Technically there was more than one room in my K-8 school, but there was only one that did our textbook learning in. The room above the garage in my house used to be a home office, but when we moved in the office desk was exchanged for three wooden school desks and the file cabinet for a huge whiteboard. We called it “The Homeschool Room”.
Reading through the chapter “Why the Grammar of Schooling Persists” in Tinkering Toward Utopia I was struck by the discussion of how centuries ago were one classroom buildings in which a single teacher taught all of the children from the surrounding area. The author then proceeds to explain how this way of teaching was snuffed out by the industrialized thought process of reformers who saw schools as yet another “industry” to be refined and compartmentalized into what we now recognize as school. The distinct levels, grading system, and subjects were created to expedite the process of teaching. However, quicker and easier does not always mean better, or even equitable learning experiences. While, the current system of school allows for uniform teaching and standardization, this is severely and negatively impacting children who do not fit the “average” expectations. It puts them at a disadvantage before they ever step foot into a school because they may learn slower or faster, through writing or watching, lack stability or freedom, and the list goes on and on. My point being, there is no single way every child can learn and perform to the best of his or her ability and therefore standardizing the learning process will inevitably be harmful.
As in the one room school houses of old, my siblings and I were at different stages in learning at any given time and learned in very different ways, but my mom was able to adjust her teaching style and curriculum to each of us. I worked best when I had a written list of everything I needed to accomplish that day/week that I could check off and track my progress with. However, my my eldest younger brother needed more oversight and encouragement throughout the day and a more flexible schedule so he could devote an entire day to a complicated science experiment he found particularly fascinating. Though we had different ways of consuming knowledge, we both got to the same end point, just through unique paths.
I understand that homeschooling is not feasible for all, or possibly even many, families in America today, and the one room schoolhouse is logistically impossible with the number of school-aged children, but I do think there are some ideas that could be taken from these alternative styles and implemented into America’s mainstream education system. First, the idea of meeting children where they are rather than waiting for them to achieve a benchmark put in place by lawmakers. It should not be the job of the child to become good enough to be taught, but rather the job of the teacher to foster, build, and develop the mind of the child. Second, having different levels, “grades”, work with each other in teaching and learning to build a sense of community. In the words of Benjamin Whichcote, “There is no better way to learn than to teach.” And third, developing non-traditional ways to learn about life rather than simply memorizing a textbook in order to pass a final exam. I recently came across a video (watch here) of a pre-school that operates within a nursing home. This type of “intergenerational learning” is radical and could have a huge impact if it was implemented throughout schools. While this is a somewhat extreme example (although I would argue incredibly awesome), even having high schoolers participate in the middle schools as teaching assistants or finding some way to incorporate all levels of learning would have hugely beneficial results.
In all, I hope one room schools aren’t dead in that I want to see some of the ideals reappear in traditional schools in order to combat the negative affects of standardization.