Schools Are Not Designed for Learning

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Why do schools exist? Ostensibly, so that children will learn the information and skills they need in order to be successful in adulthood. If asked, most people will agree with this assessment. However, if that is true, then one is forced to ask why mainstream education does so much that disrupts real learning. Here are some examples:

  • Early Start Times

    There’s a lot of information coming to light about how different people function at different times of the day, especially at different points in their development. Teenagers fare especially poorly early in the morning and yet, despite being confronted with this evidence, most schools around the country have very early start times. Not only does this produce the effect of having tired kids dragging themselves to school every day, it also significantly disrupts their ability to understand and retain the information that is being presented to them

  • Emphasis on Testing

    Not only is testing someone on their knowledge an ineffective way to gauge their understanding, the act of testing actually interferes with learning itself. Think: text anxiety, stress over performance, and the public ranking of students (and shaming of low performers). There’s evidence that teaching other students would actually help individuals learn better than reiterating information simply to pass a test, and yet standardized testing not only persists, but seems to be gaining momentum.

  • Standardized Curriculum

    At this point in our history we are reasonably clear that different learning styles exist. We are all unique individuals with our own gifts and challenges, and yet our educational system refuses to acknowledge this truth. All students are expected to conform to a prescriptive curriculum and, if they cannot, are labeled “bad”, “disruptive” or, “defiant”. Those who are willing and able to go along with the program do well (even while suffering) and those who cannot are segregated. Real learning starts by finding out how you learn best, by trying different approaches and seeing what helps you to be successful, but there is no room for that experimentation when all students are expected to follow the same program at all times.

If we really care about learning, rather than showing off, our mainstream schools are scarcely designed to support that aim. Many students are more successful in a community where they are free to choose what to study, and to what depth, participate in a democratic community where their voice truly matters, and practice what life will actually be like when they are grown up. There are rules, there is structure, but students ultimately have the freedom to decide for themselves how to shape their experience. That is the model of education we practice at Alpine Valley School, and we see tremendous results each and every day.


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Marc Gallivan