Educational Continuity–Neil Fitzgerald
The disruption of our daily routines caused by the current public health crisis has prompted me to reflect on the role of schools and afterschool and their purpose in our culture. To what degree does closing of the physical school building interrupt the educational process and how might that disruption help us focus on what is essential about that process? What can we do to promote educational continuity so that children learn that their growth and develop are not dependent on a physical place or standard curriculum? As we navigate this uncertain terrain, I’m confident that the afterschool program can help answer these questions.
In the daily conversations among the Arts and Athletics team, we are looking at our various offerings and examining which ones to offer online first. Which of our classes can translate best to an online environment? Which classes will help counteract that cabin-fever that so many of us are struggling with by now? We’ve already hosted a number of online classes and we’ve posted videos for musical theater and martial arts that we will help will help to address this need. Please let us know what you and your children would like to see more of and we will be sure to respond to those requests in the coming weeks.
Educational theorists and reformers from the early 1900s identified a connection between education and the processes used to create other products. They referred to a “factory model” of schools that were designed to fashion an informed citizenry and competent workforce as efficiently as possible. Of course children are not products like shoes or frying pans and so the factory analogy eventually gives way to a recognition that education should promote motivated, self-determining individuals.
Much of my philosophy of education and my vision for the Arts and Athletics program is informed by my own experience in 5th and 6th grades at a little alternative school in Berkeley, California where I grew up. The Walden Center & School emphasized experiential learning, forgoing classrooms, textbooks, or bell schedules in favor of individual explorations and problem-solving. To that end, the underlying structure comprised three cycles of about twelve weeks each, during which we planned camping trips to the far reaches of the state–the deserts in the south, mountains to the east, and beaches north and west.
In each of the three cycles, we researched and reported to our classmates on the flora and fauna of each region, budgeted for gas, food, and lodging, and then packed up the school vans and roughed it in tents and sleeping bags for a week or two. Our teachers–David and Christine, Tom and Aviva–presented lessons about science and nature, history and literature, music and art, all from the starting point that these things would help prepare us for the coming adventure.
My subsequent educational experiences were at institutions that employed a greater degree of external structure–including class schedules, rubrics, and exams–but I never lost the sense that my motivation to do and learn and prepare was at the heart of the undertaking.
There is a lot of uncertainty and concern resulting from the disruption of our children’s regular school routine. But I hope that they will come away with a sense of their own agency and independence as learners. They will experience using their time well because they have to. And they will experience using their time well because they really genuinely want to. That’s a very powerful thing.