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Anarchy in the Classroom!

By ObeseWhale in Culture
Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:43:29 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Traditionally, our culture has created institutions of learning based upon hierarchical structures. A series of observations during my life at a US public school has caused me to question the effectiveness of hierarchy in the classroom and question its alternatives.

The hierarchical nature of the classroom is something we often take for granted. After all, we may think, the teacher is there to inform us and to lead an environment which fosters learning, so shouldn't s/he be placed in the position of authority? Clearly, this type of thinking is the mainstay, as the vast majority of classrooms I have read about and experienced myself have been organized in such a fashion. The teacher becomes the ruler of the classroom, a sort of all-powerful dictator. The students are to sit in rows behind the teachers desk, listening intently, taking notes, and asking questions only when absolutely necessary to understanding the material presented. All socialization between students in the classroom is strongly discouraged, even when it pertains to material relevant to the lesson. The students become peons of the teacher. (The teacher is also a peon of the curriculum, but this thought ought to be saved for a later discussion.) A great deal of personal experience mixed with some research has led me to believe that this environment is not only monotonous and boring for the students, but also detrimental toward the learning process itself.

My observations of the benefits of a more anarchistic classroom began in my own school. For the first semester of school this year, I was taking an honors economics course. The teacher was of the traditional type, meaning that she taught straight from the book, lectured the whole hour, and made sure all questions were addressed to her. The lack of enthusiasm among my fellow students was noticeable. Indeed, no one could honestly say they enjoyed the class. The next semester, however, I was placed in the honors government course at my high school. The teacher, a rather liberal type, made much room for student discourse, and the benefits were obvious. Student interest in the course was notable; students knew the subject matter better; behavior was better in class; and everybody, including students and teacher, was happier. I could further note the benefits of anarchistic teaching styles in my mathematics course. Over the years my mathematics teachers tended to be of the old-fashioned, commanding sort, but this year I was assigned to a very lenient teacher. Indeed, he didn't even make students do homework. The result was amazing, even among honors students. The students put themselves on auto drive. In most classes, when assigned a substitute, even the honors students were unruly. However, when assigned substitutes in this math course, the students spent their class time working hard on assignments. What I had learned from my experiences seems to have countered the wisdom of the past. Indeed, a more free, less structured approach to the classroom encouraged hard work, discipline, and drive among the students. When the students felt in control of themselves in the class, they diverted their energy toward work and not rebellion.

I'm not suggesting fully student run classrooms, there does need to be some sort of teacher present in a class to present material. However, what I am suggesting is that giving students more control over what they learn and how they learn it is beneficial for everyone. Some students may handle freedom better than others, it may depend on maturity and class level, but I feel that an across the board decrease in hierarchy in our school systems can fix a lot of problems. The teacher should treat the student as a peer, not a peon.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my thinking. Many school systems are experimenting with what they call a "democratic classroom", where students get to decide the curriculum along with teachers, fostering a more free and cooperative environment among the student and teacher. One of the most interesting of these projects is the Open Democratic School in Tel-Aviv, Israel. Brazil also maintains a "democratic school", and is doing heavy research into the idea. The idea of a less hierarchal school environment certainly is catching on.

In the long haul, the problem is that in order to bring anarchistic or "democratic" education into the mainstream, we must first re-educate the educators. Famed psychologist David Keirsey's research shows that the education system may be hierarchicaly driven because of the fact that two thirds of teachers are Epimethians -- that is, those who appreciate structure and tradition. Freeing the classroom from its constricting environment will require some fundamental changes in how teachers are hired and pulled into teaching. A good idea would be pushing to attract more Apollonians (those who strive for self discovery) to the business of teaching. There are many ways to go about such a change, but the best possible way, I feel, is to decrease restrictions on teachers from the state. Give teachers the more liberal environment they need to give freedom to the classrooms. Stop teachers from "teaching to the test", and quit boxing them into a stiff curriculum. Soon enough, the teachers will probably adapt to the freedom themselves, encouraging an inflow of less traditional teaching styles into the field.

