Thursday, March 26, 2009

the ideal





A long time ago a friend wrote about her dreams of "the ideal school" in a blog post. The day I read it I planned to post on my ideal school. But I didn't do it that day, and now I think it's been well over a year since then. Every once in a while, when I'm out walking or doing dishes, or what have you, I start dreaming my ideal school dream. It has amazed me how many forms this ideal has taken, based on what is important to me at the time. It scares me a little. Am I as fickle as all that?

I used to think I knew what the important things to know are. As my children grow older and develop their own opinions and relationships with knowledge, I feel that the best I can do, or anyone can do, is stand back and let them fly.

Children have a natural curiosity about the world. My ideal school for children from age four to eight would be one that helped satisfy that curiosity in as natural a way as possible. I loved the Montessori school Lidia and Marcus went to. Lidia wanted to learn multiplication, so they let her do it. There wasn't any of this, "That's not consistent with our desired outcomes for a four-year old." They let her fly. At that school, Lidia and Marcus learned to take responsibility for their own learning. They were encouraged to develop the skills they needed to do so: focus, precision, dedication, and respect. Fun was not forced upon them as an unnatural part of the day. The fun part was the learning. Is there any more valuable lesson to learn about education than that learning is fun?

In my ideal school for children ages four to eight, most science classes would take place outdoors. (Guess what? My ideal school is not located in Minnesota.) The children would be read to a lot from children's literature of the highest quality that would spark their interest in learning to read themselves. Children would be exposed to great literature, art, and music (why shouldn't we give our children our very best?) and encouraged to make their own relationships with these works.

By the time children are ten or eleven, they would be meeting with a teacher at the beginning of the week and at the end. At the beginning of the week they would set goals, and at the end of the week they would review what they'd accomplished. They would be encouraged to gain knowledge in a variety of subjects, but they would be responsible for setting their own course of study. Obviously, most ten-year olds plucked from our current public school system would not be capable of such a task. However, if they were brought up to it, they could absolutely gain the necessary skills. Children would be able to decide, usually, if they want to learn independently or in a group. However, they would sometimes be required to do one or the other, because though we all have a preference, we have to be able to do both.

Children would have guidance in setting long-and short-term goals. Teachers would serve as mentors and facilitators, sharing their educational passions and helping children learn to help themselves. The children would be completely free to set up their own schedules. However, they would be held accountable for achieving their goals every week. There would be no grades. There would be feedback from mentors and peers.
What Lidia dislikes the most about school is the wasted time. It's hard to go back to that after a year of doing a couple hours of school work every day, and then having the rest of the day to pursue other interests--both academic and otherwise. It bothers her that this year she spends many more hours doing "school," and yet accomplishes much less academically. She would like more time to read, cook, knit, garden, play violin, etc.

What would my ideal school look like? That's not the important part, but it's fun to imagine. The top two pictures were taken in the gardens of Pena in Sintra, Portugal. It is one of the most enchanting places I've ever visited. There are winding paths through luxurious foliage, little crumbling buildings of stone scattered here and there--including this little castle for ducks! I can't imagine a more ideal place for children. You have the feeling that anything can happen there. A garden like this one would be the perfect grounds for my ideal school. Children would be free to wander at will. The third picture is of Dartington Hall in South Devon, England. It used to house a progressive school that the writer Eva Ibottson attended back in the 30's. Don't you think that going to school in such a building would inspire a curiosity about the past? I'd like our school building to have an enormous media center, a good stage, and a dining hall where all the of the food would be prepared by the children. Other than that, lots of nice little nooks to curl up and read in.

14 comments:

Dina said...

I reread your post, but I must have missed the part about mandatory state testing.....:)

Sounds divine!

celtishbee said...

Sounds like a goal, mission statement, or what have you. What does it take to start an accredited school?

Mallory said...

I remember talking with Alexa once about starting our own school. I don't know how she feels about it now - it was a couple years ago - but I would love to run my own school. I agree, grades should not be involved, or at least used in a minimalist way. I'm sick and tired of striving for a grade rather than learning what's important. I mean, I understand per centages. If you give a quiz on a math concept, obviously the student will have a certain per centage of the problems correct. But this "I need an A or I'll cry" thing is, and always has been, ridiculous. I usually end up laughing at those people, and pitying them.

Brenda said...

I have been thinking about these very things lately. Now that my oldest is almost done with k-12 anyway I wish some things would have been different for him. He started out in a Montessori school, loved it. Your ideal school sounds wonderful and picture perfect place even better! We spin our wheels so much I understand what Lidia means and I find myself being fickle about what is important too. Right now I am second guessing methodic music lessons, ready to let the older two fly on their own soon in this area. The NEW ERA(church mag for teens) is all about education. I would like to read and discuss that with my kids esp middle one who is soooo concentrated on grades and is missing the bigger picture of learning.

Dave Thurston said...

Brilliant and education Nirvana.

Re-read your post, but exchange the words "Children" to "Us" or "Adults", "School" to "Work", "Teacher" to "Mentor".

I think that you've captured in just a few paragraphs quite a profound recipe for (well) life.

yesweareonmars said...

I find that the home environment is as important as school. Kids from homes with problems just don't learn well. But then parents that care want a good school for their kids. I would love to go in with you in a school but I would find it interesting to have a few kids that need a brake.

My high school memories are completely blocked because I was bullied so badly. I have no good memories of that time and do not want to talk about it. It also made learning extremely difficult. I would think an anti-bully program would be a must.

the verification word is 'resnow' does that mean after you shovel you have to resnow it? hee hee

Mama Ava said...

None of that is going to show up on a test, you know.

Mama Ava said...

My friend and I just went to a workshop on anxiety and another one on how boys and girls learn differently. We decided we're going to open a school for boys called, "If You've Got One Like Mine" and there will be NO MORE STIFLING of the BOY in the boy. Parents will have to sign a waiver acknowledging that phy.ed. will include sword and lightsaber play.

Mama Ava said...

And, if you want to open your own school....

My sister-in-law used K12 for her kids in Idaho for several years. When they were outgrowing homeschooling they didn't want their kids in public school at that point so she opened her own Christian school. There was HUGE need in her community--the other option was poorly run and parents were unhappy but didn't feel like they had a choice. She was (before kids) a pediatric nurse. Not one iota of academic or educational background--common sense, supreme organization, a vision,and the ability to know how to identify and attract those who do know about education. That was 5 years ago and it's growing and so successful! It can be done!

Mama Ava said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ave said...

Like it.

yesweareonmars said...

I'm sick of schools re-inventinig the wheel. Why do they experiment with kids anyway? We all know what works, why not use it?

Mallory said...

I don't think we do know what works. We only know that the Public School System DOESN'T work. One school works well in Idaho, but fails miserably in Texas. I think there is one kind of schooling that works, but I'm not entirely sure of everything it entails. Schooling children is difficult, especially when it involves kids from so many different backgrounds - culture, homelife, etc.

yesweareonmars said...

Lots of politicians say they don't know what works but I'm a product of the 70s where experimenting was the norm. Every other year there was a totally different way of running the school. I know that kids (and adults) need rules, discipline and respect. They need to know that school is a place where they can feel safe and know what to expect if they make wrong choices. You would be amazed at how many schools have no control with kids. Kids have no respect for adults and learning is not even part of the day. Teachers are not interested, they just want their check at the end of the month. There's no experimentation with that.