A New Type of School - Our School
This is a transcript of a lecture given by Haggai Borkow in the 17th Annual Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in
Borkow, the co-founder and CEO of a software company (www.channelstorm.com) who had established a regional school where Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians study together (www.nirschool.org) presents here his vision for a new type of school, a school "of the people and for the people" that facilitates the 'creation' of vastly empowered humans who will then create vastly better societies.
This school - Our School - is to achieve these goals by adopting a new set of values (such as solidarity and courage), adhering to unique pedagogic assumptions (such as the importance of associative thinking and daily 'non-academic' skills), implementing heterarchies, emphasizing a multi-layered integration into the physical, communal and human worlds, and by introducing the revolutionary concept of cyclical learning.
Each of us in the Western World spends about 12,000 quality hours at primary, junior and high school. That is probably as much quality time as we ever get to spend with our whole families. In a sense then, we're as married to school as to our spouses and family. It is therefore clear that we should make the school too our own, "Our School".
Unfortunately however, when looking at mainstream education worldwide, what should be a glorious matrimony looks more like the wedding cake left out in the rain. Of course, many thoughtful and honorable attempts to reform the educational system, making schools our own, are on record. However, none of these reforms, to my mind, tackles the fundamental issues, and thus most, if not all, failed. In what follows I will present a blueprint for a different type of reform, which I call Our School. In my humble opinion this suggestion offers a mixture of sound and original ideas. As they say, I just hope that you will not think that none of the sound ideas is original, and none of the original ideas is sound.
ANALYSIS OF EDUCATION TODAY
As you're all experts, I suggest we begin by quickly analyzing the impact of a traditional school, where the vast majority of the youth in the Western World is spending, some would say - serving - their 12,000 hours of school education.
As I was lucky enough to attend what are widely considered excellent schools, we can use my personal experience as a sample to generalize from:
As a small child I was so eager to please my teachers that I often agreed to their value judgments without sufficient reason. Obviously I was praised for it, so this practice was constantly reinforced, culminating in a person (me) that was externally directed beyond my own, or my group's interests.
Furthermore, praise was often a "sum zero" entity. So when the class was asked a question and I raised my hand to answer, I had to hope that nobody else would raise their hand, or get permission to answer, or answer correctly, thus ensuring that I will get a chance to answer. Really, whenever one of us succeeded, it seemed as if a little something in the rest of us died. Without ever stopping to think about it, and without choosing it, we found ourselves amidst a fierce competition against everybody else.
Our teachers' answer to this fierce competitiveness was what they called 'work in groups' which of course was nothing of the sort: lacking any incentives to do otherwise, whenever assigned to work in a group, each of us tried to reduce the amount of work we had to individually do, manipulating the circumstances so somebody else in the group, the group's 'dork' or 'sucker' or 'suckers', would pick up our share. In those cases where those who presented the work were not those who made it, we learned that the world is divided into those who do things, and those who get the credit; and in the other cases we learned that cutting corners and dumping our work on others doesn't really affect the one important thing - our grades.
In any case we learned that as Bierce said, our conscience is merely the inner voice that warns us that somebody may be looking.
Yes, schools instill in us an exploitative 'cutting corners' mentality, or in short cynicism and egotism.
But coming back to grades for a second - the worship of grades taught us to believe unrelentingly that the ends justify the means, feeding onto our already ferocious competitiveness, creating a shallow 'bottom line' mentality.
With the other side of this "Bottom Line Grades Worship" being fear - I remember we feared failure knowing that no extenuating circumstances will really be accepted. Actually, I remember how fear was used, even more than praise as the main motivating factor in our education (if you'll fail in 5th grade, you will fail in 6th grade, ad infinitum becoming an old and lonely bum). To fear ladies and gentleman is not why we were born into this world.
In an expected cancer-like fashion this "Grades-Related Fear" soon seeped onto most other school-related phenomena, inhibiting our thoughts and feelings to such an extent that we never dared to make the same mistake even once. Really. With this fear prompting us to lie and sneak and cheat and avoid our responsibilities.
An all-inclusive inhibition that paralyzed our development, making us devout adherents to the "truths" that were stamped upon us at school, while being close-minded and fully immune to anything different. Really, schools weaken our nature so much that we mistake our ingrained fear of new ideas for strength of character, proudly exclaiming, "Hey, I am cool - I am wholly unsusceptible to influence".
All of which turned us into hypocrites of course - we pretended to accept what the grownups were telling us about us - that we study because we're interested, that we wish other students well, that grades are just a means to identify our weaknesses, that the learning process is important in itself, etc. None of which we, nor our teachers believed. Would pedagogues be hypocrites if they'll claim that hypocrisy learned at school, prepares the students well to their "life after school"?
As implied before, these overwhelming conflicting messages corrupted our natural impulses. The lesser evil of which is that today, for most of us, to be natural is one of hardest poses to keep up; and the bigger being that we don't have an innate natural voice to guide us in our dealings with the world. Most of us are confused and frustrated.
A predicament that is exacerbated by the early morning disorientation, the totally disconnected classes, the bogus claim we constantly try to justify that these disconnected and irrelevant classes are somehow supposed to "Help Us In Life", the unjust punishments, etc. etc.
With ever increasing numbers of youngsters who are hospitalized with mental breakdowns, it seems that for some this turns to be a medical confusion and frustration. It is not atypical to talk to a graduate who'll say something to the effect of "Great, so I'm now cured of schizophrenia - but where am I now that I need me?" And more to the point in our context - where are the others when he needs them? Schools - being so large, impersonal and "bottom-line" oriented - tend to neglect the different and needy individual, exacerbating his feeling of loneliness and alienation. Really, pretty much like TV shows, schools are quite phenomenal in that millions of students go through the same process at roughly the same time, and yet remain lonesome and isolated.
And of course, confusion, frustration, alienation and loneliness breed violence…
And as students become more assertive teachers often become more tyrannical, alienating the students further so the students stop meekly asking for their rights, demanding privileges instead, kicking off a vicious circle that breeds not just violence, but righteous violence to boot.
I could go on and on, but there's no more room on my slide and I think you get the picture…
The bleak picture of what should be a glorious matrimony and looks like a wedding cake left out in a rainstorm. The bleak picture of a system that breeds, almost deductively, in a "Cogito Ergo Boom" fashion, violence. School violence is regarded by many the most serious problem in the system. Maybe thinking about the Columbine massacre and other such incidents, some say education is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much more serious than that. The long-term actions we'll undertake following our educational discussions here and in similar places are not really geared to determine who is right, but rather if we will be even left at all. Education is after all the Archimedean point of social change. And it has to be wholly rethought.
THE AIMS OF EDUCATION
Rethought from scratch.
And as Bertrand Russell writes in his classic treatise On Education: "Before considering how to educate, it is well to be clear as to the sort of result which we wish to achieve" we should, in other words, begin by asking what are the aims of education.
In Our School we strive to facilitate the 'creation' of vastly empowered humans who will then create vastly better societies.
We'd like our graduates to possess the qualities mentioned in the slide I would show you in a second. Please take your time reading them. Sure, they will look a bit funny in our context - too much like a personals ad in the newspaper. But hey, that only means that people consider these to be really desirable characteristics.
