It seems a little odd to think about school smack dab in the middle of Christmas break, but that’s where I’m at.
My eldest has just finished her first four months of kindergarten, and I’ve been pondering a post reflecting on what we’ve learnt to date from that experience.
Then I saw this from WordPress:
You get to redesign school as we know it from the ground up. Will you do away with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What skills and knowledge will your school focus on imparting to young minds?
Now funny thing? I actually use to dream about running a school when I was younger and what I might do… Apparently there’s a bit of social engineer in me. Mwahahaha!
But now that I’m older? Like anything, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Also, I suspect that, given I’ve just started the school years with my kids, I’ll have a very different answer to this question in a few years.
But, here’s my thoughts as they are now. For the purposes of my post, my school runs from kindergarten through to the end of high school. Perhaps not what would happen in real life, but this way I get to cover all my current thoughts on what my ideal school would teach.
First off, I’d like my school to look like somewhere you’d want to be. Maybe something like this:
Okay – that’s obviously a wee bit of an exaggeration. But the point is: a welcoming place to be.
Now that we’re all psyched to be here, what to do?
First off, to answer the direct question: Would I do away with reading, writing and arithmetic? Good gracious, no. If anything, I’d make sure we focussed firmly on these basics through a large part of primary school. Despite comparing pretty well internationally, low adult literacy rates in Canada remain pretty high, so we need to make sure we are producing graduates with high literacy and numeracy skills.
I remember from my volunteer tutoring days that until about Grade 4, students are learning to read, and after that they are reading to learn. So I’d make sure my school worked hard to have strong readers by Grade 4. We’d provide additional help – after school, during school etc… to ensure these basic goals were met. We’d provide parents’ tools, resources and encouragement to help at home. Then we’d provide remedial support for older students who were still struggling with the basics; and so unable to properly learn what they should be learning in their Grade level.
Second, I’d make sure everyone at my school was properly fed as you can’t learn well on an empty stomach. So we’d have a breakfast and lunch program for those who needed it. Perhaps we could find some of the billionaire lottery winners from yesterday’s prompt to help fund this.
Third, we’d have mandatory daily phys ed. With increasingly sedentary lifestyles, childhood obesity rates are increasing, and while schools can’t do everything, they are well placed to help. Also, studies show active kids learn better, so this is win-win. My school would also have a robust athletics department and offer a range of after-school sports activities, balancing participation and excellence. Basically, everyone should be able to participate – and encouraged to do so with an eye to finding activities each student will be successful in – but not everyone always get’s a trophy. It’s a valuable life lesson.
Fourth, tied to the issue of encouraging healthy living, we’d teach our students how to cook and properly feed themselves and their loved ones in both a healthy and economical way. I know some schools do some of this, and some children are fortunate enough to learn at home, but I certainly never did until very recently. It would have saved me a fortune in take out, and I would have been healthier for it.
Fifth, we would also have a vibrant, and well-funded, arts program. Music helps with numeracy, and arts generally just make for more interesting, better rounded human beings. It also fosters a sense of community. And ultimately, that’s what a school is: a community. Again, maybe some of the benevolent new billionaires might be interested in helping make this aspect successful.
Sixth, for high school students, a variety of class options would be offered, based on aptitude, interest and future career aspirations. This was my experience in high school and it worked, so why change it?
Seventh, for high school students, there would be a mandatory civics class, where discussion would focus on the importance of active involvement in our democracy to foster an understanding of both the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship – particularly the importance of voting. Students would be encouraged to engage in respectful debate, with an eye to understanding different views and opinions and learning how to respectfully disagree and discuss issues. There would be mandatory history classes for younger grades leading up to this class, so that students would understand how the present is part of the continuum that is our country’s – and world’s – story. It is important to understand – and have an opinion about – the world around us. It help’s us find our place in it.
Finally, life is busy and chaotic for working parents, and my school would understand. As such, for younger students, we’d offer before and after school care as needed at reasonable and competitive rates; with the possibility of financial assistance for those who need it. High school students could work at the program to help foster a feeling of community and encourage mentorship and role modelling. While there would be time for homework, or participation in the formal sports and arts programs referenced above, there would also be the possibility of simple, fun, unstructured play – both indoors and out – so kids could let their imaginations guide them. Aftercare would run until 6:00pm. Because, really, aftercare ending at 5:00pm is a bit of a challenge for 9:00-5:00ers in the absence of teleportation.
So there you have it: My dream school, if I had carte blanche to design it. That said, given the number of teachers I know, I know much of this happens already – at least on some levels – in schools. It’s easy (and fun!) to sit here, without all the facts, and imagine solutions. I know it would be a very different view from the trenches. There are only so many hours in the day. And budgets only cover so much. All told? I think schools here already get much of it right.
What about you? What would your dream school look like?