1/20/2006

An Educational Ideal for a Changing World, Part 2

Yesterday, I outlined in broad strokes the problems I see in our predominent educational model. Today, I would like to suggest a new model for education designed to produce citizens who are moral, prudent, creative, skilled, flexible, and knowledgeable.

It is worth noting that many of the suggestions to follow are such radical breaks from established procedure that it will take a lot of tinkering to translate them into the real world. For purposes of this piece, let us assume that we live in the best of all possible worlds, where wonderful teachers have a capable administration backing them up and access to huge amounts of money, and a supportive community of parents. (And noses exist to hold up our spectacles, et cetera. But regardless…)

1. Instead of grouping students by age, this new model would borrow from the structure used in Scouting. Within a Scout troop, scouts are assigned to patrols in which the age spread is usually two to three years. Senior scouts in each patrol assume leadership, and train their younger comrades for eventual leadership themselves. More importantly, even the younger patrols are constantly around the senior patrols made up of older teenagers, and older scouts are constantly teaching skills and techniques to the younger scouts as well as modeling proper behavior (both of which help in developing the older scouts' skills as well, and force them to live up to a higher standard).

The precise way in which this could be emulated in a school would have to be worked out. But the guiding principles would be youth mentoring, of collaboration with older students, and of youth leadership within the class. It is well known that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and to have senior students teaching more junior ones (with proper supervision) would powerfully reinforce their own skills. Additionally, the influence of older students may restrain the emergence of the "Lord of the Flies" mentality and cliqueishness that we often see in typical classes, and more quickly socialize younger students to proper modes of behavior.

2. Classrooms would be specially designed from the start to inspire the proper mental atmosphere. The architecture and furnishings would be calculated to convey a sense of wonder, of expansiveness, of endless possibility. Students could either sit in chairs and at desks that are properly designed to promote good posture and avoid back probelms, or they could stand behind lecterns (such as this one) that allow students to rock back and forth or otherwise fidget as necessary. Chairs or lecterns could be placed anywhere in the room, within reason.

Periodically, classes would be held outside, among trees or other vegetation. Nature is both a source of some of life's greatest wonders and lessons, and a wonderful tool for calming students who feel stifled by the cloistered environment of a classroom.

Learning materials would be designed to be as light as possible. Large textbooks would be broken into smaller segments, computerized materials would be used if possible, and care would be taken to avoid the back problems that plague our schools today. Additionally, classes would incorporate movement and exercise whenever possible, as well as teaching basic forms of meditation so that students can learn to quiet their emotions and focus, without coercion or excessive medication. Students (indeed, some adults) must learn that they are not hostage to the vagaries of their neurotransmitters, but can exert conscious control over what they think, feel, and perceive.

3. The fine arts would be a primary focus, following Aristotle's dictum that music and art are the best ways to teach love for the Good. All students would be taught at least one instrument, or at least one physical medium, or dancing, or writing, or (optionally) any of these in combination. Moreover, suplies and computer equipment such as graphics programs or CAD systems would be made available so that students can create their own music, or paintings, or stories, or poetry, or inventions, and package them for wide distribution. Students would be encouraged to immerse themselves in artistic and mechanical creativity.

There would be frequent exhibitions on campus by musicians or other artists, open to students, parents, and the general community. Students would thus learn what good art looks and sounds like, and be inspired to create their own. This would also be meant to innoculate students from degenerate culture, as much as possible.

4. All subjects would be interdisciplinary, as much as possible. Additionally, students would learn the different modes of thought: formal and informal logic, reductionism, holism, and different ways of understanding the outside world. The goal would be to make them more agile and rigorous thinkers, who can transcend particular paradigms, adapt to changing circumstances, and be effective thinkers at all times. Students would also learn how to balance the head against the heart, and not to emphasize one at the expense of the other; emotion and logic should work hand in hand, not at cross-purposes.

5. Students would be taught from day one how to manage their finances. All students would learn about credit cards, home loans, budgeting, how to spend money wisely, and the basics of investing. Optional classes would teach entreprenuerialism, more advanced finance, and organization and logistics. (The truth is, such things are not hard to learn at all if you start early.) Students would draw up budgets and track their spending habits, receiving guidance from teachers. They would also be given the resources and knowledge to form their own businesses, and encouragement and mentoring from successful businessmen in the community.

Moreover, students would be taught to treat money as an organic part of their moral behavior. Money, strictly speaking, simply allows the possessor to do more things; developing the proper attitude towards money will lead to healthier behavior and avoid crass materialism or sacrificing morality for the sake of material gain.

6. Most of all, students would be taught civics and morality. This does not mean heavyhanded indoctrination; rather, they would learn all of the classic thinkers on the need for civics, and the foundation of morality. Religious schools would have a stronger basis to draw on here, and should take full advantage of it; yet even secular schools have the great thinkers of the Western tradition. This is the key point: it does no good to train brilliant pupils if they go on to harm people and society with their brilliance. Power brings responsibility, and that responsibility must be taught.

A few additional points. The school day would be lengthened to better match the typical work schedule; parents should not have to choose between their work and their children. The additional time would be entirely unstructured, giving students a chance to play, think, take advantage of school facilities, do research, and unwind. School should not be entirely regimented; children are not factory workers, but fresh minds and bodies. This time could also be used for in-school assignments. "Homework" as such, with the exception of long-term assignments, would not exist. Schools have no right to infringe on the private time of families on a regular basis.

The youngest students would be placed in intensive foreign-language immersion courses. The benefits of learning additional languages are profound, aside from the practical ability to understand people from other countries. In theory, young children can learn any number of languages if they are taught, and this should be exploited to the fullest. The ideal student should learn Arabic, French, and Chinese at the very least.

And of course, educational games would be promoted at every opportunity. This includes the stalawarts like Chess and Go, but also games like Cashflow and computer games that focus on concepts like logic, strategy, logistics, and spatial reasoning. At any rate, if it's good for the kids, it's in.

The end result of this program should be to produce citizens who are well-equipped for the fluid world that we will see in the future. Certainly, they should outperform the unfortunate inmates of the conventional educational system.

1 comment:

Aunt Kay said...

I like what you have written here all the way down to your first "additional point." I am not in favor of lengthening the school day to accommodate a parent's work schedule. The unwinding and in-school homework you speak of can be incorporated into the regular school week without extending the day. I have long been an advocate of arranging school schedules more like college where there are a couple of days set aside as labs.
To have children is to have already chosen them as "first" in your life. All else should be made to accommodate what is best for your child. In my perfect world where every family has 2 parents, one of them stays home to raise the kids. The need for school to transition into child care simply because the afternoon rolled around is then not necessary. Any work that would need to be completed outside of school could be done with the help of the at-home parent. And I do agree, at least for the elementary grades that there should be no homework.
As a side note: I've just enrolled your cousin in a school that meets most of your requirements. Those schools do exist, they just don't exist in the traditional public school arena. I looked! Hope to see you soon.