Teaching and learning are timeless. Many rites of passage impart lessons and wisdom in synchronicity with the phases of a person’s development. Schools can be designed to do the same. Trust, respect, and integrity are the pillars of any institution. Education itself can learn to become less fearful and prescriptive, and much more inviting and inspiring. By continuing to apply age-old traditions of sharing wisdom, like storytelling, into standards for lesson-plans, schools can help maintain connections of cultural significance. By encouraging students to infuse their passions into learning, schools can create stronger bonds between students and teachers.
There will never be a one-size-fits-all model for education that works for everyone. As such, the more that education can increasingly reflect the different learning styles and interests of its students and teachers, the more effective the experience of education will become. Educational approaches that foster solidarity between students and teachers can help shape the future of continuous learning.
Sometimes it’s not a room at all. Classrooms of the future look a lot less like people getting lectured, and much more like people in conversation.
Over the past two centuries, education was tailored to reflect and accommodate the efficiencies of industry. But while factory precision is great for machines, it is much less suitable for humans. To improve on the rigidity of that type of curriculum, classrooms have begun changing to reflect new developments in educational methodology. While students used to line up in rows of desks in their classrooms, that desk organization has changed into groups of learners at tables. Beyond this kind of musical chairs approach how can we, as a species, develop more effective ways to learn altogether? What kind of contribution might integrating metaphysical studies into curriculums be?
There’s a move underway for unschooling, that is, for undoing the rigid structures of what it looks like to be a school-age kid in a learning environment. Families looking to give their children an alternative education might: follow a world-school curriculum, choose to homeschool, or pursue an educational system that allows for learning to be driven by the child. Families from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are now looking for a structure that accommodates their own journey instead of merely choosing to follow a road previously dictated from above.
Despite deep problems arising with a widening gap in resources between private and public education, we must maintain a steadfast resolve to give children everywhere every chance imaginable to learn. As education is a central pillar of any functioning society, there is no excuse for underfunding our schools. Our educational system must be able to provide all aspects of a core curriculum based on values of humanity and solidarity.
Today’s educational standards are improving to better cater to the fullness of what it means to be human. The mind, body, spirit, and environment in which we live and learn are all connected. Through this lens, science, technology, engineering, math, language, arts, music, and physical education can all be integrated through awareness of the correlations between each discipline. By taking a holistic perspective to learning, we can develop greater depth of knowledge.
In the city of Baltimore, the Holistic Life Foundation is working to address the entirety of students’ needs.19 Instructors within this organization provide techniques for: peaceful conflict resolution, improved focus and concentration, greater control and awareness of thoughts and emotions, improved self-regulation, better stress reduction, and practiced relaxation. In 60–90 minute classes, the Mindful Moment program teaches students emotional tools and life skills based on yoga, meditation, breathing, tai-chi, centering, and other mindfulness techniques.20 The program was introduced to Patterson Park High School, a public school in Baltimore, where a diverse student body includes undocumented students, students from conflict areas, and students from refugee sites. After the Holistic Life Foundation introduced its program at the high school, suspensions for fighting dropped by more than half, from 49 to 23. At the same time, the number of 9th graders moving up to 10th grade increased from 45% in to 64%, along with a general increase in the average GPA of those students involved in the program.21
An educational model accounting for the benefits of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga as a daily practice helps foster social and emotional growth. Educators and students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to leverage holistic approaches to improve educational environments. Children who are raised with the support of mindfulness techniques become better equipped to navigate the various challenges they encounter with focus and clarity.
For children—or rather anyone—to be prepared for uncertainty, they need ways to actively: connect to their surroundings, to find calm within themselves, to learn to embrace failure, and to practice empathy. Collaborative learning experiences encourage inquiry and creative problem solving to foster meaningful interaction between students. Education—based on the values of respect, responsibility, and solidarity—can be further improved with practices devoted to conscious awareness.
The methods of teaching are often organized around core values shared by communities. How can those values help children navigate the unprecedented pace of change under which they are being raised?
“We want to show not what is individual, what is singular, what is truly experienced as human, but a kind of glittering surface on top of large formal systems, and thought must now reconstruct those formal systems on which float from time to time the foam and image of human existence.” — Michel Foucault
Education has been conceptualized and implemented in a variety of ways over the last century. The small, modest, one-room schoolhouse has morphed into large school complexes filled with overpopulated classrooms. Where is the moderate class size? Where is the unwavering support for educators, administrators, and specialists? Where are the schools that help the children most susceptible to posing fatal risks to themselves and others? Why is there not an absolute premium being placed on the education of the children who will grow up to be responsible for the state of the world?
A number of alternative models for education outside national standards exist, yet they each come with their own list of pros and cons preventing any clear consensus on the right path forward. There’s unfortunately no magic wand to wave at the issue of how best to arrange education for all. There’s only the long, slow path toward discovering and implementing more open, honest, and respectful ways of teaching.
“In education, you can only create change from the bottom—if the orders come from the top, schools will resist.” — Margret Rasfeld
In Berlin, Germany, The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) focuses on preparing students for the world outside the classroom by fostering self-motivation. This emphasis, on generating momentum from within in their approach to new challenges, serves as a useful tool with universal applications. The private school, opened in 2007 with 16 students, now enrolls 500. ESBC is full of unusual, inventive rules for educating their student body. For example, at the school: the students decide the subjects they want to study for each lesson, grades don’t exist until age 15, and there are never any scheduled lectures.
Given the freedom to follow one’s own sense of motivation (or lack thereof), students who are not engaged during class-time are required to attend Saturday mornings in a tradition called “silentium”. The school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, explains how, “The more freedom you have, the more structure you need.”22 To that effect, the school’s own four-person innovation team prepares a trove of teaching materials that other schools are in the process of adopting. Rasfeld’s school is reinventing the traditional approach of students being told what, and how, to study into a method that students have a greater role in shaping. Through this transition, not only will different learning styles gain greater opportunities, but the very notion of what a classroom looks and feels like will ultimately have more opportunity to diversify.
Germany has a rich tradition of alternative and environmentally-minded education. Rudolf Steiner, who developed biodynamic farming principles based on the ideas of closed loop systems, developed a “whole child” approach to education at the end of the first World War. In 1919, looking for a way to rethink educational standards, children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany became the first class of this new educational system. The approach Steiner advocated focused on learning along different phases of a child’s development. It also strongly focused on integrating strengths between the head, heart, and hands. The aim of his program was to address the physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual needs of each student equally.23 These values speak to the human in the child, and the child in the student, in pursuit of a holistic approach to learning. Today, Dr. Steiner’s pedagogy is widely adopted throughout the world as a great number of schools incorporate the name Waldorf in honor of where this pedagogy was first practiced.
The idea of connecting formal learning directly to the environment was proposed even earlier, in Japan, at the start of the 1900s by educator Tsunesaburō Makiguchi. In his 1903 book, titled Jinsei Chirigaku (A Geography of Human Life), Makiguchi posited that the learning of geography must account for the relationship between the individual and human industry with nature. In this way, geography becomes less abstract and more personally relevant. Informed by his practice of Nichiren Buddhism, Makiguchi went on to found the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society) in Japan in the 1920s, which paved the way for the Soka Schools of today. These schools have a goal that easily translates anywhere: the purpose of education is to allow students to achieve happiness as the means for creating value in their lives.
Alternative approaches for helping students feel more engaged in their eduction continue to gain traction through a prism of recently-opened schools. In Minnesota, the Jane Goodall Environmental Science Academy supports learning to occur “out of the classroom, into the world”. This mission statement is aimed at transforming the educational experience for students who have not felt motivated in their previous school settings. By replacing lecture-based learning with hands-on applications, the school is expanding incentives for students to design their own learning based on their distinct interests and passions. This shift has given students a space in which they can develop their own discipline and love of learning.24 Through this infusion of passion and personalization, more students gain capacity as self-motivated, independent critical thinkers, and become better prepared for problem solving throughout everyday life.
Greater opportunities for personalized learning might very well become the primary enabler toward expanding learning beyond previously standardized spaces and schedules. Learning is a common journey throughout every stage of life. Continuous learning reflects the notion that we are never finished growing as people. With more attention being given to this constant path to self-improvement, the educational system itself will become more reflective of a boundless area of exploration and discovery.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead