My mom once told me about a group of kids who went to an alternative school, ages 9-12, who had never formally learned math before. They decided that they wanted to learn it all (the K-6 math basics) and though their teacher tried to dissuade them, (what??) they were determined. Their teacher said to show up at 11am twice a week for a half hour class. If anyone showed up five minutes late, class was cancelled and if it happened twice, there'd be no more math classes.
And they did it. Tuesdays and Thursdays all the kids showed up on time for half an hour of learning math. And they learned it. This is a quote from a speech that mentioned this occurrence by David Albert:
In 20 contact hours, every single one of the kids knew the material cold. No slackers. No failures. No one “left back.” No “math anxiety.” No boredom, frustration, embarrassment. No shame or humiliation. No competition, “achievement, “failure,” or “success.” No prizes. Just 'rithmetic. The students held a party to celebrate.How? How did a group of dedicated students learn six school years worth of math in 20 hours? Because they cared. They weren't doing it because their teacher told them too. They wanted to learn math and so it was 100% easier for them to focus as a class and get it done.
One of my issues with compulsory education is the compulsory part. When something is forced on you, it's usually less appealing, whether it's broccoli or multiplication tables. If no one told kids they had to learn to read, don't you think they'd still want to learn? Don't you think that a kid who decided to learn to read on their own is going to have an easier time than a kid who doesn't even care to try? And if that child decides that they don't need to know how to read just yet, do you think they're going to be illiterate for the rest of their existence? I think not.
So what if we didn't force learning on kids? What if we said they didn't have to come to school for the whole day and that it was their choice. What if we gave the learners the choice of what to learn. And I don't mean a choice on what to write your essay on. I mean a student directed curriculum.
Some people will say that if you let kids choose whether or not to go to school, they won't go. They'll sit home and watch cartoons all day like an eternal summer vacation. But I think those people are wrong. I think we are naturally curious, creative and eager to learn, as humans. I think that if it's a choice, kids would love school even more. Vita and Rena have both recounted their amazing experiences from school. Wouldn't that have been even more awesome if it had been your choice to go? If you had gotten to choose between learning to type and learning to play the recorder? If your friends and your class were all personally invested in the subject matter because you were the ones that chose it?
I think it could make all the difference.
High schools are a little bit different. I believe that if you put the steering wheel of elementary school in the students hands they would all leave with the same skill sets, only it would have meaning to them. If the kids bought into the decision of what to learn they would own it and care. And maybe they'd know more about the solar systems than long division but if it had been up to them, I think that's better in the end.
Back to what I said about how the definition of school needs to change. Yes. I think high school needs to stop resembling a prison where students hear a bell and are ushered from class to class. I think a high school should seem like more of a center of learning and less like a holding cell. There is a ton of value to be found in learners coming together and being taught by passionate mentors but I think we're missing that choice that allows a person to take ownership of their own education.
Maybe school should start at 11am and should only last for three hours a day. Maybe there should be field internships and mentoring and modelling and general doing rather than lecturing and reading from textbooks. Maybe there should be discussions instead of tests. Maybe there should be departments where students can wander at will, with classes that are open to students of all ages and absolutely nothing compulsory. Maybe there should be a democratic system, and a board of learners, rather than bureaucrats.
And yeah, you'll get teenagers who just want to stay home, but overall, I think you'll get learners rather than students who care about their coursework and are interested in going to school. So yeah, I think there's quite a bit of potential there.