Educational Philosophy & Practice

In the Classroom, One Size Never Fits All

One year ago today, I started kindergarten for the second time. This week I had an experience in a yoga class that brought me back to the way I sometimes felt in my school days, and the way I noticed kids feeling when I returned to the classroom. Given that kids throughout the country are going back to school within the month, I wanted to share my frustration with the situation and how it could have been avoided with an individualized teaching approach.


Op/Education #1: Blue School, Manhattan

This week’s TIME Magazine features an article called “At the Blue Man Group’s School, Kids Rule.” The founders of the quirky Blue Man Group, the popular performance art team, started a school in New York City for 61 kids in kindergarten and younger. The school will add a grade each year, eventually enrolling kindergarten through fifth graders. Tuition is a jaw-dropping $27,300 per year, comparable with other elementary schools in Manhattan.

Chris Wink, one of the founders, says that the school is “sort of a support group for people whose creativity had been all but squeezed out of them by education.” He says, “At one point, we asked, What if there was a school you didn’t have to recover from, that didn’t make you question the idea of being creative?” The physical environment of the school is set up for exploring, climbing, and expanding the imagination: for example, the Wonder Room features a climbing wall and a floor programmed with games that lights up. Kids choose their own activities, and teachers emphasize inquiry over instruction. Read the brief feature here and watch the TIME’s Blue School video here.

Thanks to Kathleen Doise and Jill Hisaw for forwarding the TIME article.


Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

– If you went to this school, what would you enjoy about it? What would you find challenging?

– What questions does this school raise for you?

New RSY Series: Op/Education

I’m starting a new series on the RSY site called Op/Education. It’s a way for all of us to find out about noteworthy schools, educational trends, and programs, and to exchange our thoughts about them. Some will inspire, others may horrify, but I hope that all give us a better sense of our own educational ideals. Featured projects can be American or foreign, new or old, for youth or adults, but they will all have characteristics that set them apart from mainstream schooling.

The purpose of Op/Education is to raise awareness about the variety of school options that exist for people of all ages. I wish more than anything that I’d been aware of educational options while I was a student, so I could have chosen the one that best suited me. For people raising kids now and in the future, understanding their options and values can make a big impact on their children’s development. For those of us adults seeking ways to educate and develop ourselves as adults, knowing about graduate programs, community or online classes, books, and other resources could give us needed guidance.

I’m excited to share the programs I’ve visited over the years, and to hear your opinions on them. I’d also like for you to introduce the alternative programs you know about. If this interests you, email me so I can either write about the programs myself or feature you as a guest blogger. I look forward to swapping knowledge with y’all.

Gratitude Upon Graduation

I have just a few minutes to post before I leave St. Vincent High School, so this post will be much shorter and more off the cuff than usual. I spent my lunch period talking with my old principal — who now teaches World History — and I ended up skipping Literature class because we were having such an in-depth conversation. We talked about how the school has changed and remained the same, what we hope formal education does for students, and how we’ve changed as individuals over the years. The conversation reminded me of how much I love St. Vincent High School, and that feeling has stayed with me all day. I’ve had similar conversations with several of my old teachers during the last couple of weeks, and they’ve been the highlight of my visit. I am trying to make sense of this paradox: I suffered quite a bit in the school system and believe it’s in need of major change, but I love this school that is a part of that system.

Even when I was a student, I always appreciated the teachers and the community. Even the teachers that have a traditional authoritative style sincerely care about their students, respect their opinions, and get to know them on a personal level. They make it clear to students that they matter. Although I believe that the school system has gone wrong in many ways — including memorization of specialized material, strict rules, and competitive grading — something is right with my high school, and with my elementary and middle schools. What’s right with my schools is the people. Generally speaking, the teachers are doing their best within a very complicated system that has taken on a life of its own, perpetuated by thousands of people and institutions, parents and administrators and the whole University of California system. Most don’t even realize that schools can look completely different than the norm, and that they may not need some of the components we assume they do.


Five Assumptions About High Schoolers

In addition to helping process school memories, Reschool Yourself involves raising questions about the practice and philosophy of traditional schooling in general. I want to be clear that I love and respect all of my schools, and although I’m using examples from their campuses, I’m talking about school in general. I’m truly curious about why schools tend to operate the way they do, and what changes are possible within their circumstances.