Here they are: Happy, Loving, Content, Confident, Resourceful, Self-Reliant, Resilient, Courageous, Personally Integrated, Balanced, Knowledgeable, Curious, Experienced, Diverse, Aesthetically Astute, Spontaneous, Fun, Modest, Friendly, Kind, Considerate, Sensitive, Able to Show Weakness, Tolerant, Trustworthy, Dependable, Internally and Externally Attentive, Socially Integrated and Socially Responsible.
Now, these characteristics were carefully chosen. In spite of the partial overlapping, each is different and thus requires different implementation modes, which their combined, synergistic effect, addresses the students in their wholeness, making these characteristics achievable.
Obviously, anybody will find faults with this hypothetical graduate of Our Schools.
Upon seeing it Christ may have thought that love is not emphasized enough, while Kant may have complained that 'The Courage to Think' is not emphasized enough. Aristotle will not find his 'Magnanimous Man' in it, nor Neitzche his "Super Man". The elder Brutus will note that 'Affection to the State' is wholly missing, while Confucious will feel that his central 'Affection to the Family' is merely a consequence of the other characteristics, etc. etc.
Actually, even people who agree about this 'List of Ingredients' or characteristics or qualities may differ as to their relative importance.
Not to mention the type of antagonism that the underlying values - Solidarity, Diversity, Equity, Self-Management, etc. may evoke.
So I will just leave the 'List of Characteristics' at that, acknowledging that each community should be allowed to modify and prioritize these ingredients in ways that suit it, a topic we'll return to later, and focus now on how to best achieve these desirable characteristics.
WAYS TO ACHIEVE THESE AIMS
Allow me to quote Russell in this context too. He writes that "Scientific education … does not help us to decide what ends we shall pursue … nor will it give you that instinctive understanding of human beings ... It cannot teach you patience, it cannot teach you sympathy, it cannot teach you a sense of human destiny. These things, in so far as they can be taught in formal education, are most likely to emerge from the learning of history and great literature" assuming that these "enter into the texture" of students' everyday thoughts.
So here is, at last, where I may differ with Russell. In my mind, these characteristics are not to be instilled by the subjects taught, be they science, history or literature; but rather by the ways in which these subjects are to be taught. These ways hold the key to the question of whether the desired attributes will or will not enter into the texture of students' everyday thoughts, feelings and actions.
And here too is where I differ with other, more recent, reforms. Take for example the high profile Dalton reform that many of us witnessed in action yesterday on the day-trip. According to their credo, and I am quoting here: "…students participate in community service and outreach projects which are integrated into the curriculum. Age-appropriate activities, reading materials, class trips and guest speakers on varied topics of service and civil responsibility are an integral part of a child's education at Dalton."
Great and delightful stuff of course, but as these changes are not part and parcel of the curriculum itself, as they don't affect the ways in which the subjects are taught, they're insufficient, I think, to achieve even Dalton's declared goals.
In Our School everything is quite different. In Our School the subjects are not being taught at all. They are being learned. And those are not really subjects. And they're related to each other in intricate and surprising ways. And they're wholly derived from the students' everyday experiences. And they are clearly related to their everyday concerns. Etc.
OUR SCHOOL - HOW DO THE STUDENTS LEARN?
In order to understand these claims, let's look at Our School methodically, even if, due to time constrictions, only partially. And let's begin by the way in which the students learn.
Students learn cooperatively in working groups. Lessons begin with a carefully crafted and intriguing problem posed by the teacher (or educator), which the students' groups then tackle from various different angles. As it is often the case that a self-taught person has a poor teacher and an even worse student, teachers' guidance is of course crucial.
After the allotted time, each group shares its dynamics, findings and insights with the others. Each group shares its internal dynamics by explaining to the other students how the group members shared the work between them, making sure that the needs of all the members are met, overcoming each member's weaknesses and utilizing each member's strengths.
Then each group shares its academic findings. This is not done in a frontal fashion, but rather as an activity that each group has to invent, orchestrate and manage, engaging the other students as much as possible.
Finally, each group shares any unrelated insight it deems … relevant. This apparently contradictory claim will be clarified when we'll dwell on the principles of associative thinking, which is one of Our School's pedagogic assumptions.
As way of conclusion, the whole class discusses the sum total of what it went through, combining all the bits and pieces, possibly synergizing its experience.
The assessment of each group's work takes into account all the elements mentioned - group's dynamics, academic excellence, presentation effectiveness, etc.
Needless to say, in the assessment, each of these elements is broken down further, including for example the accuracy of the group's self-report regarding its internal dynamics when compared to the teacher's (or a "monitoring group" of peers) impressions, the group's responsiveness to other groups' presentations, etc. thus making the acquisition of knowledge only one of the elements assessed, in par with internal cooperation within a group, and other pertinent skills, cognitive as well as social, students should acquire.
OUR SCHOOL - WHAT IS ACHIEVED BY THE SCHOOL'S LEARNING METHODS
All this may sound a tad untraditional and somewhat complex, so the immediate question is why should we bother? Or phrased differently - what is achieved by Our School's learning and assessment methods? Well, many things.
As assignments are timed, students learn to plan and manage their time and resources.
As groups are randomized between assignments, students learn to deal with unpredictability and different environments, becoming more diverse and confident.
As groups try to incorporate the contribution of each of its members, students learn to become more kindly attuned to their friends, as well as to their own strengths and weaknesses.
As groups try to agree students lean to better express and assert themselves, negotiating for the greater good.
As groups share their internal dynamics students become more confident and courageous.
In short, as groups try to optimize their internal level of cooperation, students become more friendly, dependable, trustworthy, considerate, tolerant, socially integrated and socially responsible.
I could go on and on as these are only part of the advantages related to working in groups in this fashion. I am not even referring to the benefits related to their need to devise engaging activities and its impact on their inventiveness, fun and resourcefulness, nor to the impact of their need to manage and oversee them, nor to their recourse to associative thinking, etc.
However, in a paltry attempt to live up to the spirit of Our School where students are expected to analyze phenomena from a multitude of angles, allow me to analyze this issue from at least one other angle:
There are three types of characteristics that Our School aims to instill in the students. Frames of mind (like happy, content, confident, courageous, etc.), attitudes to the world (like loving, kind, considerate, etc.), and attitudes to oneself (like resilient, balanced personally integrated, internally attentive, etc.)
How does Our School instill these characteristics? While in a thorough analysis these characteristics should be differentiated, I'll refer to them all together here. The staff members, who are role models to the students, should:
Posses these traits
Explicitly advocate these traits
Create situations where these traits, when exercised, bring the best results, while
Bringing this process and its desired outcomes to the students' consciousness, and
Highlighting the gratification involved
Compliment students when they behave in the desired ways, while
Asking them to analyze the process involved so they'll be able to better and more easily access it again in the future…
And there are other ways to look at it of course … But instead of looking at these issues from yet other angles, I'd like to summarize by returning to the first one for a second - as behavior and performance are assessed according to many factors; taking into account not only cognitive but also to the emotional, interpersonal and social learning of the students, they learn to better prioritize their lives, addressing more fully their own needs in real life.
