May I Ask Where You’re Going With All This?
A New Yorker cartoon shows a teacher at a blackboard with numbers on it: 2 + 2 = 4, and 5 – 3 = 2, and 2 + 3 = 5, etc. The students are in their seats and one hand is up. The caption reads, “Please, Ms. Sweeney, may I ask where you’re going with all this?”
Everyone gets the point. This is the same “schooling” that Mark Twain said would never interfere with his “education.” Most American children are going through the motions toward something as if they were soccer players practicing drills without ever playing a game. For too many kids what goes on in school is actually ancillary to where they sense they need to be going.
At The Children’s School everyone DOES know where they are going. In a conversation with fifth graders, when I asked what is so great about the school, Lilly, the first to speak up said, “The teachers care where I am going in my career.”
For 25 solid minutes her classmates followed with other concise articulations of what great education looks like. Statements like:
“Here the teachers help you understand things.”
“The teachers here teach you the way you learn, not just the way they want to teach.”
“We work together on projects.”
“We get to be creative.”
“We get to help out little kids.”
When I said, “It sounds like you feel trusted, here. Raise your hand if you feel trusted,” all the hands went up.
These ten year-olds know what education is and are very happy to be experiencing it.
Two days in the school brought me nearly to tears seeing how self-possessed, poised and generous the students were. Conflicts between students were quick educational moments because everyone is trained in seeing conflicts as learning opportunities. The seventh and eighth graders talked freely about how they have relationships with everyone in the school from preschoolers to teachers to administrators. Students regularly research problems and make recommendations to adults.
In one room third graders were presenting their research findings on rivers of the world to the class. They were as poised in their responses to correction as they were in presenting what they knew.
Everyone is on the same mission. Students speak up and leave room for others to speak. They advocate for themselves, for others, for truth and for justice.
Adults say things like: “We focus our energies on helping them learn how to work together.” “The learning is designed around meaningful projects.” “It’s a safe place to be yourself.” “The students take turns leading the community meeting every Friday and present what they are learning to the whole school including parents.” “All the children are comfortable with public speaking.”
I asked one parent, “Does everyone here understand the connection between public speaking and high academic achievement?”
“I don’t know, but I do,” she said. “To stand up in front of a group of people and talk, you have to know what you know and understand it so you can answer questions and not be afraid to be wrong and make mistakes. Public speaking is the final exam of education. If someday they find themselves having to defend their PhD thesis, they will find they’ve done it all their lives.”
The teachers in this school seem to understand that self-control, perspective taking, connecting, collaborating, communicating, critical thinking, and love of learning are the mental abilities central for success. Moreover, the teachers are acting as if they know that all children have a need to contribute, and that this need to contribute fuels their development of these other seven abilities.
From a very early age children seem to know instinctively what the world will require of them and, like Lilly, are passionate about being valuable in it. We humans are wired to find our place in a group. In fact, we owe our large brain and sophisticated decision-making cortex to the fact that our branch of the primate line learned that collaboration had great survival value and therefore got serious about working the very challenging problems of collaboration.
The students know that the teachers know where they are going: creating the conditions for student success in life. The Children’s School is showing that when schooling is an education, school bullying is not even an issue. When children are making something of themselves, making a difference, and contributing, education doesn’t get any better than this.
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