Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Liberation of Education

Back in 2005, I wrote on an article which was published in Ode magazine concerning Humanity's Future. In the piece there is mention of the liberation of education. By liberation, I'm referring to the end of standardized tests and the so popular one-size fits all assembly line schools. These educational corrals which are used to modify our youth's social behavior are quickly losing their popularity among those who are capable of envisioning possibilities which can create a more sustainable and humanitarian society.

There is a very old quote from the legendary labor leader Eugene Debs which has remained with me since the very first time I read it. "Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be lead out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves.” It states exactly how I feel about our future and our ability to change it for the better. We must all be leaders! We must push ourselves out of the box that has constrained us for centuries! Free thought gives birth to new ideas. And it's these new ideas that can possibly save this abused planet of ours. The lyrics from an old song whirl around in my head...Teach your children well...Teach your parents well. Our future has, and always will be, our responsibility.

I touched lightly upon a few "out of the box" schools that utilized a much more democratic, consensus oriented style of teaching children which enforces their strengths over punishing them for their weakness in certain areas. This style of education is known as Sudbury Model, which was named after the school that was the pioneer in this style of learning. There are now more than forty schools around the globe that are based on the Sudbury model of teaching. And I believe they will continue to expand as the real people see the advantages of free thinking.

The model can begin very early as can be seen in the Preschool Coop which is a parent run organization in Baltimore! The preschool was begun on the premise that children need more freedom and playtime for their healthy development. According to the Preschool Coop's website, there are seven important ideas for raising kids who think for themselves:

How to Raise Kids Who Think for Themselves
By:Hara Estroff Marano

1.Children are full human beings who, from about the age of 5, can direct their own education and build their own lives—if they are given trust.

2.Good teachers model self-expression and the ability to stand up for ideas. They don't just pass on information.

3.Free play is crucial to natural development. The better people are at play, the better they are at fashioning new models with which to understand the world and at learning to take risks.

4.Conversation and collaboration are keys to learning, the exchange of ideas and the ability to tap into another person's world.

5.Learning is driven internally by curiosity, a drive that normally can't be stopped at any age. Rote teaching is the opposite. It's driven by coercion, which, given human nature, breeds resistance. The assumption that there's no learning without teaching flies in the face of human experience.

6.Creative children are often labeled mentally challenged in traditional schools, simply because they cannot pay attention or tolerate the unnatural confinement of the classroom. They are often medicated and think of themselves as losers, while kids who never learn to think on their own are treated as healthy.

7.Children have to grow up practicing responsibility to ultimately take responsibility for themselves. That means allowing children to exercise their interests and use their judgment to solve problems—and giving them the freedom to make mistakes.

The Sudbury Valley School, which pioneered this model of teaching, firmly believes that individuality and democracy are an integral part of the learning experience. Children of all ages are allowed to explore the world freely in their own unique ways at their own pace. They take responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and are allowed to freely associate with other members of their unique community. The essay by Michael Greenberg is very informative and discusses practically every aspect of the school from the actual founding of a school to empowering the students through conversation.

Another school located in rural Maryland is Fairhaven which boasts of their student's emotional and intellectual growth as well as their creativity levels.

Motivated by curiosity and the drive to become competent adults, Fairhaven students grow emotionally, creatively, and intellectually through play, school governance, conversation, the arts, classes, computer activities, reading, and the exploration of nature.

Fairhaven is a true democracy. A weekly School Meeting made up of students and staff votes on all aspects of the school’s operation—from school rules to budgeting to hiring staff. Issues of justice are resolved by the Judicial Committee, on which everyone serves on a rotating basis. Students learn firsthand what it means to live in a working democracy, with the freedom and responsibility it entails.

The growth of these democratic schools deserves watching in my humble opinion. They may not be the complete solution to the problems within our educational systems, but they definitely seem much more educational than the traditional job preparatory institutions we have now.

Just listen to some of the Voices from the New American Schoolhouse and check out the links at the New American Schoolhouse.

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