Really, this whole idea is a mere attempt to rectify what Kafka describes thus: "We are sinful not because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life."
OUR SCHOOL - WHAT IS LEARNED AT THE SCHOOL
Which brings me of course to the question of what then is learned at Our School.
Our School curriculum consists of: subjects, skills, 'Fridays', courses and 'specials'. This curriculum is geared so not only Our School graduates will be everything I described before, but will also discover (or re-invent) - in as much as it is possible - human science and culture from a-z.
Let's follow our slide here and begin with the Subjects. Well, this may be a bit surprising, but in Our School the only subjects are 'world', 'humans', and (in communities that so desire) 'God'.
'World' includes all the matters related to the physical or tangible world. 'Humans' refers to everything that happens in their minds and between people and their minds. 'God' relates to religious studies.
This is of course an interdisciplinary curriculum, but it takes this fashionable notion to its logical conclusion. This breaking down of the disciplinary boundaries:
Better represents our inter-connected reality, thus allowing the curriculum to
Better reflect the real-life experiences of the students, engaging them much more.
It also releases the mind from unnecessary constraints, thus inspiring the students to understand better and discover more, while
Encouraging their associative and courageous thinking.
It instills a sense of modesty facing the humbling reality in its un-fragmented grandeur.
And relieves students from the fragmentation-driven anxiety.
The differences between Our School's interdisciplinary program and other such programs are fundamental and numerous, and their implications are far-reaching.
One such implication, which can serve as a good example, is the way in which mathematics is treated.
In other interdisciplinary programs math is taught as an autonomous subject. In Our School math is derived, when needed, and as the context dictates, from the subject being learned at the moment.
In other words, math is not treated as a semi-mystical entity that the students, hard as they try, cannot relate to their real-life experiences, and thus regard it as totally irrelevant for them; but rather, as a useful tool they resort to when it is needed in order to clarify some interesting phenomena they're trying to understand.
I could multiply more such examples, but it will be faster to generalize: current interdisciplinary curriculums fall in between two poles of a traditional-innovative spectrum. In the traditional pole all is as it always was, with occasional topics or assignments that combine two or more subjects. In the innovative pole students learn most topics from several angles, while still using the disciplinary language pertinent to each specific angle. Unfortunately, even in the innovative pole the topics being taught are not always such that students can easily and intuitively relate to. Obviously, Our School's interdisciplinary curriculum doesn't fit in this spectrum.
Let me delve into this last point of 'relevancy' for a second, as it is of utter importance.
It is almost impossible and it surely makes no sense to take young kids, put them behind a desk and force them to learn about remote - and for them wholly irrelevant - topics like rock formations in different geological eons, which is, no kidding, one of the things I was expected to memorize when I was 10 years old.
In Our School every topic is a two-pronged hook designed to capture the students interest and imagination: First, as the topics and examples explored are derived from their daily experiences, the students have a clear and vested interest in their studies. Second, as their studies elucidate their lives, exposing the underlying principles according to which they operate, they are prone to naturally take a bigger interest in their own lives.
Obviously, each prong reinforces the other…
Allow me to wrap up this section about the multidisciplinary studies in a provocative way:
Imagine that we're teaching the solar system by exploring the possible Xtreme sports that can be practiced on each of its planets and moons. That will surely catch the students' imagination. And it is surely interdisciplinary in that we are talking astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, math, product design, game design, etc. all in one.
Well, while it may be exciting enough to make Our School's curriculum, it does not fully meet the criteria for Our School's interdisciplinary studies. The reason being that it is not derived, at least until the relevant video games will be developed, it is not derived from the students' real life experiences.
In other words, it lacks the 'two prongs' element, implying two corresponding problems: First, the students won't experience as many real-life 'Reminder Cues', cues which are instrumental in the consolidation of the materials learned. Second, the students' real lives won't be elucidated to the extent needed to increase their interest in their lives. And the rest follows.
On the other hand a mundane occurrence like the student's morning routine as she brushes her teeth surely makes the Our School interdisciplinary curriculum. The trick is to expose the underlying beauty of this trivial act, helping the student to realize that such beauty underlies everything we do and experience, that mundane and daily are beautiful.
When the student brushes her teeth numerous physical, chemical, biological, mathematical, psychological and social elements come together in a unique way. Later, when we'll discuss CyclicaLearning we'll delve into the role themes play in this interdisciplinary curriculum.
OK, so we covered 'subjects', the first item on our list here. Let's now go to the second item, 'Skills'.
Initially many valuable skills were taught in schools, as these partially replaced tutors and parents. However, as schools "advanced" they gradually became more scholastic and stopped teaching these skills. In a few communities some of the barred skills were still sometimes taught, usually in special schools for needy, or challenged, children.
However, in most communities these skills never 'saw the light of day again'. This, in spite of the obvious and widely acknowledged fact that without these skills the students' ability to cope with life is severely diminished. No wonder then that US Justice Holmes pointed that "Your education begins when what is called your education ends." In Kafka's parlance I'd say that our societies rushed to devour the Tree of Knowledge, wholly neglecting the Tree of Life. Gladly, in some current innovative schools we see the 'Return of the Skills'. We see students tilling or sowing or cooking or repairing engines or … well, you get it.
In Our School we take this reintegration one step further, allotting skills 20% of the curriculum. The 'survival quotient' or coping importance of these skills is evident from their mere description.
Here are some of the skills to be taught:
Reading, as in fast reading, reading between the lines and reading between the lies (say, information gathering)
Writing, as in fast typing, different types of writing and eloquent writing (say, information dissemination)
Speaking and listening, as in articulation, rhetoric, dialectics, negotiating, and debating (say, information exchange)
Multimodal personal expression, both intellectual and emotional, that goes beyond the mere verbal, using visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and combined elements
Skills related to understanding, experiencing and mastering our bodies, either internally as in our phenomenological experience of it, healthy life-styles, ergonomic awareness, relaxation techniques, physical resilience, and pain tolerance; or interpersonally as in receiving and giving massages, extreme and challenging sports, understanding of and awareness to body language, and first-aid mastery
Skills related to our minds, like maintaining appropriate perspectives, resolving cognitive dissonance, acting under pressure, reacting constructively, split attention (listening to more than one speaker at a time, conversing while simultaneously writing about unrelated matters), mnemonics, musical hearing, humor, etc.
Skills related to human interactions like conflict resolution, friendship, partnership and love
Skills related to world imposed imperatives like coping with worst-case scenarios, surviving in adverse conditions, etc.
Skills related to culturally imposed needs like understanding bank accounts, home maintenance, cooking, sawing, sowing, tilling, etc.
These skills are intrinsically invaluable as coping mechanisms that each one should posses. But beyond their intrinsic value, skills have other positive ramifications. For example, learning fast reading and musical hearing require a lot of practice and patience. As students succeed in both skills, they learn the importance of both traits. Moreover, as skills combine to produce "special effects" (for example when their training in fast reading facilitates their training in musical hearing) students grow to appreciate the presence and importance of synergy in their lives.
Skills are learned in many different ways, as the specific skill, or set of skills, dictate. Some are learned in a multidisciplinary fashion, others not. Some are learned in the CyclicaLearning fashion, most are not. But obviously, all are learned in game-like, challenging, captivating fashion.
