Pondering Quaker education again

How could a curriculum be kept simple without being insufficient?
Recently I was working with a student at Westtown School who was asked to reflect, in essay form, on the testimony on simplicity in Quaker life.  He was to read the queries on the subject from the current Faith and Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and one of those was “How do I manage my commitments so that over-commitment, worry and stress do not diminish my integrity”
One way this boy could attempt to satisfy the implied injunction would be to steer clear of all social engagements of his own, and use all of his discretionary time to work on his assignments.  That would occasion another query about what time and activities does he maintain in is schedule for the refreshment of his human relationships and his balance of fun with work? It is a difficult problem to solve because, for example, this boy is given homework in each subject that he studies: English, Physics, Geometry, Peace and Justice, Quakerism, and  Latin. The Geometry alone is designed to take an hour. He has two hours each evening for doing homework, and another 45 minutes during each school day.  If he devotes an hour to his math class homework, and if the other assignments are similar in their demands, how can he complete the assigned work for each evening in time? To further complicate the matter, on a recent evening, the same boy was required to attend a dinner for the track team, of which he is a member, and a dance recital.
These occurred during what was to have been his dinner time and the first of his 2 hours of study hall that evening. Although the schedule is not so crammed each evening, the time allotment given each student is the same, and this makes the assumption that each student will need the same amount of time to complete their assignments.
In thinking about how to set up an educational paradigm which would reflect Quaker testimonies on simplicity and the value of the individual, the respect for differences, etc.  I wonder what the solution might be? First, the curriculum and the timetable for its use would have to respond to that of God in each student. I’ll translate that into meeting the strengths of the individual, and providing support for the individual’s weaknesses.  How might that be done if we are educating children in groups with a teacher student ratio of 1 to 20? We might have to shrink that ratio to something like 1 to 5. We might have to open the timetable so that benchmarks could be reached at different times by different students. We might not group children by age as often, and we might want to be more selective about the purposes for which we group them, when we do. For example we might make groups for learning objectives like long division, or level 1 Spanish. We could group for developmental stage – everyone who is on the edge of puberty and needs to know a few things about what’s going on in their bodies; such groups could be further refined by gender.
The bottom line here is to center the instructional plans on the people needing the instruction, rather than on what is most expedient for those in charge of the budget, or similar focus, distant from the person-to-person work of teaching and learning.
That would mean significant change, and it would mean taking on the largely unrecognized substrata of our beliefs about what children are relative to adults.
If we honor the testimony of equality among people, we need to decouple “equality” from “sameness” in a number of ways. First, we have to dispatch the idea that adult authority over children is a necessary part of an educational system.
What would happen if childhood were respected, and cherished in school?

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2 Comments

  1. Ganeida said,

    May 18, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I know I’m a bit off tangent but seriously, ditch the homework. If the schools can’t teach effectively in the time alloted to them then they have no business being in the education business. There is no evidence that homework allows a student to retain information any better. How could they at the end of a long day when they are tired & probably also hungry & waiting on dinner & so much of it is of little real interest to the average student? Otherwise I think you have suggested some good ideas. I just don’t know of any schools that would be sensible enough to implement even some of them.

    • kristinsk said,

      May 19, 2009 at 12:26 am

      I agree. When I teach a class I issue invitations rather than assignments. Students must accept a certain number of invitations in order to pass the course, but they choose which ones. One option they have is choosing not to pass the course! I tend to be clear about the rubric I will use to evaluate the work they turn in. It is important for students in high school (and younger) to learn that choices have consequences, but I think they are more likely to absorb that lesson when they have some agency in the process, and some time to reflect on it. If it were up to me, kids would not be expected to work 16+ hour days.


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