I visited an awesome progressive school today. The thing that was most impressive was this: there were kids all over the place who were doing absolutely nothing productive.
That may sound strange, but I think it’s the defining characteristic of a progressive school. Having anti-racist values or an environmental curriculum don’t make your school progressive. It’s not about your lesson plans, it’s the structure of the educational environment that makes all the difference.
A lot of schools talk about lifelong learning and nurturing curiosity, but when they stand at the edge of that precipice—what happens if we give students freedom to direct their own learning, and they just sit around?—they refuse to jump. When teachers intervene and make students do work that they think is important, it interferes with the student’s natural curiosity about the world. School becomes a place to follow directions and please authority figures.
This was taught to me by PSCS founder Andy Smallman, and confirmed by two years of experience watching students learn and grow at PSCS. When you create an environment for young people in which they feel safe, secure, loved, and part of a caring community, and surround them with good role models who consistently challenge them to be their best selves, they will learn. They will learn far more than they ever could in an environment of command and control.
It takes patience. It takes faith. But sometimes, you have to let kids just sit around and do nothing. It’s in those moments when they’re learning the lesson they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives: I am in charge of my own education.
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