We don’t seem to make learning to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It’s separate from schools. And for some kids it doesn’t exist at all. But what if we didn’t make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy? Because that’s what it is – a practice. And a simple practice at that.
– Logan LaPlante, 13 years old. TEDxUniversityOfNevada
When I think about what I want for my own children, and when I think about what I want for all children, my list includes the attributes and ideals and realities that LaPlante shares and demonstrates in his profound talk: “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy: Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada.” It may be one of the best TED/TEDx talks I’ve heard.
Also this week, I am immersing myself in Tom Little’s tour of 50 progressive schools during the months of February and March. (Thanks, @GrantLichtman!) As I read @ParkDayTom’s posts, I dig into the school websites and links that Little provides about “emergent curriculum,” PBL, and progressive education. I am struck by such things as…
We believe that learning should be joyful, active, open-ended, project-based, and collaborative in order to foster children’s independence, accountability, intrinsic motivation, and intellectual curiosity.
We believe in cultivating a community of civically-active learners, where everyone’s voice can be heard, as decisions are democratically determined through discourse.
We believe in allowing the time, patience and unpressured environment necessary to support the individual developmental unfolding of each child – academically, socially, and emotionally.
Though educators have been challenged in agreeing upon a single definition for progressive education, consensus builds around these defining principles:
- Education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society.
- Education must focus on students’ social, emotional, academic, cognitive and physical development.
- Education must nurture and support students’ natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. Education must foster internal motivation in students.
- Education must be responsive to the developmental needs of students.
- Education must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students.
- Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning, which arises from previous experience.
- Progressive educators must play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.
When Grant Lichtman and I talk, and when I am privileged enough to hear Grant speak and facilitate with bigger audiences, he often says that his own tour of 64 schools in 12 weeks, exploring what innovation in education looks like, could be boiled down to one word – Dewey.
How might we work and take action to help transform schools so that more of them possess these core characteristics? Theses core values?
How might we hack school to more closely resemble good education?
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As always, thanks for pushing my thinking along. Our school (Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School) founder Elisabeth Irwin was a colleague of Dewey’s and, as Grant notes, it is indeed intriguing how these ideas, which have always been compelling, seem so crucial to our current moment of transformation. Thought you might appreciate a few of Elisabeth Irwin’s words that we are using to guide us:
“Happiness comes from many sources but primarily, we believe, from an ability to make good social relationships and to find adequate express for normal creative impulses. These abilities do not emerge fully developed in adults not yet in adolescents. They must grow from earliest years through opportunities to exercise them in everyday life. The “progressive” school tries to supply an environment in which from the beginning, children feel free to function physically, socially and intellectually.”
The new type of teacher shares experiences with the children rather than imposing tasks upon them. This means that the age old conflict between the interests of adults and children is minimized, and the relationship to authority through adolescence and adult years is not spoiled by the feeling of revolt that is so often engendered by the old school of discipline.”
“We have tried in so far as possible to eliminate competition as a motive for work.”
“Threats of all kinds have been taboo. We have tried to cultivate instead the kind of unselfconscious industry that springs from interest in the work rather than interest in getting ahead of some one else.”
“We have tried as far as was expedient to get rid of the use of uniform textbooks in all subjects, allowing individuals and groups to make a sincere contribution to a class discussion instead of each child reciting what every one else had read to prove that he could remember it…We have tried to keep our class-room discussion real and vital, not just shaped by the teacher to cover prescribed ground.”
“If this attitude of anxiety concerning the goal and the way stations were replaced by a faith in the principle of growth, much-needed experimentation with the curriculum would then be encouraged. We all know the folly of pulling up a bean to see how it is growing, but we have not yet learned to trust the human plant to flower without a periodic panic about its rate of progress. Under our present educational system, every pupil is conscientiously yanked up by the roots at least twice a year. With this official inspection always impending, neither teacher nor pupil creates an atmosphere of freedom, which is the first condition of unself-conscious growth.”
“We did not enforce the taboos, restraints, and prohibitions of the ordinary classroom. The interests of the children were largely allowed to initiate and guide the activities within and without the school.”
“To get immediate, showy results something must be added to the child – hung on like a decoration. Real organic growth is so gradual, so unobtrusive that it does not satisfy the anxious parent or teacher. They wish to be assured at every turn that the child is being visibly improved. The new education, like modern farming, believes that the place to put the effort is the environment. If the soil is made rich enough, yet not too rich, growth takes place normally.”
“Schools have for too long been modeled on the medieval monastery where formal education began. The classroom has for years been a place like the monastery where the world is shut out. The original scholars, the monks, were those who found life in a real world too perilous, and retired from it to find satisfaction in learning. Reading and writing were a substitute for reality. Modern psychologists and mental hygienists tell us that those people are happiest and healthiest who can best adjust to reality, can meet life face to face. The school then, if it is to help individuals to be efficient and active members of society, must introduce children into life rather than shelter them from it. It must be a laboratory rather than a monastery. Just this, I should say is the task of education today – to change our school from monasteries into laboratories, laboratories not where educators experiment with children but where children experiment with life. This is the true meaning, so often misunderstood of experimental education.”
“The complacent formalism of schools, its uncritical and therefore uncreative spirit…must be replaced by an honest hospitality to experimentation.”
“But it is not chiefly the physical fitness with which we are concerned. It is rather the state of mind in which a child approaches his day’s work. Probably the greatest enemy to growth, which I use synonymously with education, and to learning, is fear. By this I do not mean terror or panic, but a mild form of fear perhaps better described as dread or apprehension or even more mildly as lack of complete confidence. Many schools, and they may be either public or private, are full of threats to a child’s confidence. He is afraid he may be late. He is afraid he may not be promoted. He is afraid he may not get a good mark. He is afraid the monitor will report him. He is afraid he may be sent to the principal’s office. He is afraid of being embarrassed by having his name called out loud for whispering or inattention. These are only a few of the typical threats, which assail a child in many a school environment. Terrible to him but merely a matter of course in many a classroom, where a perfectly kind teacher had inherited a certain technique of stimulating work and good behavior by time honored methods. When, however, we turn the light of mental hygiene on these time honored methods they begin to look as the stock and the ducking stool looked to people who abandoned these instruments about one hundred years ago. When schools gave up the ferrule and the dunce’s cap they gave up only the objects and not the ideas.”
“The progressive schools believe that childhood is a part of life and not just a preface to something more important, and that at every age children should have a chance to respond to the romance and adventure of the world around them.”