What Schools AreMight seem a little bit obvious this, but think about it - what are the features that define a school?
Well, according to Reimer, schools are "institutions which require full-time attendance of specific age groups in teacher-supervised classrooms for the study of graded curricula."
Further into the chapter, Reimer find problems with each component of schools:
- Children - "Childhood becomes a problem when extended over too many years and too many aspects of life."
- Teachers - "Teaching becomes a problem when students depend upon it for most learning."
- Classrooms - "Classroom attendance becomes a problem when it builds sterile walls around too much of normal life."
- Curriculum - "Curriculum becomes a problem when it approaches international universality."
Other interesting points raised by Mr Reimer:
- "Once knowledge becomes a product, the graded curriculum follows - an ordered array of of packets of knowledge each with its time and space assignment, in proper sequence and juxtaposed with related packages."
- "Schools treat people and knowledge the way a technological world treats everything: as if they could be processed."
- "In this specialised (classroom) environment, knowledge must be transmitted, it cannot merely be encountered, since in most instances it has been taken out of its natural habitat. It must be processed, not only to clean it up but also to facilitate transmission."
But hang on - don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Surely schools have some good attributes too. I'm getting a bit tired of this negative attitude from Mr Reimer. It lacks balance and perspective. Let me propose the following:
- Children - Childhood is more than just a time for avoiding responsibilities. It is also a time of growth and learning. Children are receptive to new ideas. Their brains are developing and their understanding of the world around them is expanding daily. Surely this is a time to prolong if possible, even perhaps beyond the 12 odd years of formal school education. I aim to be a "life-long learner" and I'm not Robinson Crusoe in this.
- Teachers - The best teachers are those who inspire students to learn things for themselves. I think one of the big changes in pedagogy in the last 25 years has been the redefinition of the role of the teacher, no longer the "instructor" or even the "coach on the sideline" but now the "meddler in the middle", provoking and challenging the students.
- Classrooms - The physical aspects of classrooms have changed a lot since 1971 - carpet, air conditioning, plastic chairs and tables, computers. But more than just the physical layout of the room, other things have changed too. I don't see too many sterile walls isolating students from normal life. I see stimulating classrooms that bring the wider world into the lives of the students, prompting them to think and respond, to create and to dream.
- Curriculum - Yes - we have national curriculums and international assessment devices and TIMMS but...all the curriculum documents I've seen allow for, and encourage or require, local variation and implementation based on regional conditions. I actually think we need some kind of accountability for what goes on in each school, so that we can have confidence in the "product". Curriculum can provide both standardised expectations and flexible interpretation of their implementation.
School is not all bad.