Tag Archives: School choice

Rethinking Education…Again

antique cars for history class

Students learned about the early 20th century by exploring antique cars at Massabesic High School in Waterboro, Maine this spring.

Here’s what I was talking about with the Teen this morning.

What if we gathered together a bunch of high school students interested in studying literature/writing/journalism and planned an entire education program from there? We would start with that passion and incorporate all the disciplines. For instance…

Literature: We could read and write various genres and analyze their conventions.

History: We could write historical fiction–and do the historical research necessary.

Math: We could talk about the biz of publishing, learn accounting, statistics, and maybe create some marketing or distribution algorithms. I’m unclear about algorithms but this sorta explains my idea http://adage.com/article/dataworks/algorithms-marketers/239460/.

Economics: Maybe we would create a “virtual” magazine and learn the ins and outs of publishing, sorta like those classes where students trade stocks, with all the learning implied in that kind of endeavor.

Social sciences: We could study sociology and psychology and philosophy to inform ourselves about character development and conflicts.

Science: We could do some nature writing/science reading and writing and learn about those subjects and/or incorporate what we learn into fiction. We could visit a lab and interview scientists (or better yet, go down to the science-learner wing or school and interview students in their lab).

Art: We could write about art and artists. We could look at paintings and sculptures for inspiration for new stories. We could practice art as a way of accessing different parts of our brain, stimulating creativity.

Health & Fitness: We could do some yoga and walking/running or any other form of exercise because authors need to get up and move to stay healthy and their minds working properly.

Industrial Arts: We could build bookshelves or maybe personalized writing desks.

Music: We could write music lyrics and learn some music theory while we are at it. Of course we could also participate in chorus or band.

Now….if I were interested in say, science, how could I create a similar program for the science-learners?

Math & Science charter schools are already creating this kind of learning environment…so why shouldn’t we create schools geared toward artists? Or philosophers? Or writers? Or athletes? (Actually, there is a school for skiers up at Sugarloaf called Carrabassett Valley Academy.)

What if we truly started with students’ interests and built programs around them? Video gaming? GREAT! Website design? Fabulous! Auto mechanics? No problem! Agriculture? Be still my heart.

For those kids who want to be college professors, academics, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc, then a traditional liberal arts education might just be what they need. Fine! Create a classical academy school for them.

The point is, different learners have different interests, so why shouldn’t we have different schools or classroom clusters for them? This is not a new idea. Some high schools have created schools within a school similar to colleges within universities or majors within colleges.

What is the point of education, after all, but learning what you need to actually DO something? If you were a student again, wouldn’t this sound like fun?

Homeschool advocates already understand all this. Homeschooling is the ultimate individualized learning program.

Charter schools geared toward particular types of learners and interests are springing into life all over the place.

How does standardized testing and a common core curriculum match up with how and why students really learn? Isn’t this is a question legislatures and administrators might want to ask themselves as they move forward?

And what about employers? With the cost of college spiraling ever higher and student loan rates becoming prohibitive, maybe the economy should consider criteria for employment other than the ubiquitous college degree. Does an administrative assistant NEED a bachelors degree in business administration or could an office management training program do the trick? Does an entry-level library assistant really need a bachelor’s degree or even an associates degree? Vocational training, geared toward specific professions, makes much more sense to me. Couldn’t we have aptitude tests and on-the-job training? Apprenticeships?

I suspect it is time–past time–to radically rethink education and human resources. What do you think?

For further contemplation:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html

http://www.jconline.com/article/20130514/COLUMNISTS30/305140029/Bangert-An-ISTEP-rebellion-brewing-West-Lafayette-superintendent-contends-s-just-matter-time

http://ttbook.org/book/re-thinking-education

Between the Ears

Cool School

If Our Current Education System Implodes: A Radical Idea for A Local, Sustainable Alternative.

