About Our Index of Profiles
As we visited schools and learning centers, primarily in the US and India, we posted profiles on them, accessible on our Posts and Profiles page. To provide some context for these profiles, and highlight how these schools or learning centers depart from the mainstream industrial model of schooling, this index offers some general categories of non-industrial schooling and cross-references the profiles as examples.
Mainstream Industrial Learning
We use this term to refer to the mainstream schooling most of us think of when we think of school. In the United States, this model of schooling arose during the mid 1800’s, as a result of the massive Common School Movement, propogated by leading education reformers like Horace Mann and supported by industrialists. These men believed a system of compulsory schooling would lead to a more controlled, more productive, and more unified nation, as until that time, most Americans attended very little formal school, and what they did attend was in a one-room setting.
Mann’s views were heavily influenced by a trip he took to Germany, in 1849, where he visited the orderly schools created during the Prussian empire to instill obedience into its citizens. The idea was a perfect match for the industrial world, where people need to be trained in very specific tasks to participate well in an assembly line.
We didn’t profile any industrial model schools, as most of us have experienced them first hand: the lined up desks, the busywork, the fragmented presentation of information, the traditional lines of authority (superintendent-principal-teacher-student), the ringing bells, and the ticking clocks.
John Dewey is considered the father of Progressive Education in the United States. His theories about creating more thematic, holistic curricula, in which teachers made an effort to appeal to the natural tastes and interests of children, were put into practice at his highly-celebrated Chicago Lab School from 1896-1903. Dewey believed learning was the result of direct experience plus reflection, and imagined schools as active workshops where children interacted with raw materials (or abandoned for field trips). Reading or lecture, now the main course of most courses, was for Dewey an important vehicle for reflection to supplement thefirst hand learning was done. Self-actualization of one’s talents and gifts was paramount, as important as picking up basic skills, learning how to socialize and being inculcated with democratic values.
Many schools use elements of progressive education–project-based learning is currently quite popular–but as Bowles and Gintis rightly point out in Schooling in Capitalist America, business-minded “reformers” have always held the day when it comes to changing our schools. The Chicago Lab Schools that exist today, like nearly all schools, public and private, are essentially modeled in the industrial manner, with some progressive “add-ons” to make the lessons more palatable. As Bowles and Gintis put it, “A historian of Progressivism in U.S. education might well echo Gandhi’s assessment of Western civilization: ‘It would be a good idea.'”
Democratic or Free Learning
The premise underlying these schools is that adults should not impose curricula, classes, or rules upon students. Students should be fully empowered participants in the learning and running of the school. The traditional lines of authority, so deeply ingrained in us through the industrial schools, are overthrown.
Key examples include the anarchist schools on the early part of the century, A.S. Neill’s celebrated Summerhill school in England, and the Sudbury Valley School, which we visited in Framingham, Massachussetts.
Schooling your children at home can offer a contrast to the industrial model, though we are not particularly convinced it always does. Mainstream homeschoolers (as opposed to unschoolers, which is a sort of non-schooling more like the schools described above) are encouraged to set schedules and drill their children through the same curricula they would see in school, only more quickly and comfortably. There is no guarantee that the child will walk away with better critical thinking skills, the ability to reflect on and respond to information, or a deeper sense of his or her place in the world.
The primary thrust of the industrial school model is a training of the intellect. The physical, artistic, emotional, and spiritual elements of young human beings is considered extracurricular, or at best given one class a day. Important lessons on how to educate the “whole” child can be taken from established private and magnet schools, as well as newer charter schools, all of which build into their school week significant amounts of time and focus on the non-intellectual development.
“Real World” Learning
Eric Hollenbeck from Blue Ox School of Traditional Arts put it best: “This idea of education as an island away from the community… I don’t know where we got it, but it’s pretty silly.” The idea that students must learn in a classroom is a very new invention in the history of humanity, and perhaps not the wisest path we could’ve taken. One of the educational trends most exciting to us is the idea of mentorships, internships, and other forms of getting the kids into meaningful, learning relationships with people who aren’t teachers. When done right, the benefit to the kids, and the community, is immeasurable.
- Profile: Blue Ox School of Traditional Arts (California, USA)
- Profile: The Met
- Profile: Shikshantar and Swaraj University (Udaipur, India)
- Profile: The Barefoot Park (Medellin, Colombia)
- Profile: Manav Sadhana (Ahmedabad, India)
Though by no means a recent innovation, schools with an integral arts component present a serious challenge the standardizing thrust of the industrial model, and must be studied for the ways they allow children to create and explore under the guidance of a teacher.
Serious reflection takes time and a certain stillness of mind, and is contradictory to the always-churning, fast-paced model of industrial learning. Yet some schools and learning centers have managed to build serious reflection into their models, and in very different manners. Note we are not talking about meditation, necessarily, but conscientious and ongoing thinking and dialoguing, by teachers, students and administrators, about the learning that is happening–a critical awareness of what we are and are not doing as we move through our days.
- Profile: El Nido Preschool and El Atelier (Cali, Colombia)
- Profile: Sadhana Village School (Maharashtra, India)