I'm not going to call myself an expert on the profession of teaching; I'm just a student. But I do know one thing for sure from my experiences, that a more open and liberal classroom environment facilitates learning much better than one cramped by a power hungry teacher and a canned curriculum invented by bureaucrats.

These are, of course, just my personal thoughts on the institution of the classroom, and I'm sure there are many who disagree with my outlook on a more anarchistic classroom. I'm sure there are many of you with a different outlook, so please share your views and comment!


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Anarchy in the classroom?
o Yes 47%
o No 20%
o Slobodan Milosevic 31%

Votes: 48
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Open Democratic School
o democratic school
o David Keirsey
o Also by ObeseWhale

Display: Sort:
Anarchy in the Classroom! | 53 comments (51 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
not very practical (4.00 / 4) (#2)
by Delirium on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:23:27 PM EST

I don't really think this would benefit students. It's very rare that you'd get a student-run classroom to voluntarily study a useful range of subjects from an unbiased point of view. Even in colleges when it's tried it usually ends up degenerating into either a "how do we apply this to the internet and technology" discussion or a discussion of social issues severely biased towards a very liberal point of view. IMHO the best way to present material is to have a good curriculum set ahead of time (in this phase the students could very well play a part, but not be the sole arbiters of course content), and then have a studiously neutral professor/teacher present the content and run the classroom.

At first, perhaps... (3.66 / 3) (#5)
by Elmin on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:41:51 PM EST

I don't think ObeseWhale is suggesting total anarchy. My interpretation of the suggestion is that classes would begin with the same objectives, with tests written to guage progress along those objectives, the only difference being that the intermediate details are not arbitrated entirely by the teachers. Of course, as I have mentioned in another post, this would require a major paradigm-shift for the students, but one that I stronly believe would be beneficial in the long run. Certainly, it is a system whereby independent thinkers would be at an advantage, but I think that might also be a good thing.

[ Parent ]
Student education (4.00 / 5) (#4)
by Elmin on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:35:14 PM EST

The problem with classroom anarcy is that it must be controlled for the purposes of learning. This control must come either from the teacher or from the students, but if it doesn't come from the majority of the students, anarchy suddenly disappears as the teacher steps back into the spotlight. That is, anarchy disappears unless the teacher is a particularly good one, and really knows what they are doing in terms of classroom management.

In my experience as a college student, the key element in classroom anarchy is the responsibility placed on students. In high school, there is often insufficient understanding mostly on the part of the students -- not always by any means, though -- about what responsibilities lie where. Because of this, students are often overly dependent on the teacher for things like memorization, which leads to surprise when grades turn out to be less than expected. Rebellion is actually not nearly as harmful as dependency, because while one can lead only to a good understanding in the presence of a supportive teacher, the other can often lead to dissapointment and anger among students -- and perhaps delayed rebellion.

What I am suggesting, along with teacher education, is earlier student education about the learning process. Too often, students reach higher education with only basic observations of what is required for learning, and often those observations are harmful.

Faulty -- and Arrogant -- Premise (4.33 / 12) (#6)
by the Epopt on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:56:39 PM EST

The teacher should treat the student as a peer, not a peon.
But the student is not a peer of the teacher in any measurable sense. Until graduate school, the student is less well educated, less experienced, has fewer legal privileges (let's avoid the loaded word "rights" for the moment -- the teacher can legally drink alcohol, the student can't), and is almost certainly less mature.

I agree with you that the process of learning does not need to be and probably should not be hierarchical -- it is well-known that different people learn in different ways -- but what is learned and that it is learned should not be open to debate.
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.


Huh? (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by ObeseWhale on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:00:02 AM EST

what is learned and that it is learned should not be open to debate.
And why not? I see no reason why students - especially those in advanced courses - shouldn't have some form of control over the subject matter being taught. Remember, I'm not advocating a student takeover of the school here, I am advocating a less forceful role for the teacher. Frankly, if students want to be learning about torque instead of friction in physics class, why not do it that way? As long as something productive related to the subject at hand is being discuseed, I see no reason why students shouldn't have input on the curriculum.


