To begin with, I would like to address some of the basic problems of maintaining an efficient school. You, my readers, already know the problems within the school, and within the classroom. Parents, by nature, try to be protective of their children. But every different parent has his own way. Some children are educated to believe they can do anything they want to do. Some believe that the school is a democratic institution. The teachers and the administration are seriously hampered in an effort to establish discipline in the class. Not only are punishments to be avoided. But it is often seen as unwarranted cruelty to give a ‘bad grade’ to a student, and it is taken for granted that everyone passes. Some parents may have excellent results raising their child that way, but when there are 25 students in a classroom, and occasionally even more, it doesn’t work. A school cannot be a democratic institution. Just as the police department is not a democratic institution, and all other state, county and city services have a hierarchy; in the same way, it is necessary for the school to have rules, and discipline, and for the students to know that it is not in their interest to break the rules. In the schools where I studied and taught, punishments of any sort were extremely rare. But students came to school with a great respect for the teacher and the school. They were self disciplined, and so did not need external discipline.
The law of the land, in most western countries, establishes that all children have the right to a state supported education. This is for the benefit of both the society and the child. But it is a fact, that all children do not have the same capacities for learning, the same intelligence or talent, nor the same motivation, health, emotional well being or psychological stability. I believe it is necessary to group students according to learning ability, before the 4th grade, and to organize classrooms in such a way that students of like capacities will be learning together in the classroom. This will prevent a situation in which gifted students sit bored in the classroom, while the teacher attempts to help students with learning difficulties to attain the level of the class as a whole. And it will also prevent the frustration of those with learning difficulties who find themselves continuously at the tail end of the learning experience, unable to keep pace with the better students.
I believe it is in the interest of the society, for all children to be taught reading, writing basic arithmetic, and the use of the computer until the conclusion of grade 3. After that, I would separate the students, according to their choice, either to study in a program oriented to prepare the student for a technical profession, or into another program oriented to offer encouragement and support for the learning of art, philosophy, history, or crafts. At any stage, from class 3 till the end of high school, a student should be allowed to change his educational direction. But this will require the enrollment in a preparatory course, before being allowed to join the other direction. Courses in the arts would include such subjects as dance, design, painting and literature, designing of games, appreciating the arts, and crafts, including crafts which are no longer considered essential to the society at large, such as carpentry, building, machinery, gardening, basket weaving, care giving and emotional support. As in the case of history and philosophy, such subjects would be taught for the sake and pleasure of knowledge itself, and not as professional training. And additional courses would be offered in nature appreciation, restoration of antiques, gardening, and cooking. Two separate categories of the study of arts would be the study of music and sports. For all students, there would be continuous opportunities to widen one’s horizons by taking supplementary courses, designed to promote as wide as possible a consciousness of general culture.
A program would be established in the school, in which students could earn pocket money by helping other students who were less developed in learning skills. The use of telephones or texting would be forbidden in the classroom. A series of dormitories or boarding houses would be attached to all schools, and would be specifically designed for single child families, or children whose families could not supply ample support.. These dormitories would be designed to encourage social responsibilities and an understanding of group dynamics, and a student’s continued study could be made conditional on participation in the dormitory arrangement. Students would not be forced to go to school, and their parents would be held responsible for their welfare as long as they were minors, unless those parents declared themselves to be unable to function as ‘parents responsible for their children’, and then the children would be referred to social services.
Tests would continue, but would only test the capacity of the student to use those tools which he was taught in school. No attention would be given to personal taste, philosophical outlook, religion, or individual personality. All grades could be contested, and they would then be studied by an independent evaluation group of teachers, completely unrelated to the student in question. Libraries and computer study rooms would be available to all students, and in these rooms, silence and courtesy would be mandatory. A student could listen to music or other recorded audio material by way of earphones.
I am sure that some of my readers will disagree with different parts of my proposal, and others will have something to add to what I’ve written here. As aFrankAngle wrote in his fascinating study of school reform, recommended a few days ago on this blog, we are no longer in the ‘Industrial Age’, and our children are often inspired by pursuits having nothing to do with the traditional curriculum. Certainly, we have no interest in jailing our children in a school which holds no interest for them. When they grow up, they might find their happiness working as a DJ, or studying the history of ethnic migrations before the age of literacy. And so, if society has seen fit to guarantee the young student an opportunity of education, we should try to make that opportunity as attractive as possible, without limiting the traditional student in his education. If a young student desires to study medicine, or wishes one day to build a rocket that will fly to Saturn, he or she will have to accept the yoke of discipline. Because such knowledge is not gained by desire alone.