BTW, just for the record, we shouldn't assume that education's flagship claim - its exclusive scholastic focus, at the expense of the practical or mundane everyday skills - was in any way a success. When looking at the outcomes of Western education today we see that not only people don't know how to read between the lies, nor how to read between the lines, many actually don't know how to read at all. For example, in the richest country in the world, the USA, there are 44 million adults who are functional illiterates who cannot read or write above 4th grade level.
Apparently, even though these millions attended classes where they were supposed to write, write, write all day long, theirs is a frustrating experience of taking minutes and wasting hours. 12,000 of them precious hours. And without any benefits.
As the students feel that they had received a full 12 years looooooong sentence, you may think that their illiteracy relates to their abhorrence of sentences, words and any thing linguistic. But no, the problem is with numbers as well. I mean - entire generations of American kids had to learn the metric system through their drug abuse, so what's the deal here?
Of course, all the blame is being thrown at the teachers, who are constantly ridiculed as stupid, incompetent, lecherous, etc. Think of Shaw's "Those who can - do; those who can't - teach" or Wilde's "Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching", or the sinister accusations oozing from the Fox network and its likes.
Obviously, teachers are well-meaning individuals who are so downtrodden by the system that after some teaching years, are extremely jaded and look as if they suffer from a haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having fun and is happy … an outlook that makes them easy pray for both students and the Fox network smart-alecks.
Of course, teachers are confronted with Mission Impossible. They are expected to fulfill a traditional role in a totally changed world. I mean, in the past, when the access to information was very restricted and expensive, teachers were genuinely more knowledgeable than most, and as such were a valuable source of useful knowledge to their students, who respected them for that. Today, and for a while now, as information is so easily accessible, teachers hold no unique post as knowledge-bearers, and moreover, comparatively, their knowledge is by definition, partial and antiquated. All of this puts them in the awkward position where they seem to try to impart knowledge without actually possessing it. Then the frustrated students and parents, the concerned representatives, and the gleeful Fox stars play catch with them.
In Our School teachers are absolved from this horrible catch, as they are expected to do the much harder but much more feasible job of guiding and educating the students, while utilizing the numerous sources of information available. BTW, even though they mostly guide and educate I will still refer to them as "teachers".
But we have digressed. Let's go back to our slides and list of activities undertaken in Our School.
We had covered both subjects and skills, so let's now talk about Fridays.
In each Friday we devote the second half the day to meta-activities that sum up the week and prepare us for the weekend.
These are the activities, undertaken in the order presented:
Interdisciplinary Studies Squared - Teachers and students seek common threads between the different subjects - world, humans, God - studied that week, blurring further the disciplinary delineation between them.
Introspection - Teachers and students alike devote some minutes to reflect internally about the passing week, trying to encompass the spiritual, social, interpersonal, and intrapersonal aspects of their experiences during the week.
Mistakes of the Week - Teachers begin this session by talking about the mistakes they made during the passing week, apologizing as necessary. Inspired by their teachers, students follow suit and acknowledge their mistakes and apologize when necessary. The students' acknowledgments and apologies can be public, private or 'internal'. "Public" means that the students share with the whole class, "private" means they share with the relevant individual or individuals, "internal" means they just do it inside their minds.
The Hilarious Mistake of the Week - The class chooses the silliest, goofiest, mistake of the week.
Private Lives - Teachers and students share special non-school related 'stuff' that they had experienced in the passing week, as well as their expectations for the weekend and coming week.
Improvements - Given all of the above, improvements are sought out by the whole class.
As part of the "Fridays" concept, there is … Sunday (or Monday, depending on the community's tradtion). Each Sunday or Monday, upon returning to school and first meeting, some time is devoted to warmly share the passing weekend.
I think that the benefits of these activities are so obvious that no elaboration is needed, so I will not elaborate. Suffice it to say that in my and my colleagues' experience with these ideas, students react superbly and gratefully to these activities.
Hey, that was surprising - I promised that I will not elaborate and I didn't… As half of the promises people say were never kept, were never actually made, I'm glad to tilt the balance a bit… But enough goofing around, let's go back to our slides here, and talk about the Courses in the school.
The courses include anything that the community, school, teachers and students want.
They are available to the students according to their ability, regardless of their age, and can include topics as diverse as "Nonlinear Math", "Future Cities", "Soccer", "Sculpture 2", "Gravitation", "Taoism", "The Simpsons", "Illusions & Inversions", "Ballet", "Frank Zappa", "Time", "Chomsky's Politics", "Modern Cinematography", "Chess", "Milton Erickson's Revolutions", "Epistemology", "Freire's Pedagogy", "Godel, Escher, Bach", "Puzzles", "Economics, Society and Ecology", "Lobbying and Social Activism", in short, any thing you, and the respective communities, can imagine.
Now, you may be confused. Didn't we speak about subjects before? What is then the difference between subjects and courses? Well, there is not one such "difference" between them, but rather many such "differences". And let's begin with the seemingly technical one - the time of day in which they are learned - Our School's schedule.
OUR SCHOOL - SCHEDULE
Our School's schedule reflects a new structuring of the time spent at school:
The school opens its gates at 7:30 am, allowing those parents who need to, to entrust the school with their children. Students can then consult with teachers and other staff members about various issues, work with their fellow students on various assignments, interface with the computers, etc.
This informal atmosphere sets the tone for the school day, which begins formally at 9:00. So from 9:00 to10:30 and then from 11:00 to 12:30 students learn subjects and skills.
As there are two or three subjects - world, humans, God - and various skills to learn, it means that these two time slots, 9:00-10:30 and 11:00-12:30, are shared between these subjects and skills.
In a secular community this part of the day may look, in a typical week, something like this: Sunday:
09:00-09:30 - Sundays 09:30-10:30 - World 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - Humans
Monday: 09:00-10:30 - Skills 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - World
Tuesday: 09:00-10:30 - Humans 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - Skills
Wednesday: 09:00-10:30 - World 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - Skills
Thursday: 09:00-10:30 - Humans 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - World
You get the idea.
And Friday: 09:00-10:30 - Humans 10:30-11:00 - Break 11:00-12:30 - Friday…
The 90 minutes length of the classes matches the curriculum and the group-work requirements. The 30 minutes break allows the students to enjoy themselves while relating to their peers, clearly differentiates between the subjects and skills learned, and provides a sometimes-needed intellectual rest, all without imposing a feeling of time pressure.
After these two morning sessions there is a joint 2-hours long lunch, from 12:30 to 2:30. The reasons for this long lunch break are similar to those of the 30 minutes break, with three additions: It allows the students to work with their peers on various group assignments, it allows them to resolve bureaucratic and academic issues with the staff, and well, it provides some opportunities about which we'll talk when dealing with Our School's specials.
Only after lunch students attend their courses, doing so from 2:30 to 4:00. Which brings us back to the question regarding the differences between courses and subjects. Courses are nothing like the subjects.
The subjects - world, humans, and God - are interdisciplinary, part of the CyclicaLearning process, studied with the whole age-group, in the home-rooms, under the home-room teachers' guidance.
