I do think that schools can be improved to some extent (though their very purpose itself is disheartening at best). There are so many things we can do to improve schools—give kids more say, abolish standardized testing and grades, provide optional class work and attendance in general—but one thing just occurred to me on Tuesday while I was hosting co-op classes for our homeschool group. Why not run schools like this?During my co-op classes, I provide instruction—but I do so while constantly asking the children for their own feedback, input, and interests. I held a comic book making class, for example, that was supposed to focus around the actual writing aspect, but we spent most of it creating our characters, drawing them, and deciding what they’d fight, which was fine! Some drew in cells, some practiced their characters’ expressions, but I think all had fun. And when it was time for the class to end and the parents were signing up for the next writing class I’ll offer, they didn’t do it automatically; they asked their children if they wanted to come or not. All of them said yes. Child input—indeed, meaning itself for the child—is crucial to learning. We don’t learn anything that we are not interested in learning in the first place.
I have no hand-raising, no kids put on the spot. If a kid figures out something—say, a fold in my origami class that comes next—I ask him or her if he or she would like to show everyone. In fact, I am trying to get it where some of our kids will host classes themselves, which would be so much fun for them and their friends; one has already volunteered to teach our next art masters class!
This is fun, engaging learning for everyone because they make it theirs. I do not have age limits in my classes (though I have offered to help individuals with certain things, such as SAT preparation, when requested). Sometimes I might have eight kids; sometimes twenty or more sign up! The only thing that I could really use is a larger space than my living room—or maybe some stock in origami paper!
Could you imagine a classroom where kids could choose what they learn, as well as how they learn it? These kids can and do, which is my wish for every child.