"The hunger for liberty may he suppressed for a time; yet never exterminated. Man's natural instinct is for freedom, and no power on earth can succeed in crushing it for very long."
-Alexander Berkman
[ Parent ]
Application (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by jasonab on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:07:13 AM EST

While I agree that your theory is nice, it seems redundant. Any classroom with sufficiently advanced students will tend toward this state anyway. That has, at least, been my experience. The teacher is a major factor here, of course, and certainly some teachers will feel threatened by this, but a group of students intelligent enough to handle a "democratic" (ick) classroom is equally intelligent enough to ask for such a thing.

America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
[ Parent ]
Not really (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by Elmin on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:22:56 AM EST

The students can be advanced as they want, but the teacher has final say, and most mediocre teachers I have encountered feel extremely threatened by the presence of such students.

I think the application here is just to educate mediocre teachers about the benefits of flexibility, and to educate mediocre students about a productive learning process that includes flexibility.

[ Parent ]

what school did you go to? (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by h2odragon on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:09:15 AM EST

"the student is less well educated, less experienced, ... and is almost certainly less mature"

As one of the "different people", I can cite classes where I contradicted all 3 of those points, and in one cherished case could even add "better paid". I think the intent of the statement you quoted was more that students shouldn't be peons; but I'll wager a donought that the classes that meet your criteria don't make up a majority of the classes being taught.

"what is learned and that it is learned should not be open to debate"... You're a teacher, aren't you? :)

[ Parent ]

During grade school? (none / 0) (#16)
by Miniluv on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 02:14:01 AM EST

The problem with your rebuttal is that you've tried to bring apples into an orange market and claim they're the same thing by artfully dodging the issue.

In primary education, the beginning through graduating high school, his points are most particularly cogent. Students are far less experienced, likely less mature, and of course they aren't as well educated. That's why teachers exist in the first place. I think the faulty premise of this article is someone with no teaching experience, and little learning experience as well, attempting to generalize about the subject matter at all.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Partially true (none / 0) (#37)
by Elmin on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:53:43 PM EST

However, this is only the situation now.

In my experience, the best learning occurs when teacher and student ARE peers, or nearly so. This is a problem with out current system, because that type of class makeup doesn't generally happen until the college level.

Let's assume for a moment that we want the anarchic, democratic, or republic (as described by iGrrl) system to work in schools. What would need to be done? Well, first of all, the class would have to be made up of people who understand what's going on, and have educated opinions about it; this is necessary for good descisions to be made. How do we get there? Spend the early parts of a child's education simply teaching how to learn efficiently and effectively in a cooperative environment. Teach how responsibilities are divided between teacher and student, and how to handle those that go to the student. Of course, for this to work, basic skills such as reading, writing, and grammar would need to be taught first, and it would probably be a good idea to include basic mathematical concepts as well, but those topics are probably better served by a hierarchical method anyway. Then, when the "learning education" is finished, students should be able to fly through whatever it is they might have been studying otherwise during those years, and the whole system becomes more efficient and effective.

So, in the CURRENT system, teacher and student might not normally be considered peers, but we're talking about changing the system, so that's really irrelevant. Instead, the question is, CAN students be peers or near peers of their teachers, and how?

[ Parent ]
You must not have children (none / 0) (#41)
by Miniluv on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 09:27:49 PM EST

See, that's all well and good when we're discussing perfect societies, with an absolute lack of need for discipline. While we're at it, was there a particular color of cloud that would enhance the learning experience? Maybe you'd like to reform the healthcare system with the same blinding lack of reality?

The truth of the matter is many teachers would love to be given groups of kids to teach who are ready for a more participatory role in their own education, sadly these kids exist in smaller and smaller quantities with every passing year. This is not a failure of the education system, at least not the teachers alone. Instead it's a failure of society in the US for not valuing education.

The real failure though is the individual parents who have no concern for the future of their children and do not emphasize education, discipline, or even effort. These kids not only ruin their own futures, but they often detract from the rest of the class's chance to learnce because of their disruptive behavior, but yet the parents won't support the school when discipline is attempted. In a rapidly growing number of cases the parents will in fact retaliate against the school for daring to supplant their role, the role they willingly neglected, as parents. This is, of course, despite the fact that the schools do not want to be parents to these kids, they want to be educators.

