Friday, May 05, 2006

A different approach to school

I came across this post via Stephen Downes's OLDaily. Watching the video, I found myself thinking, as my kids would put it, "Just no!"

Stephen seems to be strongly in favour of the concept and I am usually sufficiently intimidated by his infinitely more prodigious brain and far deeper grasp of things to presume that he must be right and I must be wrong when we differ. So, I examined my motives and assumed that I must just be stuck in a different world, with a different set of paradigms, lacking the will to break out.

I acknowledge that the school in the video has structures in place to prevent a decline into complete anarchy, which was what I initially thought was the case. But I still find I can't distance myself from the notion that parents and teachers have a greater breadth of experience and a perspective that only time and, well, experience can provide. I acknowledge that these are going to be flawed adults, but as far as possible, they should have a child's best interests at heart. From this vantage point, surely they are better positioned to know what a child will need to know in order to tackle what experience has told them life is likely to have in store?

I encountered a school run on similar lines several years ago, and met several of its existing and past students. They generally seemed inadequately prepared for "real life". Their academic results were mediocre, their sporting ability was all but non-existent, they lacked drive and ambition. They seemed kind of, well, woolly - a bit granola-and-birkenstocks-and-we-are-one.

Perhaps I'm just a control-freak, but I can't see myself ever leaving my own children to decide when and if to attend lessons. One of them would stay home and play Star Wars something-or-other on the PlayStation in between episodes of Futurama and the Simpsons, while the other would hit the sports field, returning only to plug in to MSN. Their plans to become a demolitions expert and a forensic scientist respectively would never even come close to fruition.

This kind of harks back to Jeff Utecht's post about people not knowing what they don't know (although admittedly he was talking about teachers, but I think the principle holds). If they don't know what they don't know, how do they know what knowledge will prove beneficial?

It would be interesting to speak to some of these kids in 10 years' time to see whether they still feel so well disposed towards this form of education.

So I'm going to have to continue to differ from Stephen on this one, although I'm sure if we had to have a debate about it he'd open a can of whup-ass on me.


Albert Ip said...

I have written a follow up after reading your post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the follow up, Albert - love the picture.

I hear your arguments, but for my part, I have to stick at the point that parents (and teachers) are charged with leading and guiding children, and my view is that this involves increasing independence and the gradual assumption of responsibility. Watching some of the younger children in the video, I'm sorry, but I cannot believe that they are old enough to assume the responsibility for driving their own education to the extent that they do.

Albert Ip said...

Totally understand your concern and I have been wearing a devil's hat. ;-)

Yes, a school like Fairhaven may not be a school for younger children. Given my daughter is absolutely rebellious, that may be a choice.

On the other hand, if she ever get enrolled in Fairhaven, I will also make sure she will have boot camp type of experience (see e.g. - not she is a Juvenile delinquent . (I live in Australia, so sending her to Fairhaven is just an assumption and is not a possibility)

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Talk about the opposite extreme!-)

Mind you, I have heard that, for teens who have fallen foul of the law, these places have their uses. I hope I never have cause to find out...!

In the UK, they have made a few reality TV programmes about these programmes. The kids involved seemed to have in common that their parents have "let them grow up", as opposed to "raising them". This is, of course, a gross generalisation, but it seems to me that appropriate boundaries, consistently maintained are healthy for a child. It's what James Dobson calls a healthy dose of vitamin N (the word "No").

Albert Ip said...

Yes, it is a bit extreme!

May be, it is better to stay in the mainstream and make sure appropriate vitamin N are given at the right time. :-)

Thanks for the great conversation.

Anonymous said...

I taught in an alternative school outside of Toronto for several years. There, students took a variety of high school courses on an individualized basis. Yes, the inspired, motivated, organized, and goal-oriented students did very well. Those with less motivation, who were dis-organized, and didn't have the foggiest idea of what they would do with their lives also made some progress. Both groups needed guidance to succeed. Different types of guidance and different levels of guidance, but they all needed guidance at sometime or the other. I believe that educators have a duty to guide, provide suggestions, outline opportunities, and respond to students' requests for support, but we should not impose our will. I think Karyn is right that teachers need to guide, but I also believe that students should have a say in how they acquire and experience knowledge. We need a mix of Karyn's and Stephen's worlds. Perhaps more of Karyn's when we are younger, and more of Stephen's when we are older.