Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Problem of Time

We have been having some issues lately at school. It started with some minor resistance (not completing assignments, making me ask for everything that is due, "forgetting" supplies from home, that sort of thing) and gradually swelled to full-on I'm-not-gonna-do-it level resistance.

Mind you, this is for projects the students themselves have designed, in addition to more teacher-y type stuff. I have asked them repeatedly what they need, offered revision, sped up, slowed down, pulled get the idea.

The solution? A couple of the students have asked for a schedule of classes, a traditional schedule, the whole work for an hour on math, three-minute break, work for an hour on science, three-minute break...and so on. We tried it last Friday, and it was the

Learning is not meant to be segmented. Learning is not meant to be broken up artificially; if you constantly have to keep an eye on the clock for when you will be stopping, how are you supposed to really get into what you are doing? How are you supposed to explore and make connections, go deeper, understand, really get into the meaty, juicy part of what you are doing?

You can't. Plain and simple. Every part of me, as a learner, teacher and person, is against the idea of a schedule. It is a public school notion, embraced most willingly by my oldest students, the ones who spent the most time in public school. This type of fragmented segregation of subjects results in the same type of learning that is celebrated in public school - the kind you can document on a scannable bubble sheet. HoneyFern deals in real-life, meaningful products, and this goes against that idea by compartmentalizing and categorizing things neatly (as opposed to the messy ideals the school was founded on).

HoneyFern's mission statement:

The mission of HoneyFern is to develop a community that cultivates caring, intelligent and curious learners who indulge in deep thought, study and discussion, exploring what intrigues them in a way that is productive, responsive, creative and unique to them.

Perhaps they are too old; perhaps I need to get them earlier, get them in the habit of guiding their own learning before they hit middle school, before "bad" habits are entrenched. The students who have requested the schedule are struggling to even articulate "what intrigues them" and have stated that they would, at this point, prefer worksheets and "C's" to "deep thought, study and discussion." The youngest student has specifically requested to be left out of the schedule; she knows what she wants to study, and it is integrated and takes longer than an hour a day. The middle one is, well, caught in the middle and is more comfortable not expressing a preference at all, a problem in and of itself.

What do I do? Schedule some and let others go as they wish? Refuse to schedule? Schedule only on certain days? Does having a schedule for some and not others break up the community-building aspect and fragment the school beyond repair? What about the days we do work together (biology lab days, which can take four+ hours)? Do we spread that out over a week?

I have spent this past week attempting to settle these questions and ease my mind, and I have not succeeded.  I am not closer to a decision now than I was last Friday, and, if anything, I am questioning more of what we are doing.

Perhaps this is something that should not be on an open blog that is something of a marketing platform, but it is important for me to show the bones of the structure so that everyone knows upon what the school is built. Starting a school is the most challenging thing I have ever done; every year we face different hurdles, and apparently this year it is helping students break out of the mold of public school, the okay-is-good-enough mentality that is pervasive when kids are routinely stifled and told what to think. Would a simple structural change help them focus on the more important tasks?

Unanswered questions. The Child and I are off to enjoy the day. Comments and feedback always welcome!

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