The genuine happiness on her face was clear. I was pleased that this student was sincerely enjoying school at a time when most children are counting down the minutes until summer vacation. This brought me to an important belief that I wanted to share.
I don’t believe that all schools are bad.
I don’t believe that all public schools are bad either, though some people have accused me of believing that after they read this blog. Nor do I think that anyone who chooses to be a teacher at a school is a misguided or stupid person. My main worry is that schools in general have forgotten what they were originally meant to be, which is a place where one could acquire an education as a learner with a vested interest and dedication to their own education. School was (and should be) meant to develop a young person’s interests, goals, and knowledge to the point where they can freely pursue their dreams in the “real” world, with adults as mentors, bosses, and friends.
The possibility of the ENTIRE public education school system in America undergoing the radical changes necessary to make it a worthwhile option for all children is very, very small. There are far too many inhibitors standing in the way. Yet I would say that educational reform is possible… one school at a time.
It really is about the individual in this area, but not just a single individual person on their own. It has to be an individual school, with its body of students, teachers, assistants, principles, administrators, and parents that stand together to make a place that respects the process of growing as a human being. Sure, one good teacher in an otherwise defunct school can be a beacon of knowledge to their students, but this often ends in burnout; likewise, a great parent may support their child as a blossoming individual, but if the child has to spend six or seven hours a day in a place where they are not respected or encouraged to learn, then the parent will have their hands full simply trying to overcome the negative effects of school on their child. A good school will band together to create an environment that is conducive to learning.
What are some signs of a healthy school?
– Students are urged to find real-life applications for everything they are learning.
– Students are allowed to find sources of learning in places other than the school, namely, the real world. What is so scary about letting them “walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight”? Maybe if more students were able to participate in the community around them, they would be more inclined to be a part of it when they were finally let loose at age eighteen.
– Curiosity is considered a key ingredient to successful gaining of knowledge.
– Teachers are invested in their students as individuals who are more than just a name on a classroom roster. The teachers take time and energy to get to know how students learn and who they are as real people.
– The acquisition of knowledge is measured by more than just letters on a report card or the numbers of a test score.
– Students are involved not only in the process of being taught, but also in the process of teaching both others and themselves.
– Students have enough free time to pursue their own interests outside of the set school work.
– All areas of the developing young person, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually, are valued and given appropriate instruction/challenges/time to grow.
– Teachers are still engaged as dedicated learners who pursue their own continued education as adults.
– The classroom is seen as a place where creativity, problem-solving, logic, and reason are matured, not just a place where students are spoon-fed information that they will forget after a few weeks and an exam.
Does this sound impossible? I don’t think it is. I’ve already seen several schools that are achieving this kind of balance. Sadly, the main things holding most schools back from being healthy are unrealistically low teacher-student ratios, poor funding for schools already in trouble (such as inner-city schools), and the unwillingness of education officials to consider a different approach to learning. So many people are stuck in the mindset of “we’ve always done it this way, so that’s how we’ll continue to do it”. We need to open the eyes of those around us to the possibility that it CAN be different, that children can be taught in a way that will benefit them as whole persons.
My hope is not placed in the renewal or revitalization of our entire public school system. I see education improvement as arriving on a more personal level through private schools and home schools/co-ops. I am an advocate of individual schools becoming more democratic and families taking responsibility for the education of their children. Learning is not just something that should be confined to the four walls of a classroom. It is a life-long expedition.
Of course, as I’ve said before, I am more in favor of home-schooling than attending a formal school, because I saw first hand the benefits of having so much independence, and loved it. But if I meet a person who can tell me with a smile on their face that they love school, then I can sincerely be happy with them while praying that more students will be able to echo this statement.