Challenging Our Assumptions
By Edith Morgan
In a month, we will be trying to return our WPS students to some sort of education – whether in school, at home in “virtual” classes, or a hybrid. The main purpose of all this jockeying is to keep our children safe from the novel coronavirus, at least until it is abated enough and until we have a tried, tested and trustworthy vaccine, which is available to all, at affordable prices.
This month should be a great opportunity to question our basic assumptions and see if there are some major changes which we ought to consider, in answer to these questions.
The truth is that for many working parents, the school day is a safe and trusted place to park our children while we work. So our first priority should be to ensure that we have ALL children under our care from about 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m.
Second: What situation in adult life requires us to sit for hours in groups, where we can not talk to others, the seats and desks being all the same size in each grade, and now to be six feet apart?
What do we learn under these conditions? Is this an optimum learning environment? Is there any evidence that this is the best way to acquire skills and information? Or is that just the cheapest and easiest way – regardless of how inappropriate that is?
Third: This is the 21st century, and we are still, for the most part, using curriculum materials that are, if they ever really were, appropriate for the last century.
Our children are woefully unprepared to think clearly for themselves, to understand how their city, state and federal government work … and what their rights and responsibilities as citizens are. Is a mandated civics class really enough?
Fourth: Since we are no longer mostly farmers, why are we still on the old farm schedule, with time of when the crops have to be brought in – what is the magic about 180 days of school? What are we supposed to specifically learn in that period of time? And what research tells us that all our children learn the same things at the same speed and efficiency, at the same chronological age? Why do those students who take longer have to be failed, with that failure following them all their lives?
Fifth: If we are creating lifelong learners and citizens able to function in a democracy, are our schools structured so that our students have less freedom to make decisions as they get up in the grades? Kindergarten classes are far less restrictive than high schools! And the students learn a lot more!
Sixth: If we are to have charge of all the children all day, why do we not use all the great facilities the city offers and get the students out of the classroom? Even outdoors for early autumn … Could we work out a schedule where we use our city parks, libraries, Audubon sites, theaters, monuments, etc to teach in Real Life?
Bag lunches could be given to all students, as well as face masks and hand-washing materials …
Most of us learn SO MUCH outside the classroom – and continue to do so!
A long time ago, someone asked what would be the ideal educational system, and the reply was ”Johns Hopkins on one end of a log and the student on the other.” Think about that.