Op/Education #4: Kid-Friendly Classroom Design

When I was in first grade, my classmates and I sat in small wooden desks that were arranged in five neat rows of six. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Sherwood, gently instructing me and the other six-year-olds to sit up with our backs straight and our hands folded primly on the desktop. Being a student who took authority seriously, I sat very still and remember being praised for sitting “the right way.”

The truth is, even though teachers tend to want kids to sit in the classroom without moving around, it goes against the nature of the child. In fact, it goes against the nature of adults, too. Just like other living creatures, people are biologically programmed for physical activity throughout the day, not just at 10-minute intervals decided by others. Whether you work in a cubicle or a coffee shop, I can bet that you get up and move around within any given hour more than kids are allowed to.


Op/Education #3: Invective for Social Change

I used to admire MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann for saying what everyone else was thinking. On 9/11/08, he wasn’t afraid to declare that the Bush administration was trying to profit from using “9/11 TM” as a brand. After listening to just a few of Olbermann’s Special Comments, however, I’ve gotten tired of his diatribes. They are so extreme that I don’t think they’re very effective, and they hurt my head. I think we can learn an important lesson from Olbermann when it comes to social change, including education reform: Yelling doesn’t get you anywhere.


Op/Education #2: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Even though I’ve been writing a lot about personal development recently, I’ll also continue to write about education. One of my goals for this spring is to reflect not only my personal experience with education, but also on the larger system that gave rise to this experience. The Op/Education series will share education-related news and media, as well as a variety of schools and programs, and ask for your opinions about them.

People have recommended that I watch the show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” because of its connection to Reschool Yourself. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the show:

5th Grader games are played by a single contestant, who attempts to answer ten questions (plus a final bonus question). Content is taken from elementary school textbooks, two from each grade level from first to fifth. Each correct answer increases the amount of money the player banks; a maximum cash prize of US$1,000,000 can be won. Along the way, the player can be assisted by a “classmate”, one of five school-age cast members, in answering the questions. Notably, upon getting an answer incorrect or deciding to prematurely end the game, the contestant must state that they are not smarter than a 5th grader.

The clip above features American Idol competitor and country music artist Kellie Pickler as a contestant on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” What disturbs me most is not that she’s never heard of Budapest. Each of us, although we’d like to think that our particular body of knowledge defines what it means to be intelligent, has blind spots and gaps in our knowledge. Often our ignorance results from lack of exposure or interest, and we develop all kinds of strategies for hiding this ignorance from others (see my post on Impostor’s Syndrome). I don’t think you have to know the capital of Malaysia or Madagascar to be a smart person. It’s more important to know where to find those answers when the need arises, and to feel humbled by not knowing them.


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?