I believe a school that works is a community that supports its students to become their best selves. Each classroom must be tailored to fit the children in that class. It must meet their physical needs for light, movement, comfort, water, and nutrition. Even more importantly, it must honor their hearts. The adults in this special realm must understand the way children of these ages (whichever ages might be there) think and learn. Finally, it must contain the tools and resources (including loving adults) the children need to be able to teach themselves.
Here is the truth. You can lecture, assess, “process”, and punish children until you are blue in the face, and you will never make them learn a thing. Only the learner can learn, and we must stop doing all the common school practices that get in the way of that. Seth Godin has been talking about this for years. His start-of-school post this year also includes a talk that explains what he thinks school needs to be. I disagree with him a bit on memorization. There are many better ways to spend school time than committing facts to memory. At the same time, great schools create opportunities for students to use maps, timelines, and math materials to imprint essential arrangements of knowledge that need to be available in memory. There is great value in having an internal representation of the globe, major historical events, or the patterns of a multiplication table.
He talks about a school schedule in which lectures happen at night, traditionally “homework” time, and practice happens during the day with a teacher-coach available to help. I suggest that an even better way is to have mentors for learners of all ages. Mentors demonstrate processes when that is useful, but frequently they just point learners to the resources they need. This is the best way to create the “precise, focused education” Seth says we need. Only when a student has learning materials, books, same age and near-age peers, a respectful mentor, and the freedom to choose what to learn and how to learn it can that student get an individualized “precise” education.
Seth Godin claims that students don’t want to work but they love to do art. What if school work was an entrancing combination of real work that created value, art that required expression and creation, and play? This model of school already exists and has succeeded for over 100 years.
In Montessori schools, which are true to the model designed by Dr. Maria Montessori over most of the first half of the twentieth century, children learn with joy. In Seth’s words, they “work and explore face to face” and do so in “cooperation instead of isolation”.
They do real work and create their textbooks whiling setting their own criteria for improving their work. In their writing, their research in the areas of science, history, and even math, they are given materials with which to create and told to “go build something interesting and ask if you need help.”
Montessori claimed, “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child. . . For a growing organism, growth itself is happiness. The growth of the child is by means of activity. Activity according to vital laws of development is happiness.. . .The joy of the child is the joy of achievement.”
School is for children to develop into their best selves, through creative achievements, with joy and happiness.