Friday, July 2, 2010

the schoolhouse wasn't all that bad

I'm Tom Johnson. I'm fictional and I live in the nineteenth century. Here's my blog. I love pencils, but I love learning even more.

The consultant (read "salesman") begins his pitch, "We went from one room school houses to a cluster of one room school houses. What we need is a professional place. We need teachers working together scientifically sharing their research."

Heads nod in agreement.


I flashback to my childhood. Our one-room school house was just that - a house, a second home of sorts. We sat together and learned together, with the older students mentoring the younger ones. Our teacher was not a professional. He was like a second father to me. Call it paternalistic. Call it parochial. Call it small and narrow-minded, but my mind expanded in that narrow context.

The school house was an extension of the community. It wasn't created to mimic a factory or an office or any other economic institution. It wasn't meant to "prepare students for the technological advances so desperately needed in an industrial age." It was a democratic community where we learned to think critically about all subjects.

Don't get me wrong, there were some dark sides to this. Though our teacher avoided the paddle, I know most teachers believed in corporal punishment. Though our environment was positive, I've heard of places where bullying was the norm. Though our desks were arranged in a circle, many school houses were arranged in rows.

Perhaps I'm being nostalgic, but I'm wondering if, before we adopt new models of 20th century learning, perhaps we need to look back and see what we've already lost:
  • a connection to the local community
  • a connection to the land
  • multi-age learning opportunities
  • mentoring and apprenticeships
  • school as a civic rather than economic institution
  • a connection to classical learning - slides an telegraphs are great, but so is Aristotle
  • the teacher as a leader rather than a cog in an educational factory
I'm not suggesting we bulldoze our schools and build schoolhouses. Progress has its place. But moving forward for the sake of moving forward is not innovation. It's novelty and I have a hunch that the novelty of factory learning will someday fade.

1 comment:

  1. Tommy,

    Thought provoking post!

    Seems to me that among the things you are wanting for 20th century education is the nuance present in the school house but lacking in the factory.

    I hope this translates in the space-time-continuum... rest assured there are still artisans and craftsman teaching in small shops along those other teachers who are forced to wear blue vests or red shirts with khaki pants...

    I do have one question for you that I have been thinking about:
    To what extent should we expect others to teach our children? I firmly believe that parents are the most important teachers and they can, ideally, make up for any lack of nuance found in the factory.