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NOTICE: The Charter Vision project is dormant as of January 2008. This website is provided for archival purposes only.

Perfect School

Sean (Grade 12 / Unknown School) Posted May 08 2007

Editor’s note: Sean wrote this as part of a school project and in response to his classmate’s idea of a perfect school.

An ideal senior high school is one that embraces individuality, but also challenges students with structure and conformity. A student can only truly achieve success when they do so both individually and under group standards.

Perhaps the most important thing about a school is the building itself. A school can slowly change its educational style and philosophy simply by changing its surroundings; a school that is project-based in an open warehouse facility, for example, might change its curriculum simply by moving to a traditional school building. In an ideal school, there would be four distinct but integral spaces: lecture space, industrial areas, individual and group work areas, and performance space.

I attend a school that began as project-based and I believe strongly in the use of project-based learning. But I also believe it must be integrated with traditional classroom curriculum. That’s my reason for wanting lecture space — not a classroom per se, but an area that would accommodate monological teaching as well as some discussion.

Warehouse room is the ultimate “open door.” In the school I attend, we have a warehouse room of about 2,700 sq. ft. The room has served as an art studio, science lab, gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria. This being the ideal, there wouldn’t be the need to use one space for all these purposes, but it shows the flexibility of plain old empty space.

Work areas are the heart of any school. These areas should be open and airy and allow for some level of conversation. Think office building. Such spaces should have individual desks for each student, but as much flexibility as possible — laptop computers instead of desktop machines and large conference tables intermingled with the desks for group activities.

Auditoriums need not be as malleable as the other areas because they serve only two real purposes: performances and speeches. They should be sufficient to seat the entire student population, but little more — it shouldn’t feel like a stadium.

Grounds are the last element of a positive building. I do not approve of the common “do all” approach of school sites — it just isn’t necessary to have football fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, enormous parking lots, etc. all in one place. It would be far more beneficial to find a more modest location, but one that is within walking distance to libraries, stores, homes, and the community in general. A good school is one that integrates with the larger community, not one that creates its own.

The perfect teacher to many would be one who is inspiring, fun, and develops healthy relationships with his students. On a personal level — whom I’d like to teach me — I would agree. But on whole-school level, I wouldn’t; some teachers should absolutely meet this mold, but for a true educational experience, one must encounter a diversity of personalities. If this means that one teacher could care less about a student’s class or project, that’s fine. If this means that the teacher is downright uncivil, that’s fine too. It would be coddling, not nurturing, to surround students only with friendly, knowledgeable educators. Universally, a good teacher is one who challenges her students — it’s important to do that on a curricular level, but it’s also important to do it on a social one. Not everybody in life will be easy to get along with.

The perfect student is one who cares about his school and his life plan. This is a person who knows what she wants to achieve, but perhaps not how exactly to do so. This is a person who is passionate about the community he’s a part of and strives to improve it. This is a person who involves herself socially on a reasonable level, but is productive the majority of the school day.

Defining the perfect parent is all about finding a happy medium. Essentially, he should be involved in his child’s school life, but only to the extent that the child absolutely needs it. She should be in good communication with teachers, but not overeager — no teacher likes a parent who e-mails him every day. I can’t imagine that parent’s child being too excited about it, either. A parent should also be willing to volunteer time: anywhere from 10-50 hours per academic year.

The curriculum should be split between classroom learning and project learning. Classroom learning is shunned by project-based fanatics, but it shouldn’t be. Entirely classroom-oriented learning is restrictive, but entirely project-based is worse: it divides people into two groups — those who don’t work at all and those who become engrossed loners. Classroom learning alleviates both of these problems: those who are generally nonproductive are challenged to meet the standards of a group environment and those who go off on their own must work with others. Project-based also has its role, though — it allows students to purse their own interests and learn at their own pace. A mix of the two provides the ideal educational environment. In both types of learning, grades should be used in conjunction with written evaluations to record the quality of students’ work. Ideally grades wouldn’t be necessary, but an ideal school must also be a realistic school. We need a common basis for evaluating work — nothing does that as well as a cold, hard letter.

The governance of the school should integrate students. “Kiddie pools” — student governments, boards, etc. — are ubiquitous in our schools. These groups are based on the fundamental idea that students can’t possibly participate on the level of adults in school governance. That said, even as a teenager, I can say that I want teens completely running my school — but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be involved in the conversation. Students should be eligible for nonvoting seats on their school board during 9th-11th grade and eligible for a voting seat in 12th grade — this allows for involvement with minimal risk of juvenile decisions. In both voting and nonvoting seats, the students would have to be elected by the community just like any other board member. Staff meetings should also be open to students whenever possible. Students must be involved all decisions that they can be and they must be kept informed of decisions that they can’t.

Challenge is what education is all about. In first grade, challenge might mean considering numbers — realizing that one apple and another apple together can be defined by the number two. In junior high school, it might be provoking opinion for the first real time or understanding grammatical rules. In senior high and college, it might mean sheer workload and higher standards of merit. Whatever point in an educational process, challenge is at the core of learning. The ideal school I’ve outlined celebrates that. Now if only such a school would really happen.

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