A letter to our local school board was sent out this week from our superintendent. Basically this letter talked of the dire budgetary issues the school district is facing, the major cuts in funding from the state, and the need to reduce staff and increase class size, cut already strained programs and services, and further erode our school’s ability to educate our children.

If this trend continues, we may be forced to look for alternatives–and soon.

I have a radical idea for education in a local, sustainable community if the time comes that we can no longer afford the system we have today. I suggest that in addition to parents teaching their own children at home, teachers also open their own small schools in their homes similar to the daycare centers and preschools that are so ubiquitous in our society now.

Granted, I haven’t asked any teachers if these ideas could ever work, but if we can educate our pre-schoolers at small, home-based schools, why not elementary-age students? Why not teenagers? There could even be a certification process, for the ease-of-mind of those parents who don’t trust their own judgement.

Here’s what I like about the idea: Self-employed teachers, greater school choice, walk to school choices (as the small-schools would be scattered throughout many neighborhoods), leverage to kick the trouble-makers out if they chose not to behave and learn, smaller classes, and greater flexibility. Teachers could choose to focus on the kind of education and populations they are most interested in serving. They could, if they wished, coordinate activities and lessons with other small-schools in their area. And the best teachers could command the best salaries. And the best students would be wooed by the schools. And a parent wouldn’t be hindered, necessarily, if he or she did not have money. Agreements for bartering and exchange of services could be worked out or parents could simply chose to educate their own children.

With internet and iPads and curricula out there, do we really need to shove our kids into sprawling industrial-era school buildings for six hours a day? Do we really need to spend all that gas money hauling them back and forth five days a week?

I think this could certainly work for K-8, but school would not necessarily be organized according to age or grade. Students could learn in multi-age classrooms.

Maybe high school could be in the former elementary buildings with sign-ups for classes and open campuses, similar to the way adult education is organized now? Maybe there could be internships and apprenticeships and pick-up softball games and/or a bunch of intramural teams that get together at the community fields/elementary gym to play games instead interscholastic sports? Of course teachers could offer music and art lessons–or just about any kind of special interest out there. Jewelry-making? Why not! Animal care? For sure!

How about converting some of the sports fields to school gardens? What about a school-run vegetable stand or Community Supported Agriculture program? Students could have even greater educational opportunities in the areas of agriculture, cooking, marketing,retail management, accounting, and more.

I’d also be inclined toward voluntary but rigorous exit exams, providing motivation for those who wish to enter college.

How would we pay for this kind of education system? Well, how do we pay for daycare and preschool? Charitable organizations and churches would, probably, offer to subsidize some schools that fit their mission-statements. Those with means and inclination may offer scholarships.

Perhaps there could be some assistance via local taxpayer money for those families who cannot afford the cost, but with all the savings in retirement, benefits, heating, gas, building maintenance, state and federal mandated programs, etc., and with all the choices that would be available, we could probably afford it.

I’m not saying this is ideal, but it can’t be much worse than what we are looking at if budgets continue to take hit after hit, year after year. Teaching, as a profession, will be radically different, but I hate to see teachers lose jobs and our students continue to lose the opportunity to learn from talented individuals because those teachers are let go or choose to leave for more lucrative, stable professions.

Some teachers might see this as an opportunity for self-determination in their careers, and I think the earning potential could be similar to what it is today (which isn’t great, let’s face it). If a teacher had space for fifteen students at $200 per week, that’s $156,000 a year gross.To compare, average daycare costs in the U.S.A. are $11,666 per year or $972 per month.

Hefty tax deductions for parents with children in school would make sense, as well.

All this is very radical, but not that long ago in our history, one-room schoolhouses were the norm. Prior to that, children were taught at home by parents or tutors. In ancient Greece and Egypt, teachers gathered a group of students who learned, literally, at their feet.

All this underscores my fundamental belief that education takes place in one space: between the ears of the student, most times with the guidance of a teacher or teacher-parent. You don’t need a sprawling building with little boxy rooms and a gymnasium and a cafeteria for learning to take place. A kitchen table can work just fine.