardner mixed in. Self-directed, constructivist, emergent curriculum, etc.
However, even here, I am wondering if we're fundamentally different enough. I still question the motives and goals for school in the first place. If we're no longer going to use school as a conformity factory, (and we still need to break out of that mode) what else can we do with it as the one institution through which we must all pass during our formative years? How could we better use it to shape the kind of community members we envision ourselves becoming? There are fantastic opportunities here, but we need to ask ourselves better questions than how to score higher than the Chinese on tests or how to get into "the best" colleges.
What would an "unschooling school" look like? I think we're close at Xara Garden School, but we still worry about how the second graders will do on the state tests. We still have some parents asking us (unsuccessfully) for homework and more direct instruction. We still wonder how much we should "push the learning" in student-initiated projects vs. just letting them explore and enjoy their own process of discovery.
The philosophy I employ in my teaching is this: If you're going to bring together any group of people (young or otherwise!) you need to have, first and foremost, an environment that provides a feeling of unequivocal safety and belonging, and creating that culture needs to be the top priority before anything else can be built. Of course, there needs to be some purpose for coming together, so then you layer on an engaging environment with many provocations for exploring, learning, discussing, creating, and imagining in a variety of modes (7 intelligences, for example). Beyond that, it needs to be responsive to the students' needs, and they need to feel ownership for the whole shebang.
In this type of environment, you can't have authoritative discipline, rewards and punishment, or it undermines the whole thing. Jane Nelsen's Positive Discipline is a great framework for creating that sense of safety and respect while still holding firm to boundaries.
That's all I have time for at the moment. I am very excited about this TED-ED initiative, and look forward to many great discussions! Thanks, Don, for offering a great topic!
That was it.
Readers, I realize this isn't a well-developed post. It just barely touches on these topics. There is so much to say, and maybe you can help me. Were there certain aspects of this post that you'd like to see me to develop further? Did this bring up questions for you that you'd like me to address? Please join in on the conversation. I'd love to hear from you!