Courses are not necessarily interdisciplinary, are not part of the CyclicaLearning process, are not studied with the whole age-group (but with interest-groups of peers that had chosen the same course), are not studied in the home-rooms, and not under the home-room teachers' guidance. To name just a few differences...
The students finish their formal classes at 4:00, and are then free to pursue their individual interests.
As homework serves mostly for adult education, when parents "help", i.e. "do" their kids' homework; and as in the process it ruins both the first part of the children' lives and the second part of the parents' lives … no traditional homework is given at Our School.
Of course, students may belong to a group that decides to pursue its assignments after school hours. It may even belong to a group that then implements its decisions, and for many hours too.
But then, it is the students' decision, entailing the internalization of many important traits and abilities such as prioritization, time management, social and personal responsibility, negotiation, attentiveness to others' needs, etc.
Of course, while the students finish their formal classes at 4:00, the school facilities stay open until much later so the students, and the community at large, will be able to enjoy and benefit from them.
OUR SCHOOL - WHAT IS LEARNED AT THE SCHOOL (Part II)
OK, we're advancing nicely. We have covered now courses and timetables, and before we covered subjects, skills and Fridays. So … we're left only with Specials.
Specials include any school activities that are not covered within the other facets of Our School. For example:
a. Students' assessments refer to those occasions when students are asked to formally assess aspects of Our School operations and performance. These could be done as part of the regular class activity, as when one group of students rotates between the other groups, monitoring their work using the same criteria used regularly by the teachers (while being itself assessed by the teachers, or a peer group…). Or when they're asked to assess the level of satisfaction of the students in a lower grade. Or when they're asked to assess the efficacy of the community service performed by the students. Etc. But the most inspiring students' assessments activity, is probably their constant monitoring of the curriculum, so they constantly post in the Our Schools Network suggestions to improve the system, be it ideas for new or different themes, activities, examples, lesson-plans, etc.
b. Community service in Our School doesn't merely refer to individual students who devote some time as volunteers in one of the community's institutions. It also refers to actions taken by groups of students on behalf of the community - as part of their curricular duties, at a certain grade, students have to devote time to identify specific lacunas in their community's life where they, as a group of students, can have unique contributions. Imagine for example that working parents need afternoon babysitters for their young children, and Our School students establish a free service whereby they assemble these children and tutor them…
c. School maintenance is the students' responsibility. At any given year two grades are responsible for a specific chore. So for example 4th and 9th grades for the animals, 5th and 10th grades for the kitchen, 7th and 12th grades for gardening, and 6th and 11th for the management of the whole process. Beyond the obvious advantages such as heightened levels of identification with the school, cooperation between different age groups, tutorship, being managed also by younger people than yourself, and saving money, the maintenance of the school by the students is leveraged in various ways, for example:
d. By using food as a cross-cultural bridge - The 5th and 10th graders jointly choose a foreign culture to study. With the aid of Our School's cook they learn its cuisine, and introduce throughout the school year different dishes from that cuisine. Of course, on several different occasions they explain to the whole school what they have learned, using the gradually familiarized cuisine to introduce the different facets of the foreign culture. Of course, this could be done in tandem with a school from that foreign culture, which concurrently goes through the same process, getting its students acquainted with our cuisine and culture, planting the seeds for a truly beneficial students' exchange program.
e. And if we're talking of different cultures, it is apt to quote Russell again, who said: "One of the great things that education can and should give is the power of seeing the general in the particular, the power of feeling that this, although it is happening to me, is very like what happens to others, what has happened through many ages, and may continue to happen … and this applies not only to oneself as an individual but to one's family, one's class, one's nation, and even one's continent … All this education can do, all this education should do, very little of it education does do."
So how do we do it? Easy, just envision a global web of Our Schools spread around the world, where the students' learning experiences and most of their curriculum is similar, and all the rest follows.
Including the students' use of the Internet to virtually meet and relish in their commonalities, delve into joint projects and research...
Including their eagerness to participate in physical student exchange programs…
Including their ability to empathically see the unique predicaments of their distant peers…
Our School's students are raised to see the general in the particular, as well as the particular in the general.
f. Obviously, as Our Schools' students will be seeing the general in the particular, their social and political outlooks are prone to be very different from those of the mainstream media and population. As they'll be able to read between the lines and between the lies, it is expected that they'll often feel outraged not only by the ways in which the world operates but also by the discrepancies between its operation and the ways its operation is being reported. Thus, Our School's curriculum allows the time for 'Current Commentary Forums' to assemble and operate. It will be delightful to see their social, political, technological and scientific analyses and insights circulated on the Internet!
g. These and other insights will be informed by meetings and seminars held in school with different people from the community, and by frequent trips to industrial sites and nature retreats. Needless to say the students will thoroughly prepare themselves for these meetings, seminars and trips.
h. And finally, 'working outside our usual modus-operandi' which relates to those occasions when the staff introduces a significant change to the school's or class's routine. Say, once a month, for the duration of one activity or day, the teacher introduces a new way of managing the class - one time he or she brings a ball, and only the person who has the ball can speak, including the teacher; another time a teacher is elected from amongst the students and then manages the activity; on another occasion whoever wants to speak has to first perform a silly dance and only then speak; on another instead of having one group of students assessing the other groups there are two such groups; etc. There are almost as many advantages to 'thinking and acting outside the box' as there are ways to do so.
OUR SCHOOL - MULTI-LAYERED INTEGRATION INTO THE PHYSICAL, COMMUNAL AND HUMAN WORLDS
OK, we have now covered specials as well as subjects, skills, courses, timetables and Fridays. However, we did leave some loose threads.
One of these loose threads can be traced through Our Schools' attitude towards the schools' maintenance: in the same way it uses kitchen-related-work as an anchor to cross-cultural bridges, it tries to use other school activities to integrate Our School into the physical, communal and human worlds.
The physical integration is done by continually relating the curriculum to naturally occurring phenomena like the seasons, climatic changes, plant fluctuations, moon phases, falling stars, cloud formations, birth-death cycles, etc. These phenomena are accessible from the school premises (and more so if you are a 7th or 12th grader and thus involved in gardening and plant fluctuations, or if you're a 4th or 9th grader and tending to the animals, constantly exposed to birth-death cycles). Other phenomena like tides, changing pressures, etc. are accessible only while on trips. Some phenomena, like eclipses on the other side of the globe are accessible through students in Our Schools that are situated on the other side of the globe…
The communal integration is achieved on many levels. First and foremost Our School's governance and operations are steered by the communities, which use Our School's structure to educate for, and propagate, their specific ideals. Religious communities for example, may add "God" as a curricular Subject, while secular communities may not.
Second, Our School contributes to the community in many ways, including: the students' various types of community service, parents' forums, adult education, the school facilities, etc.
Third, Our School accesses the resources the community has to offer, including: the community's elders experience (in seminars, as tutors to students on specific subjects), community's industries, etc.
Generally speaking then, the communities and Our Schools combine their resources, growing entwined.
The human integration is mostly achieved by what Russell called 'seeing the general in the particular' which is the outcome of the various close-knit relations Our Schools' students worldwide maintain, students' exchange programs, getting acquainted with foreign cuisines and cultures, the 'current commentary forums', the contents of the curriculum, etc.
