2 Child-Centered Alternatives to Traditional School Models

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According to Nikhil Goyal, an author and speaker who serves on the board of Fair Test (an organization which works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial), American schools are failing their students because “…they are suppressing children by forcing them into a compliance-based model of education. All children are natural learners. We’re born with curiosity, creativity, wonder, and intrinsic motivation. Research shows that with more years of formal schooling, those very qualities are stunted tremendously. Moreover, schools largely resemble prisons: children are cut from society and social media is banned.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/02/15/how-should-we-rebuild-the-u-s-education-system/)

Think about the next time your child gets on the bus to spend the day at school where they’re required to be indoors more than six out of seven hours, have to ask permission to use the restroom, and — like Pavlov’s dogs — are conditioned by a bell to perform certain tasks. Are they learning more than simply reading, writing and arithmetic by being required to be in school five days a week?

Fortunately not all teachers and not all schools are intimidated by the demands placed on them to have higher performing students and less functional humans. Here are a few examples of schools which cater to the children’s needs and learning styles and shockingly to some get even better results from more well-adjusted students.

1. Mission Hill, Boston (www.missionhill.org). Established in 1997 after retiring from New York City public schools, Deborah Meier created the Mission Hill School, spending eight years as both principal and co-principal. Ms. Meier founded this pilot project on the premise that, “The task of public education is to help parents raise youngsters who will maintain and nurture the best habits of a democratic society be smart, caring, strong, resilient, imaginative and thoughtful. It aims at producing youngsters who can live productive, socially useful and personally satisfying lives, while also respecting the rights of all others. The school, as we see it, will help strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity and mutual respect.”

Mission Hill operates using The Habits of Mind and Work: “…an approach to both the traditional academic disciplines (math, science, literature and history) and the interdisciplinary stuff of ordinary life. They are what lead us to ask good questions and seek solid answers. They are the school’s definition of a well-educated person.


“Both sets of “habits” are developed in the process of gathering appropriate knowledge and skill in school and out. The best test is whether students use such habits in the course of their work. And again, not just in school. Knowing “how-to” is no substitute for having good habits. Who cares if you could drive well, if you’re not in the habit of doing so? Who cares if you could be on time, if you never are?”

2. Sudbury Valley School, Farmington, MA (www.sudval.com). According to a recent article in Reader’s Digest (http://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/american-school-system-damaging-kids/2/), “The students, who range in age from four to about 18, are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. These regulations, which have been created democratically by the children and staff together, have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order. The school currently has about 150 students and ten staff members, and it operates on a per-child budget that is less than half that of the surrounding public schools. It accepts essentially all the students who apply and whose parents agree to enroll them.

“…Students in this setting learn to read, calculate, and use computers in the same playful ways that kids in hunter-gatherer cultures learn to hunt and gather. They also develop more specialized interests and passions, which can lead directly or indirectly to careers. For example, a highly successful machinist and inventor spent his childhood playfully building things and taking things apart to see how they worked. Another graduate, who became a professor of mathematics, had played intensively and creatively with math. And yet another, a high-fashion patternmaker, had played at making doll clothes and then clothes for herself and friends.”

Just imagine what your life would be like if you’d had the opportunity to experience a school like either of these when you were younger. What an interesting concept to be allowed to learn diversity, continuity, connectivity, individualism, authenticity and respect as well as academics all in one place. Again, think about that the next time your child gets on the bus to spend the day being molded and conditioned. Does it really have to be “just what you do” or “how it’s supposed to be”?

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I'm a Family Dynamics and Life Coach, Writer and Professional Vacationer. Knowing the power and healing that can come from effective communication and a life lived without limits, it’s my passion to help empower each person discover their own worth, find their own voice and share their own greatness with everyone around them. By doing this, we can eliminate fear and live in a world transformed.

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