Turning Schools from Institutions into Communities
The term ‘school community’ gets bandied around a lot by educators, without a real understanding of what community truly means. Communities are built around unity instead of uniformity, collaboration instead of competition, and interdependence instead of subservience. The vast majority of schools are not communities. With their ringing bells, assembly lines, grading systems and standardized testing procedures, they’re more like factories than anything else – where those who don’t make the grade are simply thrown to the discard pile and labelled faulty.
School is an alienating environment for a lot of kids. It’s no wonder really, when children feel like they have to beat their own peers in order to survive the academic trials of school life. We’ve created an environment for children in which they distrust one another, withhold information from one another, and wish for their own success at the expense of another’s failure, and then we wonder why kids still bully and antagonize. We’re always quick to blame the kids and reprimand them rather than seeing it as a problem with the way education is fundamentally structured. We can make school a place where children feel loved, respected and valued by everybody, but the only way to do that is through a drastic restructuring of the system itself.
The Kin School in Tekos, Russia, is proof that this kind of environment is achievable. The school, founded by Mikhail Shchetinin, was designed, built and decorated by the children themselves. They work in groups and teach each other, rather than having an adult stand up in front of the class and spew information at them. They write their own school curriculum, cook the school lunches for everyone, and are entrusted with major roles of responsibility. The younger children work alongside the older children, and the teachers act as facilitators instead of authoritarians. At the end of every day, all the students of the school get together to discuss their progress and to plan the day ahead. The children treat each other like family members and have developed a real love of learning together. The school has had such a positive profound impact on the students that over 2500 children are on the waiting list to get in!
So how do we bring this same sense of community to all our schools?
What needs to change to achieve this?
First of all, we can get rid of school uniforms. They suppress the expression of the individual. The same goes for rules regarding grooming and appearance. Children should be given the freedom to wear what they want to wear, style their hair how they want to style it, and express themselves however they desire. Uniforms are not a point of pride. They are a symptom of a system that wishes to promote conformity instead of diversity, and are doing more to alienate children than to unite them.
Second, competition in the classroom should be abolished in favour of collaboration. People who work together towards a common goal are capable of achieving far more than people who work in opposition to one another or independently of one another. Collaboration is the stuff of greatness. We are only just now beginning to comprehend the true power of the collective mind, and the open-source revolution is playing a large role in human progress at this time. Even businesses have embraced collaboration in the workplace due to its effect on overall productivity. There are those who will argue with me that we need to have competition in schools in order to prepare children for a competitive world. Though I can understand this perspective, I will argue vehemently that it will actually do more to reinforce such a competitive system, when we need to be doing the exact opposite. If we stop teaching our kids to be competitive in schools, children will naturally be inclined to steer clear of it in their lives, and will gravitate to a life centred around kindness, compassion and community instead. Once the education system moves away from competition, we’ll start to see a shift in society as well. This shift is necessary if we are to evolve as a species. Competition keeps us separate, it keeps us divided, and it keeps us from reaching our full potential as human beings.
Third, children need to feel like they’re valued, no matter who they are. They need to be empowered by their school, not restricted by it. Teachers need to stop talking at the kids and start talking with them. Enough of these self-important titles… Mr, Mrs, Miss, Sir, Principal. All these titles do is tell children that they aren’t as important as the staff at the school, and make them feel inferior. Some people will say that those titles are necessary so that children learn to respect their elders. How about we learn to respect the kids for a change! Then we might actually get somewhere. The truth is, we all have a lot to learn from children. We seem to have this zany idea that because they’re three foot shorter and have developing brains that they have far less to contribute to the world and their ideas shouldn’t be taken seriously. Rubbish. I know kids who are far more switched on and, I daresay, far wiser than most adults I know. Perhaps that’s because they haven’t yet been conditioned by such a sick system we’re living in. We need to give the kids the chance to prove themselves. We need to show them we trust them with the big decisions. Let them create the learning environment they want to be in. Let them have a say in what they learn. Let them teach themselves and each other. Teach them how to be problem-solvers and then let them help solve the world’s problems. There is no limit to what children can achieve when they feel valued, respected and understood as members of a community.
In order to transform our schools from institutions into communities, the entire paradigm of education has to change. We can’t expect these kinds of changes to come through policy reform and government action. Let’s face it. Our governments don’t care about our children. If they did, they’d stop cutting funding to education. Change must come from outside the political arena. The time has come for a complete revolution in education. We have to stop passively accepting things the way they are and start working towards a reality that is better for everyone.
The future of humanity depends on it…
About the Author
Will Stanton is a writer and activist who has devoted his life to changing the education system. He has just launched his book, Education Revolution, which proposes an entirely new global education model for humanity called The Six Dimension Model. The book is available in paperback format on Book Depository, and as an eBook on Kindle, Nook & Kobo.
You can follow Will’s Facebook author page here:
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