Neil McLaren, contributor
Schools are not just a place to put children. They need to be a place where the ability to learn is fostered and developed. Knowledge is not a “what”, it is really a “how”. It is the process of learning that matters. Schools, therefore, have to try to be as variant as possible. Ideally they provide each student with a learning environment that “grows” them as a learner using materials that are logic based, relationship based, linguistically based, and expressively based. Every child, however, is not always ready for the work of becoming a learner. Some have “disabilities” – be it lack of attention, undeveloped skills in manipulating ideas, words, numbers, or experiments or even more extreme factors that make learning difficult. “Systemized” schooling has chosen basic practices that should(!) be most effective in helping each learner along the path. Yes, there are students that have “special needs” because the system doesn’t line up with their best ways of learning. Yes, there are special programs that take students out of the regular daily activities for a day/class/course and this experience becomes a unique and valued part of a student’s educational life.
But teaching is basically a management problem as well as an instructional endeavour. Herding cats is the usual metaphor for the management. The instructional part often varies with the creativeness, diligence, and “stage presence” of the teacher. In the midst of all of that, we see the use of the classroom to at least keep all the cats together, even if we can’t get them all going in the same direction. Using external or open space as an instruction area would work best when a teacher is able to have an adult discussion with the students – an activity that is far too rare and looked upon with far too much suspicion. Children can make (and have, in the midst of destruction or tragedy) adult decisions if the question to be decided is presented clearly and completely. This would have to be a conversation that every teacher and class would use to explore and predict as much about the environment (and how that environment would impact their learning) that will become their learning space. Exploring and discussing “how do we learn there rather than in a classroom” might be as important for students to understand their learning practice as the years of work that educators have put into generating curriculum that should speak to that process.