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robertogreco : minischools   2

The Lives of Children, by George Dennison
[See also Christopher Alexander (referencing Dennison and Paul Goodman's mini-schools): ]

"It is worth mentioning here that, with two exceptions, the parents of the children at First Street were not libertarians. They thought that they believed in compulsion, and rewards and punishments, and formal discipline, and report cards, and homework, and elaborate school facilities. They looked rather askance at our noisy classrooms and informal relations. If they persisted in sending us their children, it was not because they agreed with our methods, but because they were desperate. As the months went by, however, and the children who had been truants now attended eagerly, and those who had been failing now began to learn, the parents drew their own conclusions. By the end of the first year there was a high morale among them, and great devotion to the school.

We had no administrators. We were small and didn't need them. The parents found that, after all, they approved of this. They themselves could judge the competence of the teachers, and so could their children - by the specific act of learning. The parents' past experience of administrators bad been uniformly upsetting - and the proof, of course, was in the pudding: the children were happier and were learning. As for the children, they never missed them.

We did not give report cards. We knew each child, knew his capacities and his problems, and the vagaries of his growth. This knowledge could not be recorded on little cards. The parents found - again - that they approved of this. It diminished the blind anxieties of life, for grades had never meant much to them anyway except some dim sense of problem, or some dim reassurance that things were all right. When they wanted to know how their children were doing they simply asked the teachers.

We didn't give tests, at least not of the competitive kind. It was important to be aware of what the children knew, but more important to be aware of how each child knew what he knew. We could learn nothing about Maxine by testing Eléna. And so there was no comparative testing at all. The children never missed those invidious comparisons, and the teachers were spared the absurdity of ranking dozens of personalities on one uniform scale.

Our housing was modest. Ile children came to school in play-torn clothes. Their families were poor. A torn dress, torn pants, frequent cleanings - there were expenses they could not afford. Yet how can children play without getting dirty? Our uncleanliness standard was just right. It looked awful and suited everyone.

We treated the children with consideration and justice. I don't mean that we never got angry and never yelled at them (nor they at us). I mean that we took seriously the pride of life that belongs to the young - even to the very young. We did not coerce them in violation of their proper independence. Parents and children both found that they approved very much of this.

Now I would like to describe the school, or more correctly, the children and teachers. I shall try to bring out in detail three important things:

1) That the proper concern of a primary school is not education in a narrow sense, and still less preparation for later life, but the present lives of the children - a point made repeatedly by John Dewey. and very poorly understood by many of his followers.

2) That when the conventional routines of a school we abolished (the military discipline, the schedules, the punishments and rewards, the standardization), what arises is neither a vacuum nor chaos, but rather a new order, based first on relationships between adults and children, and children and their peers, but based ultimately on such truths of the human condition as these: that the mind does not function separately from the emotions, but thought partakes of feeling and feeling of thought, that there is no such thing as knowledge per se, knowledge in a vacuum, but rather all knowledge is possessed and must be expressed by individuals; that the human voices preserved in books belong to the real features of the world, and that children are so powerfully attracted to this world that the very motion of their curiosity comes through to us as a form of love; that an active moral life cannot be evolved except where people are free to express their feelings and act upon the insights of conscience.

3) That running a primary school - provided it be small - is an extremely simple thing. It goes without saying that the teachers must be competent (which does not necessarily mean passing courses in a teacher's college). Given this sine qua non, there is nothing mysterious. The present quagmire of public education is entirely the result of unworkable centralization and the lust for control that permeates every bureaucratic institution."

"For the twenty-three children there were three full-time teachers, one part-time (myself), and several others who came at scheduled periods for singing, dancing, and music.

Public school teachers, with their 30 to 1 ratios, will be aware that we have entered the realm of sheer luxury. One of the things that will bear repeating, however, is that this luxury was purchased at a cost per child a good bit lower than that of the public system, for the similarity of operating costs does not reflect the huge capital investment of the public schools or the great difference in the quality of service. Not that our families paid tuition (hardly anyone did); I mean simply that our money was not drained away by vast administrative costs, bookkeeping, elaborate buildings, maintenance, enforcement personnel, and vandalism (to say nothing of the costs hidden in those institutions which in a larger sense must be seen as adjuncts to the schools: houses of correction, prisons, narcotic wards, and welfare).

