Archives for the month of: June, 2018

Out Of The Classroom And Into The World

Learning from Field Trips, Educating from Experience, and Unlocking the Potential of Our Students and Teachers

Bank Street College of Education professor Salvatore Vascellaro is a leading advocate of taking children and teachers into a wider world as the key to improving our struggling schools.

Combining practical and theoretical guidance, Out of the Classroom and into the World visits a rich variety of classrooms transformed by innovative field trip curricula—showing how students’ hearts and minds are opened as they discover how a suspension bridge works, what connects them to the people and places of their neighborhood, and as they come to understand the ecosystem of a river by following it to its source.

Vascellaro shows, equally, that what teachers can offer children is fueled by their own engagement with the world, and he offers stunning examples of teachers awakened by their direct experiences with the social issues plaguing American society—from the flood-torn areas of New Orleans to the mining areas of West Virginia.

Based on the core principles of progressive pedagogy, and the wisdom gained from Vascellaro’s experience as a teacher, school administrator, and teacher educator, Out of the Classroom and into the World is a direct retort to test scores and standards as adequate measures of teaching and learning—an inspiring call and major new resource for anyone interested in reinvigorating America’s classrooms.

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Paul Goodman’s Primary Grades

The compulsory system has become a universal trap, and it is no good. Very many of the youth, both poor and middle class, might be better off if the system simply did not exist, even if they then had no formal schooling at all.

Our urban and suburban environments are precisely NOT cities or communities where adults naturally attend to the young and educate to a viable life.  Also, perhaps especially in the case of the overt drop-outs, the state of their body and soul is such that we MUST give them refuge and remedy, whether it be called school, settlement house, youth worker or work camp.

There are THINKABLE ALTERNATIVES.

Dispense with the school building for a few classes.  Provide teachers and use the city itself as the school – its streets, cafeterias, stores, movies, museums, parks, and factories.  Such a class should probably not exceed 10 children for one pedagogue.

Along the same lines, but both outside and inside the school building, use appropriate unlicensed adults of the community – the druggist, the storekeeper, the mechanic – as the proper educators of the young into the grown-up world.  By this means we can try to overcome the separation of the young from the grown-up world so characteristic in modern urban life.  Certainly it would be a useful and animating experience for the adults.

Decentralize an urban school (or do not build a new big building) into small units, 20 to 50, in available store-fronts or clubhouses.  These tiny schools, equipped with record-player and pin-ball machine, could combine play, socializing, discussion, and formal teaching.  Give the Little Red Schoolhouse a spin under modern urban conditions and see how it works out.  That is, combine all the ages in a little room for 25 to 30, rather than to grade by age.

Use a pro rata part of the school money to send children to economically marginal farms for a couple months of the year, perhaps 6 children from mixed backgrounds to a farmer.

(Or how about sending them to an environmental camp, a volunteer opportunity with Habitat for Humanity, a bus trip investigating Appalachian Culture and Mountain Top Removal, a walkabout studying Montana waterways or cattle ranching, a co-oop or internship placement with any number of non-profits across the USA or abroad.)

Compulsory Mis-education AND The Community of Scholars by Paul Goodman, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York, 1962.

Joseph Featherstone’s Schools Where Children Learn highlights the work of Elwyn Richardson in northern New Zealand.  Featherstone suggests that In The Early World may be the best book about teaching ever written.  Certainly it’s one of the most beautifully designed. Reproductions of children’s art of an astonishing quality fill its pages – wood and linoleum cuts, pottery, and fabrics, as well as writing.

Featherstone reflects that it takes time for the reader to understand that a long account of how the class took up pottery is meant to be emblematic of a whole style of teaching.  Clay of various grades lay in deposits near the school, and Richardson and the children tested samples to see which kinds were good to work with.  They built a small brick kiln and pottery became the standard activity in the school.

Messing around, the children slowly learned the limits of the material – you couldn’t build wet clay too high or it would collapse.

Pottery grew into writing deeply influenced by the natural world surrounding the school.

The pine tree stands
With cracked sooted arms
With stumped branches
Rotted into the ground

Richardson’s testimony on the work:  I saw that I had to teach as much as I could when opportunities arose, and that this was a better kind of teaching than I had known when I was following through topic after topic.  If I did not teach at such times, the work became poor and lifeless….The series of developments taught me too, that I must use environment to the full and encourage individual expression rather than class.  This meant more individual and small group observation.

Elwyn S. Richardson, In The Early World, Pantheon Books @ 1964.Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 10.29.31 AM.png

 

 

 

During the time of my visits, a 6 1/2 year old named Alan invented a learning environment for himself.  Alan’s basic metaphor was WAR.  I was at first a bit put off but then I realized that Alan, more than anyone I had met, hated and feared war and the consciousness of WAR that pervades American life.

It was as if, by understanding war down to the roots, Alan might gain some sort of dominion over it.

Alan’s home base was a corner of the reading-reference-junk room at the school.  There he had built and impressive fortress that changed in character and armaments as the campaign he was imagining changed.  Alan spent quite a bit of time helmeted and armed, within the fortress.  But he spent far more time at what he called “my work”.  His work consisted of filling large sketch pads with line drawings of battle situations.  Vivid and accurate in detail, the drawings were produced with great speed and economy of line.

When I told him my own combat experience had, fortunately, kept me out of the trenches, he said, “Do you want to see what trench warfare is like?” and leafed through a completed sketch pad.  The sketch he showed gave me the EXPERIENCE of being in a World War I trench – the cramped surroundings, tangles of barbed wire, exploding shells, the distant yet ominous presence of the enemy.

After a couple of days I learned that Alan’s “work” involved a project of grand proportions: he was creating a picture history of every major war the U.S. had fought, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  At the time of my visit, he was up to the North American Campaigns of World War II.  When Alan needed further information about some battle or mode of warfare, he would take a book about the campaign, retire to a corner and read avidly.  No “motivation” problem here.  Or he would go to the Art Room and paint combatants’ flags and insignias, or model tanks and warships in clay.  In the Woodshop, Alan would build appropriate armaments.  In the Gym, he would invent war games.  Or in perfectly reasonable switch, he would organize peace marches, with hand-lettered signs like “War Is Sick”.

Perhaps not by accident, Alan’s headquarters were located within easy hearing distance of the table where Wilbur Rippy (Educational Director) read aloud about and discussed history, geography, evolution, etc.  While Rippy would read, Alan would continue his work, hardly seeming to notice the “lesson,” but actually taking it all in.  When Rippy would leave, Alan would rush to the table, scan the written material, look at the pictures, study the specimens, then mutter” “I must get back to my work.”

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