OUR SCHOOL - CYCLICAL LEARNING AND THEMES
Another loose thread is the concept of CyclicaLearning mentioned several times throughout. CyclicaLearning is one of the nicest, and hardest to implement, facets of the school.
The idea is that at any given time all the students, in all the different grades, study the same subjects' themes.
It is like a spiral, so at any given time all the grades, when studying their subjects (but not skills, courses or specials) learn the same theme. Obviously, they do so at different levels, according to their ages. So for example, if democracy is one of Humans' themes, on say, week 11, all the students learn about it in one way or another. 1st graders may watch a pertinent movie, 2nd graders may hear or read a relevant story, 3rd graders may do both, etc. with the 10th graders learning about Plato's Cave, 11th graders about the Brothers Karamazov, and12th graders preparing for an interview with a community activist which will be attended by the 9th, 10th and 11th graders too.
Assuming (only for the sake of the calculations) that each theme is studied for one week, that there are 35 school weeks in a year, that there are 12 grades in school, and that there are only two subjects studied ('world' and 'humans'), then each community ought to choose 70 such themes (35 for each subject), knowing that each theme is going to be learned for 12 weeks (one week per year). The communities can do so from a pool of themes and related activities that is accessible for free from the Our Schools Network.
To explain it further, let's now look at it from a different angle, showing the numerous themes that can be extracted from a trivial activity that the students engage in daily. And let's now look at the subject 'world'.
Well, imagine a child brushing his or her teeth.
1st graders could learn about
Gravitation, trying to understand why everything goes down and not up, or
Light, trying to understand why it breaks as it does in water, why colors blend in water, or
Symmetry, trying to understand when do we use our right or left arms, or
Movement, trying to understand how do we use our arms and hands (levers and such).
2nd graders could learn during the same week abou
Gravitation, trying to understand why the water is drained in a certain direction, or
Light, trying to understand why we are reflected in mirrors, or
Symmetry, trying to understand why we are supposedly reflected on a right-left axis, or
Movement, trying to understand how does the water spins the stuff out of the sink…
3rd and 4th graders could simultaneously learn about these themes (gravitation, light, symmetry and movement) using a different every-day example, with 5th and 6th graders using a different example to trigger their investigations, 7th and 8th graders … well, you get it.
Also, please note that these themes don't necessarily require a full week of investigation each, so they can be learned together, in the same week, allowing much latitude with the 70 themes mentioned before.
This spiral-like accession nurtures:
Associate Thinking Better understanding of the inter-connectedness of everything, as at each age the same themes are used as starting points to gain vastly different insights Better understanding of the inter-connectedness of everything, as at each age totally different examples are used as starting points to introduce the same themes Better retention following the 'repetition' of the same themes year after year Feelings of continuity and security as at each age familiar themes recur Modesty in front of the infinitely intricate tapestry of life Respect to everybody's actions following the understanding that each such action may reverberate in non-trivial ways Communal feelings as everybody in Our School is engaged in the same themes at the same time Expansion of these communal feelings as every Our School student in the same (north or south) hemisphere is engaged in the same themes at the same time
This spiral-like accession, this CyclicaLearning in which all the students study the same themes at the same time, allows for many innovations. Here we'll delve only into the genuine use of tests as opportunities for self-correction: Imagine that once a month, say on the first Monday of every month, all the students are tested about all that they've learned in the passing month.
Individual tests - These are checked by a randomly assigned older student, so the tests of the 4th graders are checked by randomly assigned 7th graders, the tests of the 5th graders are checked by the 8th graders, etc. Then the older students tutor the younger ones until both feel that all the gaps are filled. Then they jointly report to the younger student's teacher, so the trio thinks about and discusses various aspects of the process, including the younger mistakes, learning strategies and their improvement, the tutoring process, pointers and goals for the future, etc. The oldest students' tests are checked, when possible, by volunteering alumni, who then tutor them. When impossible, the teachers do it.
Group Tests - These are checked by another group from the same class, who uses clear-cut criteria, allots the same importance to the 'end-product' as to the group processes, and has to explain its decision to the whole class.
Imagine the numerous benefits of these schemes: Further review and overview of the themes
Tackling the themes from a vantage "3 years older" point of view
Tutoring a younger peer
Being tutored by an older peer
Going through the two tutoring processes simultaneously
Synergistic analysis of the learning process with three unique contributing points of view
Etc etc etc.
BTW, for technical reasons we may not want to conduct all the tests on the same day, and rather split the tests so for example, on the first Monday of the month 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th graders will be tested, on the second Monday of the month 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 11th graders will be tested, and on the third Monday of the month 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th graders will be tested. But let's leave that open and not go into that now.
OUR SCHOOL - ASSOCIATIVE THINKING
But while we leave these technicalities open, there's a loose thread we should pursue, as it is mentioned in several places throughout, and is one of the fundamental organizational and operational principles of Our School - associative thinking.
In my and my colleagues' experience, younger children, who had not been yet as blemished by mainstream education, tend to associate ideas much more freely and far more effectively than older children do.
It is our assumption that it is natural for us to think associatively, and that mainstream education, for technical and other reasons, forces us into a linearity mold. Granted, linearity has its advantages and is often called for, but in the process much, way too much, is lost.
We believe that associative thinking, which comes naturally to students, allows them to feel more comfortable with themselves and their environment (unless the environment is oppressing it). We further believe that this comfort is not the only reason why students who are engaged in associative thinking understand better, remember better, query more, are more versatile, more creative, etc. etc. etc. thus gaining more information, and better transforming that information into knowledge.
Furthermore, associative thinking avoids linearity's pitfalls, including: a false sense of a compartmentalized world; a false sense that single threads should be fanatically followed, thus diminishing tolerance to alternative conceptualizations, and reducing the likelihood of interesting combinations, juxtapositions and synergies; a false sense of constant 'progress', which often induces a disregard to the cyclical elements of life, to history's importance, etc.
In Our School associative thinking is exercised at many levels.
First, in the free discourse in the classes.
Second, by "Learning Through Interwoven Multiplicity", as when learning about the chair upon which we sit from chemical (molecules and atoms), physical (mechanics, forces), biological (posture, metabolism), aesthetical, historical and economical (micro and macro) points of view, relating them to each other in unexpected, or at least uncommon ways.
Third, by "Learning Through Epitomizations", as since, to quote Russell "[T]o take part in acting one of Shakespeare's good plays is a better way of acquiring what is valuable in a literary education than the hasty reading of the whole lot," allowing the staff to cherry-pick what is captivating and challenging.
Fourth, by "Learning Through Reflections", as when studying about the Spanish Civil War through Picasso's Guernica.
And fifth, by "Learning Through Leaps", as when the same Spanish Civil War is learned for example by putting up plays about it.
OUR SCHOOL - HETERARCHIES
Another fundamental organizational and operational principle of Our School is an encompassing adoption of heterarchies.
In heterarchies authority is determined by knowledge and function, and not by status. Hence, people, both staff and students, simultaneously maintain supervisory and subordinate positions between themselves, according to the relevant contexts.