Our teacher/pupil ratio varied according to need. Gloria handled up to eleven children, ages five to eight. At least half of her children were just starting school, and were beautifully "motivated," as the educationists say. Motivated, of course, means eager, alive, curious, responsive, trusting, persistent; and it is not as good a word as any of these. They were capable of forming relationships and of pursuing real interests. Every child who came to us after several years in the public schools came with problems.

Susan Goodman, who taught the next group, ages eight to ten, usually had six or seven in her room. Two of these were difficult and required a great deal of attention. They got the attention, and they were the two (Maxine and Eléna) who of all the children in the school made the most spectacular progress academically. In a year and a half, Eléna, who was ten, went from first-grade work to advanced fourth; and let me hasten to say that Susan, like the other teachers, followed Rousseau's old policy of losing time. ("The most useful rule of education is this: do not save time, but lose it.") Eléna's lessons were very brief and were often skipped.

The remaining children, boys to the age of thirteen, had come to us in serious trouble of one kind or another. Several carried knives, all had been truants, José could not read, Willard was scheduled for a 600 school, Stanley was a vandal and thief and was on his way to Youth House. They were characterized, one and all, by an anxiety that amounted to desperation. It became clear to us very quickly to what an extent they had been formed by abuse and neglect. Family life was a factor for several, but all had had disastrous experiences in school, and with authorities outside of school, and with the racism of our society as a whole, and with poverty and the routine violence of violent streets. They were destined for environments of maximum control-prison in one form or another. How they fared in our setting of freedom may be interesting.

Some pupils, as Dr. Elliott Shapiro points out (Nat Hentoff's Our Children Are Dying is about Elliott Shapiro and the children of Harlem), require a one-to-one relationship. I worked with José on just that basis. At other times I took the boys in a group, or Mabel Chrystie (now Dennison) did, or they were divided between the two of us.

Even in so routine a matter as forming groups, the advantages of smallness are evident. We all knew the children fairly well and were able to match teacher with child. Gloria had had a great deal of experience with younger children, Mabel with specialized tutoring in the city system and with problem children in a free school setting. I had worked with severely disturbed children; and Susan Goodman, who had never taught before, came from a family of teachers and naturally asked for the children predisposed to studies.

Yet the final composition of the groups reflected the contributions of the children themselves. They, too, had a hand. And here is an excellent example of the kind of sructuring that arises when the wishes of the children are respected. Two of our most difficult pupils, Maxine and Vicente, actually placed themselves; and the truth is that we teachers could not have improved upon their solutions. ..."
georgedennison  small  tinyschools  minischools  paulgoodman  education  openstudioproject  learning  children  lcproject  1969  groupsize  classsize  teaching  christopheralexander  apatternlanguage 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Mini-Schools: A Prescription for the Reading Problem by Paul Goodman | The New York Review of Books
"For ages six to eleven, I propose a system of tiny schools, radically decentralized. As one who for twenty years has urged democratic decentralization in many fields, including the schools, I am of course interested in the Bundy recommendation to cut up the New York system into sixty fairly autonomous districts. This would restore some relevance of the culture (and the staff) of the school to the culture of the community. But however valuable politically, it is an administrative arrangement; it does not get down to the actual pedagogical operation. And it certainly is not child-centered; both poor and middle-class communities have their own ways of not paying attention to children, according to their own prejudices and distant expectations. By “tiny school,” therefore, I here mean twenty-eight children…with four teachers (one grown-up to seven children), and each tiny school to be largely administered by its own staff and parents, with considerable say also for the children, as in Summer-hill. The four teachers are:

A teacher regularly licensed and salaried. Since the present average class size is twenty-eight, these are available.

A graduate from the senior class of a New York college, perhaps just embarking on graduate study. Salary $2000. There is no lack of candidates to do something interesting and useful in a free setting.

