I had the great pleasure of attending the Coalition of Essential Schools conference this weekend in San Fransisco, and even the greater experience of getting to explore ideas with a group of change agents including Isaac Graves, Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling Hammond, Rick Poser, Scott Nine, Linda Nathan and the Theater crew of Boston Arts Academy, Gary Stager, and most importantly for me, Deb Meier.
One topic that came up again and again this weekend is that relationships between people should be at the heart of education. It is what we talk about often here, and it is at the core of my thesis on Human Scale Education.
Human Scale Education is education in which People matter and therefore relationships matter. It is an built on environments that supports and develops many different types of relationships, including the relationship between:
- teacher and learner
- learner and learner
- learner and knowledge;
- learner and the journey for personal growth
- the personal and community;
- learning and living;
- school and the community;
- schools and democracy.
It is the connection between and tension in all these relationships that can provide an environment of growth and the mindful journey to understand why we are here and different ways to live together. The question of how to do this is complex, but we should at least start to try and create opportunities that allow the time and space to support these types of relationships.
These types of relationship are not served by organizational systems that do not allow people to get to know each other as the unique persons they are. They are not supported by rigid, narrow paths of learning and experience, by power hierarchy that showcase a lack of trust and respect in people.
It calls for a relationship of persons not a relationship of power.
The factory/market driven system of schools supports a narrow version of life’s possibilities. I believe there is a more holistic, caring, artistic reality to humanity that deserves to be given a chance to develop and evolve and that a school built on authentic relationships is the best way to support this transformation as a society.
If relationships are the first step to transformation, how do we create environments where these types of relationships can be developed or supported? I believe the first step is creating an environment rich in generational and experiential diversity that is scaled to allow people to know each other and feel known. This would mean limiting narrow age groupings and engaging wide ranges of adults to share, dialogue with, and mentor students. Opening the classroom to the world and really honoring the idea that school is not the “preparation for life, but life itself” as John Dewey famously said, by allowing children (and adults for that matter) to interact with more people.
We would need larger chunks of time to really know each other. This might take the form of advisers or mentors who stay with a student for a least a looped period of 2-4 years or like even like Waldorf teachers from 1-8 grade. It is not a formula to be placed on all schools or one perfect method but it is worth thinking about.
It also means really understanding that it is not always easy to have authentic relationships, because doors can’t be closed, students ignored, behavior issues/ incidents can’t be swept under the rug. Instead we begin to deal with reality of being human. It means teachers must not just be knowledge based, but engage in an on-going process of reflection and growth themselves. Teachers have to be authentic and open.
It makes the world of school a lot more complex, but I would argue it will ultimately make it a better place. One that will not be able to be judged by test scores, but instead by the well-being of the people in the community.
So what do you think…. can school be organized to support and develop relationships or is all this Utopian or not our job….?