Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Schools as Places of Learning and Safety.

An article in the Burlington Free Press recently started me thinking about something I just cannot seem to stop thinking about. The article described in detail  how the Shelburne community school, built in 1967, was built with an open plan which was closely related to the idea of Open Education.  The words of the  School Board Chairman,  "The open classrooms represent an idea whose time has come and gone," pretty much sum up what the community thinks of the original idea upon which the school was based. It's a somewhat curt dismissal of something that made Vermont quite famous in the 1960s and 70s as schools like Shelburne bought into the progressive education movement known as the Open Classroom. As a graduate student in the 70s I worked with teachers in an Open Classroom school in Arlington Heights, Illinois,  called the Olive School. It was a magical experience where the focus was on helping individual children learn through a variety of exciting and meaningful experiences. I miss it dearly.

Back then, whether one agreed with it or not, we designed school buildings based on how we thought students learned best; a philosophy of education, if you like.

Today, we design school buildings based on ideas of how to keep children  safe.

Interestingly. back in those halcyon days, the architecture of the building could have little effect upon the way some teachers taught. Even in those open classrooms with no walls there were teachers teaching the same way they had for 40 years with desks in rows, lecturing the 6 year olds, and giving them work sheet after work sheet.  

Sadly, as events in Newtown, Connecticut have shown, the architecture of a school cannot stop people intent on killing young children. More recently in Pakistan, even a school built like a fortress can be breached.

It is clearly not the architecture of schools that we need to address but the nature of our society.

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