In this case, the pain is also great, because the most honest answer is: There are no ideal schools for all children. There are no shortcuts to quality education, and the search for it is not always easy and without the participation of our parents it is practically impossible. So let’s try to solve this puzzle together.
Ken Robinson, a global authority on education, is not afraid to write in his bestselling Creative Schools something that only sounds cliched: “Every student is a unique individual, with their own hopes, talents, concerns, fears, emotions and aspirations. Involving them as individuals is essential. to improve their performance.
Robinson does not give good advice about which of the walks can be carried over to the grounds of each school, because the school community is a little different each time – after all, it is made up of specific people (that’s why there are wonderful and poor public schools, and poor and wonderful private or alternative schools).
Robinson posits that, just as we move away from industrial agriculture in favor of the environment, we must move from industrial education, which aims to shape the child in one way as a product, to environmental education. “Education can be improved only when you understand that this is also a living system and that people develop under certain conditions and not under others.”
Under what conditions, young (and not only) people develop better? For several decades, these questions have been answered by modern neurobiology, especially a new field that has emerged in the twenty-first century – neuroscience. Its goal is to explore the best way to teach and learn from the point of view of the workings of the brain and to introduce this knowledge into the educational process.
As German neuroscientist and psychiatrist Manfred Spritzer, author of How the Brain Learns, wrote: “The student’s brain is where the teacher works.” We already know, among other things, that a young child’s brain can process and remember vast amounts of information in a jiffy, but only under certain conditions – it only actively learns what is important to it, and is meaningful from its personal point of view (and not From the point of view of the curriculum or the teacher).
We also know that the brain works creatively when it is in a stimulating environment and is oxygenated (so sitting in the same room all day certainly doesn’t help it). And that children learn faster when they try something on their own. To understand something, they have to make discoveries themselves, conduct experiments, engage as many senses as possible (therefore, teaching lectures should be minimal).
We also know that the brain loves novelty – engaging, interesting, and moving tasks – physical activity increases the availability of dopamine in the brain, which in turn positively affects motivation, focus, and working memory. Being outdoors, especially in nature, helps reduce stress, helping you think and act.
Most of these issues were sensed and observed by the great new teachers of education, as they are collectively referred to, who for more than 100 years lived and worked in different countries and independently of each other.
The most famous message of the Italian psychiatrist Maria Montessori (born in 1870) is: “Help me do it myself.” Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (born 1861), founder of the Waldorf School wrote: “There are two magic words that tell how a child becomes integrated into his surroundings. They are imitation and role models.” In turn, the Frenchman Celestine Frenet (born in 1896), the founder of the Frenet school, among others, made these observations:
“No one likes being instructed.
Nobody likes being forced to work, everybody likes to choose it for themselves, even if they don’t choose the best.
We learn by doing. Acquisition of knowledge does not occur by studying rules and laws, but through experience.
Children do not like to listen to the previous cathedral lessons.
Rank and order are always wrong.
Punishment is always wrong. It is offensive and never achieves the desired effect.
We teachers need the motivation to act.”
Not for every parent
The knowledge accumulated over the past decades can be a valuable guide in our search for the best school for our children. However it is not an easy task. While working on The Schools You Want to Go, I traveled across Poland in search of unusual schools and non-schools where adults try to support children authentically in their development according to their needs, although they often use very different approaches (the Montessori school world varies, For example, about the reality of the Waldorf School or the Democratic School).
I asked the teachers working there, “Is this a place for every child?” The answer was often, “This is a place for every child, but not for every parent.”
what does that mean? First of all, the school is an important community for them of children and adults, and we, parents, become a part of it, and therefore also create it. Secondly, when deciding on a particular course of education, we must realize not only whether, in our opinion, it is compatible with the needs of our child, but also whether it is compatible with our values, beliefs and way of life. A parent who dreams of a Waldorf school but is a staunch atheist must consider whether it will be hindered by nurturing the child’s spiritual development (not in the dimension of a particular religion, but still).
In contrast, a parent who thinks a democratic school would be a great solution should check with himself if he’s really inside, and not just declamally ready to not interfere with his child’s educational process (and, for example, not to comment when his child doesn’t participate in any classes for a long time). Three months, but he’ll jump on the trampoline – in democratic schools, all classes are optional by definition, and there’s no classical division into teachers, students, or lessons).
None of the places I have described have objective advantages and disadvantages – which is valuable to some parents, and may be annoying to others. That’s why I’m giving the floor to the parents and kids in the book, so readers can review their experiences and feedback and check: Would it be mine or not? Am I ready for that? Is this what I want
The decision to choose a school or non-school (I also describe different ideas of homeschooling) is complex and very important because, as Ken Robinson says, childhood is not dress-up. It’s no wonder, then, that many of us keep our eyes awake at night. After all, it is a place where our child spends at least half of his day for several years. In what atmosphere? In what environment? How will it be dealt with there? Will you feel safe physically and psychologically there? Will this place maintain its natural curiosity about the world?
Relationship means everything
What is the common denominator between all the places you visited? Two things: self-treatment of children, recognition of their equal value as adults, respect for their dignity, as well as concern for their own well-being, well-being, emotions expressed by the question asked at the beginning of the day, circles or care of various school spaces where children can expect an interview without grades and stigmas (also in public schools !). In short, these are places, for teachers, in which the student is not only the head, but the whole body, and an exceptional being in its essence.
In the book, I share dozens of questions I’ll ask myself when I’m looking for a place for my son. In the end, it seems that the most important thing will be the teachers. My son will spend most of his time with them, and they will be a role model for him.
It is the relationship with them that can be destructive or nourishing. As Ken Robinson wrote: “The primary purpose of education is to help students learn. This is the job of the teacher. However, modern education systems are full of all kinds of things that interfere with this mission, such as political agendas, state priorities, union demands, building codes , job descriptions, parental aspirations, peer pressure, etc. But the essence of education is the student-teacher relationship.
Everything else depends on the quality of this relationship. If it doesn’t work, the whole system will be down. If students do not learn, education is not done. Maybe something else is going on, but it’s not education.”
For those who follow your intuition in life, I have good news: it is worth trusting. Of course, we have to understand on a rational level whether the place is suitable for us (logistics, finances, the way activities are organized and the day), but also to feel it – the atmosphere, the decor, the smell, the mood and above all, the way young and old people treat each other.
Read more: If we let kids swing in the clouds, they’ll see more
Maria Horanc – Freelance reporter, writing from Poland and Latin America. Author of a book on alternative schools in Poland “The Schools You Want to Go to”. Author of the podcast “To the Ear” and the guide to forest baths “Moss and Inhalation”. Together with Szymon Opryszek, she published the books: “We are only dancing now in Zaduszki” and “Breeding your freedom”.