This week, I’ve noticed a few underlying assumptions about students — which I’ve noticed at other schools, too — that give me pause. Whether stated or not, they seem to be taken for granted, and include the following:

1. Students wouldn’t come to school if they didn’t have to and are therefore thrilled to have days off.

My observation: The general merriment around the Veteran’s Day holiday. When one teacher reminded the students about it, one guy said sarcastically, “Oh yeahhh, I almost forgot. It’s not like I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks.”


Around the World in 30 Desks

If I had to name one classroom activity that used to make my adrenaline levels skyrocket, it would be Around the World.

Here’s how it works. One student begins the game by standing next to the desk of a classmate who will be the first challenger. The two competitors face the teacher, who has a stack of flash cards with simple math equations on them. The teacher quickly pulls out a card and holds it up in front of the competing pair. The student who does the mental math and shouts out the correct answer first moves to the next desk, taking on a new challenger. The objective is to travel “around the world,” beating every classmate with quick-draw math skillz.

I’m not gonna lie — back in my day, I was kind of a big deal at this game, drawing grumbles from the other kids when it was their turn to challenge me. I don’t think I exactly looked forward to competing, since the threat of losing in front of everyone made me anxious. I remember my heart racing with each new round, feeling pressure to perform and relief when the game finally ended.


The Questions That Reunions Raise

Today at brunch, I ran into one of my high school teachers and her partner, Burt. I mentioned that going to my 10-year high school reunion had raised some questions for me:

* At graduation, what were my hopes for the coming years? How close have I come to living out what I had envisioned, and how do I feel about that?

* In what ways did school help me get to where I am now? In what ways is it holding me back?

* How might I have turned out differently if I’d been able to do what I wanted in school instead of what was required of me?

Burt said that he’d attended his 35-year high school reunion this year, and he and his classmates had been having similar conversations. They’d been talking about how their education had shaped them, and what effects it was still having on them. It fascinates me that these questions are coming up not only 10 years after high school graduation, but 35 years after. It reminds me of how important it is to reflect on them throughout our lives, so they don’t occur to us for the first time at our 50th high school reunion, or our 70th.

How would you answer these questions yourself? Leave a comment.

Classroom Crime & Punishment

Yesterday I remembered what it feels like to get in trouble at school.

I arrived during morning recess, and immediately a group of my 3rd grade classmates accosted me, pestering me to tell them more scary stories. I hesitated, asking them whether they’d had any nightmares.

“I couldn’t go to sleep at first,” one girl said, “but I remembered that you said the stories were make-believe, and then I fell asleep.”

The end-of-recess whistles blew, and the kids and I filed into class. Ms. Alessio, a teacher who was at the school back when I was a student, asked us to take our seats because she had an important announcement.

“I got a call from a parent last night,” she began.

My stomach sank. I’d suspected that indulging the kids’ demands for scary stories had been a bad idea, and that parents might complain. An anxious feeling began growing in my chest.


Feelin’ Rough in 3rd Grade

Lately, I’m having more trouble than usual with balance. It’s after 5 a.m. right now, I haven’t gone to bed yet, and I’m supposed to be at school in three hours. There simply isn’t enough time for me to go to school, work part-time (as I’ve been attempting starting yesterday), document my experiences, AND take care of myself with enough sleep and exercise — much less to have a little downtime and fun.

The most frustrating thing is having almost a full notebook of ideas and no time to share them on the blog. I have posts from my first days in kindergarten — and posts from the education conference before school even started — that I have yet to generate. I might just have to save some for the book.

I’m in 3rd grade through Wednesday, and I’ll start 4th on Thursday. I’m averaging three days in each elementary grade and will spend a bit more time in each of my middle and high school classes.

I keep reminding myself that it’s important to sleep enough so I can get the most out of my classroom experience. When I’m tired, the kids’ constant stories about their pet dogs and their grandmas and their sparkle pencils just aren’t quite as entertaining.

This week, I also have an extra motivator: Looking decent for my 10-year high school reunion this weekend. Right now I look like something the cat hocked up. Let’s hope this changes before Friday.