For all that I believe our schools aren't teaching the skills that will sustain our communities, I don't believe it's the curriculum choices that will result in their demise, but rather the exhorbitant cost of paying for these too-large institutions. From the massive school buildings themselves to the much too complicated and extremely costly Federal and State regulations, our communities will begin to buckle under the pressure of trying to keep their schools' doors open. It's already happening across the country with widespread school closures, reductions in teachers' pay/benefits, discontinuing of extra-curricular activities, and more recently, a moving to a four-day school week - all to save a little money. I've even heard of schools that changed the font they used for printing worksheets and notices because changing the font could save a few thousand dollars. When they start looking closely at things like saving printer ink, we should be concerned. Just sayin'.
For the last century, our schools have followed the perpetual growth model. They've continued to promote the mantra that bigger schools with more resources can provide a better education. I heard it when I was teaching and the consolidation talks were happening. Our tiny, community-based school couldn't compete, we were told, and we were encouraged to consider consolidating with another community, the result of which would be a loss of our community identity - and a busing of our children far away to be educated by people who may not know them as well as the teachers at their old school, who were also their neighbors.
To accommodate the growing student populations, the buildings have to keep getting bigger and more elaborate. I love the newest buildings which are bigger than my neighborhood, and claim to be so eco-friendly. Really? All that wood, glass and concrete covering what was a few months ago a diverse eco-system teeming with life, and because it's built with skylights and triple-pane glass windows (which are still only an R value of, like, less than 0), it's "green"? Anyway.
The buildings are too big. They're too complicated. They're too expensive, and we can't afford to funnel anymore money into their upkeep. We have to find alternatives - local alternatives - because we also can't *not* educate our children. When the young scientist Flint Lockwood in the movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" tries to warn the mayor that the food-making machine may be having some problems, the mayor replies, "What I heard was blah, blah, blah, science, science, BIGGER, and BIGGER is BETTER!" That's what we've been hearing, and believing, for too long, but as we're discovering ... indeed, as the citizens of Swallow Falls discover ... that's not true.
We really need to revise our mantra to Small is beautiful.
In the book And the Skylark Sings With Me, David Albert explores alternatives to the current school model that uses community resources to provide educational opportunities for children. His educational model sounds very much like the pre-Industrial Revolution model - some home learning and a whole lot of exploring the real world to figure out how things work. If you're interested in a copy of Albert's book, please leave a comment.
AND THE WINNER IS ...
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