Today, I was reminded of how adult-driven our school system is. My 8th grader brought home his syllabus from his science class, and (as per the instructions of the teacher), we read through it together.
What immediately struck me was half-way down the first page, written entirely in ugly capital letters (not like the pretty formatting here on WP):
YOU WILL COME INTO CLASS QUIETLY AND REMAIN QUIET
YOU WILL SIT DOWN AND NOT MOVE WITHOUT PERMISSION
YOU WILL NOT SPEAK WITHOUT FIRST RAISING YOUR HAND AND RECEIVING PERMISSION
The free-spirited hidden rebel deep inside me lurched almost perceptibly as I read these instructions. What kind of autocratic jerk would create such rules and write them down IN CAPITAL LETTERS? Ah, but then I remembered… this is how school is. Maybe not how it should be, or could be, but, nonetheless, even if the other teachers aren’t writing it down in capital letters, it’s probably how most of them run their class: in a top-down, adult-driven, I’ll-talk-and-you’ll-listen-and-do-what-I-say mode.
And, as is usually the case when I come across items like this, I got to thinking. What would a school look like if it were driven by the desire of children to learn? Would the children learn, or would they just goof off given half the chance? Sociologists Judith Levine and James Kincaid have written extensively on the hidden loathing we secretly harbor when we regard our society’s youth (not usually our own kids, mind you, but youth in general)- I think this would explain why most adults would, off-the-cuff, say that the kids would just wind up screwing around. I know some charter schools at least attempt to have children self-direct part or all of their own learning; have these schools declined into chaos, or are they holding their own? Would a relaxation on the adult-driven model begin a slow decline into anarchy?