In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The New School.” You get to redesign school as we know it from the ground up. Will you do away with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What skills and knowledge will your school focus on imparting to young minds?
I’ve thought about this question since I was in school — well, since my brother was in school and he started a year after I did. I always liked school. I wanted friends and I wanted to please people and I liked learning. My brother was different and I can’t say exactly how, but I suspect ADHD. He couldn’t sit still. He disrupted the class. He wouldn’t do what he was told to do. He didn’t care about pleasing the teacher on her terms. I don’t know why; I never lived in his mind. I wasn’t an ideal student, either. I was easily bored. I wanted more engagement. I discovered in the fourth grade that I’m a physical kind of person.
My ideal school would be a good school for people like my brother and like me and, I think, most kids. Even special needs kids would cease being so “special needs” at my school. The ability to care for animals or grow tomatoes does not require “accommodations.”
It would be a farm with a schoolhouse and an airplane or, at the very least, a comfy Greyhound bus. My school would be the world — micro and macro.
Back in 2000 the students in one of my classes said I was like “Miss Frizzle.” I didn’t know who Miss Frizzle was, but when I learned, I agreed. She was teaching in “my” school.
My students would learn responsibility for others and for the world by caring for animals. They would learn diligence and patience by growing food. They would learn to appreciate beauty by living close to nature. They would come to understand the inevitable cycle of life and death and the importance of the arts by experiencing the transience of life. (“Ars longa, vita brevis”) They would not be encouraged to have “school pride” or anything like that. They would be encouraged to have pride in overcoming a difficult challenge. They would play sports — team and individual sports. The classroom would be a laboratory, a microcosm of the larger world and a place in which to learn the skills that would give them the ability to do the things they wanted and needed to do. They would learn two foreign languages — by going to the countries in which the languages are spoken and living with a family for a year. Their sophomore year in high school, they’d be asked (and tested both in terms of aptitude and achievement) whether they wanted to pursue a career in something that required higher education or if they wanted to go out into the working world with skills they could use to earn a living. Still, every student would leave the school with the skills needed to support themselves.
I had this idea when I was sitting in a high school English class junior year. I was so bored that I began creating trouble and ended up out in the hall. It was a beautiful day and rather than discussing Macbeth or some other Shakespeare play, I wanted to be out in the world. Like a lot of high school kids, I felt confined. I thought that school should be liberation, not confinement. I still think so.
Years and years and years later I found Goethe had envisioned a school like “mine.” I read about it in his book, Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre.