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Depart Innovating Education

Depart into a Different Kind of Classroom

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.

Jack Delano, 1941

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.

“Ashram of the 5 Sens­es. Project for the Reha­bil­i­ta­tion and Exten­sion of the Deaf-Mute School”, Ele­na Agu­do Sier­ra
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Depart Innovating Education

Pedagogies to Support the Whole Student

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?

“The Fourth Dimen­sion”, C. Howard Hin­ton, 1904

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.

“Quips and Cranks”, 1918

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.

“A Col­lec­tion of Fash­ion­able Eng­lish Words”, Kame­kichi Tsuna­ji­ma, 1887

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.

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