This emphasis on heterarchies better prepares the students to out-of-school circumstances, nourishes associative thinking, makes them more versatile, more adept at tackling life (both as supervisors and subordinates without fear), etc.
OUR SCHOOL - COURAGEOUS LIVING
And if we're talking about tackling life without fear, we ought to delve for two seconds on one of the central aims of Our School - instilling courageous thinking and feeling in our students, hoping that this in turn will lead to courageous living.
Churchill, a courageous guy himself, said that: "Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested." Well, given the nature of mainstream education, it is then a very little wonder that so many of its alumni are utter cowards, who dare not think for themselves, and on their death-beds often feel that they have wasted their lives, giving-in to society's expectations instead of following their own call. Indeed, mainstream education is geared to produce cowards.
While both intellectual cowards and interpersonal cowards are a sorrow sight, the intrapersonal cowards are even worse. These are people who refrain from testing themselves and their lives, who let the circumstances mold their personalities without having themselves "a say" about it, who in a way forgo their most basic privilege, that of being human. All these intellectual, interpersonal and intrapersonal cowards are victims of a system which teaches them to mistake comfort for freedom.
OK, by now we have covered most of Our School's facets, including:
What are the aims of education and the aims of Our School
How do Our Schools' students learn
What is achieved by these learning methods
What do Our Schools' students learn (subjects, skills, Fridays, courses and specials)
We delved into some of the fundamental and operational principles of Our School, including:
The multi-layered integration into the physical, communal and human worlds
CyclicaLearning & themes
Courageous thinking and feeling.
So let's now cover some miscellaneous loose asides, in no particular order:
Languages introduce cultures, so it is hoped that communities will choose to hold the studies in two languages. For example, it makes sense in Israel, where I come from, to teach in Hebrew and in Arabic, or in many places in the USA to teach in English and Spanish. Certifying teachers to work in Our Schools entails the following: Introduction to Our School methods via a Teacher's Certification program Experience of Our School as a staff member that teaches courses (the after-lunch bit), tutors students, welcomes them in the mornings and stays with them after 4:00 pm, accompanies special projects like the 'current commentary forums', etc. Experience of class dynamics as assistant teacher And then, at last, through home-room teaching Obviously, following the heterarchical principle, these new staff members will hold various responsibilities from day one in Our School. It is important that the staff - teachers and administrators - meet as often as possible, even once a day, in a cozy and neutral place to share experiences, discuss issues, ask questions, pose requests, discuss students in duos and trios, etc. It is hoped that in the spirit of solidarity that Our School aims to instill, it will manage to mobilize the community to raise the funds needed to help the poorer families, for example by lending the child a computer for home, paying the home Internet connection, etc.
OUR SCHOOL - FINANCES
Which brings us to finances.
There are no big surprises here. Except one - there's no reason that Our School will be significantly more expensive than most of today's schools.
Yes, you heard right, Our School is no more expensive than a mainstream school.
True, Our Schools require more funds for preparing and coaching the teachers, pay much more than usual to their staff, and have fewer students per class; but these increased expenses are partially compensated for by cutting on books as much work is done online, by cutting on guarding and surveillance, by reducing the number of staff absences due to illness, by cutting on what is commonly spent on maintenance as the students do much of it, and by enjoying the support of their respective communities.
Please note that while Our Schools could benefit from dedicated facilities, tailored to their unique nature, they do not require them. Nor do they require expensive books teachers' guidelines, as all the lesson plans, activities, tests, etc. are available for free on the Our Schools' Network, prepared on a voluntary basis by devoted pedagogues, academics and others (including Our Schools' students). Nor do they require cutting-edge laboratories and equipment, though they could obviously benefit from them. Actually, in some respects Our Schools require less equipment than what is normally found in today's schools, as the students are expected to share it.
But again, the increased expenses are not fully offset. So you may object that Our School's is an expensive reform. To that I counter that the big difference between inexpensive reforms, and an expensive reform of the sort Our School requires, is that the inexpensive reforms cost much more.
Really, allow me to be blunt - You know how we tend to procrastinate, and how the amount of sleep required by the average person is … about five more minutes … well, I feel that constantly postponing urgently needed vast structural reforms due to contingencies like the eternal lack of funds is pretty much like telling the world that we'll wake up … well, manana.
There are great reforms around, but given their pace, snails could easily keep a diary of them, and us, we fossilized dinosaurs.
You may object saying that the lack of funds is not merely an excuse, but rather, a horrible reality that educators have to face daily. And with that I fully agree. After all, in the richest country in the world 25% of the schools use books 20 or more years old, up to 15% percent of the facilities are unsafe, etc.
But to that I also add that this neglect may be due, at least partially, to the prevalent feeling that the current education system offers no vision, no solution, no promise, no nothing. It could just be that if a viable alternative will be presented, the funds to establish it will be found.
OUR SCHOOL - ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
Of course, raising the funds to establish Our School immediately raises the one million dollars question: Under which conditions the needed funds to continually operate it, and not just to establish it, will be provided? Or phrased differently, what are the criteria by which Our School ought to be judged?
Well, of course, Our School should be judged, among other things, by using the criteria currently used.
On the school level the questions are - is the budget balanced, what is the overhead percentage, are the facilities and equipment adequate, what is the staff turnover, how many students drop out, what are the scholastic and athletic ratings versus other schools in the area, etc.
On the students level the question currently asked is very simple - how well do the students do on the various standardized tests?
All of these, I think, are very good questions. However, the tunnel vision implied in focusing only on them, and thus granting them such importance, is - well, I would have characterized it as silly or funny if the implications weren't so tragic.
Really, as those in charge fail to see some other, utterly important questions, it seems that their eyes are so bad that they have to wear contact lenses just to see their glasses. So no wonder they don't see that the current assessment criteria are insufficient.
Let it be clear - Improving schools according to these insufficient criteria makes the situation actually worse, as it provides an unjustified sense of confidence that we, as a global community, are heading in the right direction. A sense of confidence that undermines the urgently needed attempts to reform the system at its core, reforms that use wider criteria and address many additional questions.
Those additional questions that Our Schools should be judged by are easy to pinpoint as they are directly derived from its explicit aims. Here are some of those questions:
According to self-reports and professional assessments to what extent do Our Schools' students possess the desired qualities [happy, loving, content, confident, resourceful, self-reliant, resilient, courageous, personally integrated, balanced, knowledgeable, curious, experienced, diverse, aesthetically astute, spontaneous, fun, modest, friendly, sensitive, able to show weakness, trustworthy, dependable, kind, considerate, tolerant, internally and externally attentive, socially integrated and socially responsible] while in and out of school?
According to self-reports and professional assessments to what extent are Our Schools' graduates [happy, loving, content, … well, the same the list…] after leaving school?
What is the success quotient of Our Schools' graduates? (as measured by parameters such as:)
Rates of divorce, illness, accidents, drug abuse, and suicide
Levels of income, charity donations, community involvement, free time, and health
Amount of time spent regularly with the family, with friends, pursuing hobbies, and on vacation
All of the above as applied to Our Schools' spouses and children (with the necessary adjustments)
In the last few minutes, as I have been talking about longitudinal studies, I have been obviously assuming that Our School is operative and thus subject to assessment studies as a whole, with each of its facets combining with all the others to create multiple synergized outcomes. But what about preliminary studies, designed to separately assess, qualitatively and quantitatively, the efficacy of each of Our Schools' facets as it stands alone?
Well, again, no big surprises here, as these facets can be fully and operationally derived from Our Schools' aims, and thus can be subjected to basic methodological studies. Therefore, here I'm only outlining a prototype for an inexpensive and well-controlled study: Take any two similar classes, let's call them 'a' and 'b', in any school, for two consecutive semesters, and apply any of Our School's principles on class a in the first semester and on class b in the second semester, and watch the differences. Or, take pairs of subjects that are perceived as strongly related, like physics and chemistry or literature and history, and apply any of Our School's principles on class a when studying physics but not chemistry and on class b when studying chemistry but not physics.
Or, take 3 even and 3 odd grades and for several years apply any of Our School's principles on the classes that began in even grades, but not on classes that began in odd grades.
In a nutshell, apply any of Our School's principles on half a sample and watch the differences.
Of course, I could go and on about other research techniques, but I don't think there's any need, and I'm sure there's not enough time.
THE WIDER PICTURE
On the other hand, please allow me to use the little time that is left to dwell on the wider picture, that of society, history and education.
In order to do so, I'd like to mention some attributes of our world, asking you to meanwhile think to what extent modern day schooling equips our youngsters to deal with them:
Every 3.6 seconds a person dies of hunger. And yet, there is enough food in the planet to feed every living person with 5000 kilocalories per day, every day. Actually, even in the richest country in the world, the USA, 27 children, a class full of children, dies of hunger and hunger-related diseases every day. And as its GDP grows, the number of children who die daily is expected to grow too. And generally, in our Western World, while GDPs keep growing, so are our working hours. And while in the Developing World GDPs don't necessarily grow, still people are working ever more hours… And many of these working hours are not even adults' working hours - more than 10 million children are sold or kidnapped into slavery every year. And the rich get richer, and the poor poorer leading to obvious crises, when and where it is claimed that in order to induce the rich to work harder they should be paid more, and that in order to induce the poor to work harder they should be paid less. And while the World Bank continues the brainwash that equates capitalism with the free world, claiming that neo-liberalism works as proven by the decline of the percentage of poor people worldwide from 29 to 23%, it is worthwhile to note that the prestigious bank failed to gather the relevant data from more than one hundred countries including tiny China and India, the two most populated in the world. And this from an institution that writes in the first sentence in its website, and this is a quote "our mission is to fight poverty". And this indifference is not endemic only to economists - scientists in general seem wholly oblivious to the ways in which their discoveries and inventions are being used. While even inventions and technologies that are capable and supposed to empower us, enslave many of us instead. While some of these catastrophically breaking ecological havoc, and while Kyoto and its likes are still not drafted, signed or ratified. And this indifference is actually global - one sees the citizens of the biggest democracy in the world, the US, allowing a non-elected person to first become their president, and then to gradually turn their country (through the so-called PATRIOT acts) into a dictatorship. True, as in the past Americans had much freedom of action, measures were taken to restrict their thinking (as shown in the use of 'weapons of mass destruction' as weapons of mass distraction); but now, the actions of those who didn't internalize the dictators' dictums are ever more restricted. And if we're at that, just look at the UN voting record of the US, or its war record, and judge for yourself if the claim of its non-president - that the US is the most peace-loving nation in the world - has any merit. Think how powerless people feel, that they need to shut themselves from the world and be indifferent to all of what I've said. Think why it is not uncommon that after a long struggle with the American Dream, so-called successful people say that today they want to be what they were when they wanted to be what they are today.
Yes, you're right. Modern day schooling does not equip our youngsters to deal with these and thousands of similar paradoxical facts.
Interestingly, education may actually decrease their ability to do so!
Dwight Eisenhower said, and this is a quote, that "[T]he 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."
Many astute social observers claim that education is one such mean.
Disraeli, another smart man said, and again, I'm quoting, that "It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery." I mean, don't you sometimes get suspicious upon noticing that there are so many more bright children than bright adults?
When describing compulsory education Russell relates four sources of motivation, writing that: "there were the enthusiasts for enlightenment who saw no limits to the good that could be done by instruction. Many of these were very influential in the early advocacy of compulsory education. Then there were practical men who realized that a modern state and modern processes of production and distribution cannot easily be managed if a large proportion of the population cannot read. A third group were those who advocated education as a democratic right. There was a fourth group, more silent and less open, which saw the possibilities of education from the point of view of official propaganda. The importance of education in this regard is very great. In the eighteenth century most wars were unpopular; but, since men have been able to read the newspapers, almost all wars have been popular. This is only one instance of the hold on public opinion which Authority has acquired through education."
This of course is not a MUST.
Education could and should be very very different. It could and it should be the Archimedean point of social change.
It was not in vain that Martin Borman, one of the German Nazi leaders said that, and I'm quoting: "Education is a danger … Every educated person is a future enemy. " It is no accident that Oscar Wilde wrote that "In England at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and would probably lead to acts of violence" as people would have realized their predicament.
Sadly, I must say that in the years since Wilde and Russell made their observations, while the self-serving rhetoric improved, the reality deteriorated - The use of education as a tool in the manufacture of consent, has not decreased, but on the contrary, increased.
Of course, these manufacturers of consent speak about liberal and democratic education, but one feels that they just dazzle us with empty phrases. After all, these are the same people whose slight tax increase cost us two hundred dollars, and their substantial tax cuts saves us thirty cents… I mean, given the current state of affairs, one should be an optimist just to imagine that the future is uncertain.
OUR SCHOOL, THE WIDER PICTURE, AND … YOU
Our School tries to change this reality. It does so by tackling the problems at their core. And their core is interpersonal.
In that it overcomes Wilde's dictum that says "Education is an admirable thing, but nothing that is worth knowing can be taught", allowing students to learn exactly what they should in order to become vastly empowered humans, keen on creating vastly improved societies.
In that it addresses Russell's admonition when he writes that "Our feelings are those appropriate to warlike nomads in rather empty regions, but our technique is such as must bring disaster unless our feelings can become more co-operative"
In dealing with our feelings, which often determine our actions, Our School is tackling the basic paradox of our times - that our reptile brains have hydrogen bombs at their disposal.
As Our School is at its nascent stages, it needs as much help as it can get, making any contribution crucial - We need more ideas, criticism, contacts, dialogue, and forums to orally present Our School.
As Our School is an "open source" collaborative effort, ideas should be posted at http://www.nuestroschool.org (which means "Our School," written half in Spanish and half in English).
Obviously, everything at (the soon to be established) http://www.nuestroschool.org is free for everybody. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (soon, at) email@example.com.
I hope I didn't bore you too much.
This lecture has been delivered in a linear fashion, but my next presentation will be an associative one - I will introduce the topics and ideas in 5 minutes, storming directly to an extended Q&A session and discussion, where I'll answer exactly to what you're interested in. I assume that even then, like today, some of you will be looking at your watches impatiently, but I hope that at least then, none of you will be constantly shaking the watches to make sure they're still going.
Thank You Very Much…