The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Which Kind of School Do Students Need?

on August 12, 2018

Today, I am posting a section of an article I wrote thirty-one years ago as part of a review of the book “McDonogh 15; Becoming a School.”* All I have done this time is change some words to bring school practices up to date.  I am posting such an old piece because I believe that the main issues I cited back then are still important.

Some schools are successful in raising student test scores; others concentrate on students developing good lives for themselves. What is the difference between their practices?

A school labeled as successful identifies student learning as high test scores and good grades for assigned work.  It does not take into consideration students’ abilities to solve personal problems, develop social skills, or explore new ground.  It does not differentiate between dynamic and inert knowledge or temporary and lasting skills; and it ignores student motivation.  In contrast, a school considered “good” mirrors the realities of life in an orderly adult society.  It is rational and open to change, a practice ground for the things adults do in the outside world.  It focuses on learning that grows through use, such as communication, decision making, exploration, craftsmanship, and group interaction.  It makes children think of themselves as mature people who find strength, nourishment, and satisfaction in each bit of new learning.

Students who cover a traditional curriculum in order to “master” as much of it as possible are not taught to be initiators, builders, or seekers.  They are, at best, reactors.  The knowledge they dutifully acquire is not often broad based or useful. It is taught because it is likely to appear on a test.

A realistic school,  on the other hand, has a broad-based and practical curriculum with subject matter chosen for its relevance to further experiences and opportunities in the outside world,  but also family and community membership,  It uses teaching practices that simulate the ways adults operate. Its students are actively involved in productive tasks that combine and expand their skills. They initiate creative projects, make their own decisions, enjoy  learning new tasks, show off their accomplishments, and look for harder, more exciting work to do.

A school becomes  realistic  when its principal and teachers make connections with the outside world. It creates a sense of community that encourages personal expression within a framework of  social  responsibility. It operates as an organic entity–not as a machine–moving always to expand its basic nature rather than to tack on artificial appendages.

A realistic school is like a healthy tree.  As it grows, it sinks its roots into its native soil; it adapts to the surrounding climate and vegetation; its branches thicken for support and spread for maximum exposure to the sun and rain.  It makes  its own food; it heals its own wounds; and in its season, it puts forth fresh leaves, blossoms, and fruit.


*If You have not read this book, buy it or borrow it from your library.  You won’t regret it.

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