A literate housewife and mother, who can also prepare lunch. Salary $4000. No lack of candidates.

A literate, willing, and intelligent high-school graduate. Salary $2000. No lack of candidates.

Such a staff can easily be racially and ethnically mixed. And it is also the case, as demonstrated by the First Street School, that in such a small setting, with individual attention paid to the children, it is easy to get racially and ethnically mixed classes; there is less middle-class withdrawal when the parents do not fear that their children will be swamped and retarded. (We have failed to achieve “integration” by trying to impose it from above, but it can be achieved from below, in schools entirely locally controlled, if we can show parents that it is for their children’s best future.)

For setting, the tiny school would occupy two, three, or four rooms in existing school buildings, church basements, settlement houses otherwise empty during school hours, rooms set aside in housing projects, store-fronts. The setting is especially indifferent since a major part of activity occurs outside the school place. The setting should be able to be transformed into a clubhouse, decorated and equipped according to the group’s own decision. There might be one school on every street, but it is also advisable to locate many in racial and ethnic border areas, to increase intermixture. For purposes of assembly, health services, and some games, ten tiny schools could use the present public school facilities.

The cost saving in such a setup is the almost total elimination of top-down administration and the kind of special services that are required precisely because of excessive size and rigidity. The chief uses of central administration would be licensing, funding, choosing sites, and some inspection. There would be no principals and assistants, secretaries and assistants. Curriculum, texts, equipment would be determined as needed—and despite the present putative economies of scale, they would be cheaper; much less would be pointless or wasted. Record-keeping would be at a minimum. There is no need for truant officers when the teacher-and-seven can call at the absentee’s home and inquire. There is little need for remedial personnel since the staff and parents are always in contact, and the whole enterprise can be regarded as remedial. Organizational studies of large top-down directed enterprises show that the total cost is invariably at least 300 percent above the cost of the immediate function, in this case the interaction of teachers and children. I would put this 300 percent into increasing the number of adults and diversifying the possibilities of instruction. Further, in the conditions of New York real estate, there is great advantage in ceasing to build four-million-dollar school buildings, and rather fitting tiny schools into available niches."

"FURTHER, I see little merit, for teaching this age, in the usual teacher-training. Any literate and well-intentioned grown-up or late teen-ager knows enough to teach a small child a lot. Teaching small children is a difficult art, but we do not know how to train the improvisational genius it requires, and the untrained seem to have it equally: compare one mother with another, or one big sister or brother with another. Since at this age one teaches the child, not the subject, the relevant art is psychotherapy, and the most useful course for a teachers’ college is probably group therapy. The chief criterion for selection is the one I have mentioned: liking to be attentive to children. Given this setting, many young people would be introduced to teaching and would continue with it as a profession; whereas in the New York system the annual turnover approaches 20 percent, after years of wasted training.

As I have said, however, there are fatal political and administrative objections to this proposal. First, the Public School administration does not intend to go largely out of business. Given its mentality, it must see any radical decentralization as impossible to administer and dangerous, for everything cannot be controlled. Some child is bound to break a leg and the insurance companies will not cover; some teen-ager is bound to be indiscreet and the Daily News will explode in headlines.

The United Federation of Teachers will find the proposal to be anathema because it devalues professional perquisites and floods the schools with the unlicensed. Being mainly broken to the public school harness, most experienced teachers consider free and inventive teaching to be impossible.

Most fatally, poor parents, who aspire for their children, tend to regard unrigidly structured education as down-grading, not taking the children seriously, and also as vaguely immoral. In the present Black Power temper of Harlem, also, the possible easy intermixing is itself not desired. (Incidentally, I am rather sympathetic to black separatism as a means of consolidating the power of black communities. But children, as Kant said, must be educated for the future better society which cannot be separated.)

In spite of these fatal objections, I recommend that, instead of building the next new school building, we try out this scheme with 1200 children."
paulgoodman  smallschools  tinyschools  education  unschooling  1968  deschooling  learning  children  schooldesign  classsize  openstudioproject  history  lcproject  minischools  small  literacy 
july 2014 by robertogreco

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