That is why I stated that the fundamental flaw in this article was the fact that a person in a position to not have a complete picture attempted to provide commentary, despite their obvious disqualification.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

You're right, I don't (none / 0) (#42)
by Elmin on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 12:01:02 AM EST

I am one, however.

Also, I have taught people who are younger than me, and I have been through just about every form of education permitted by the US government: public, private, and homeschool. I am in college, I know what that's like, and I do very well there. I have also done very badly there, so I know what that's like, too. How obviously am I disqualified from commentary, then?

What you seem to be saying is that it's not worthwhile discussing the matter, because it is not the main issue right now. The main issue, you say, is the parents, and a lack of interest in general. I think someone has mentioned earlier that those who do not want to attempt to learn will not learn, and that is something I agree with. Perhaps the majority is this way. This is a problem, but it is not the only problem, and it is not the only major one, either. How do you expect to generate interest in education when the system has its values twisted around backwards to fit those who aren't interested? What's the point of generating interest in a flawed system? The system works, as many people have said, but that's not becuase of the system. The system works because some people do have enough interest and determination to make it work for them, and because others do not care because it is easy to get past it. What difference does it make if we discuss a better system? The difference is that it will make the system work better, if we are correct, and it will have the possibility of generating more interest and drive among more of those who must use it. Just the fact that there is always a better way does not disqualify it from pursuit.

[ Parent ]
Flawed premise (none / 0) (#43)
by Miniluv on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 01:33:15 AM EST

The premise you are operating under is that because you've been a student you are qualified to judge the teacher. This is simply not true. You also believe that because you have been a student you are qualified to comment on the system, again this is simply not true.

You say the system is flawed, I disagree. I believe the system you propose would be far more flawed than what we have in place now, because the values are not twisted to suit those who are merely graduating based on attendance. True, the system does not sufficiently discipline those people, but that is because it is not allowed to. No system can be expected to work in spite of adverse conditions imposed upon it, and that is exactly the scenario you are discussing in the US.

I wonder how systems similar in concept, merely differing in curiculum, elsewhere in the world can function extremely well but yet fail miserably in the US when the only true difference is the atmosphere with which education is undertaken. Europeans understand the value of education, they understand that it is one of the most valuable things that can be bestowed upon a person. Asians understand this as well, and when you compare the education systems the basic structure is the same from one region to the next. This is because the system does work, when it is allowed to.

Another failing of the educational environment in America is the blame system that society has perpetrated upon itself. This translates into an obscene dependence on standardized testing, with the stated goal being the discovery of poor teachers, poor schools, and poor systems. What these tests continually fail to take into account is that no amount of effort on the part of the teachers, administration or system can change the mind of a poor student.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

There is no faulty premise (none / 0) (#44)
by Elmin on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 01:57:00 AM EST

"You say the system is flawed, I disagree. I believe the system you propose would be far more flawed than what we have in place now, because the values are not twisted to suit those who are merely graduating based on attendance."

First, just because my system is more flawed does not gaurantee that the current system is not flawed. That's why we're discussing this, isn't it?

"True, the system does not sufficiently discipline those people, but that is because it is not allowed to. No system can be expected to work in spite of adverse conditions imposed upon it, and that is exactly the scenario you are discussing in the US."

Again, the system is flawed; it does not accomplish its intent, whether that is possible or not, therefore it is flawed. The intent of manditory schooling in the US is to create an informed public. It has failed at that.

Finally, I do not need any qualifications whatsoever to pass judgement on the system so long as my arguments are cogent and convincing. Right now they may be neither, but it is my hope and intent that they will improve with discussion. Ms. Whale's article is not founded upon a faulty premise; instead it is founded upon a powerful one -- the generation of discussion which may develop useful ideas.

[ Parent ]
Discussion does not equal progress (none / 0) (#45)
by Miniluv on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 03:49:43 AM EST

instead it is founded upon a powerful one -- the generation of discussion which may develop useful ideas.
This is, in my opinion, flawed in and of itself. Discussion about something by people with no real knowledge of the entire issue is more often useless than relevant. This is, however, a common failing of intelligent and/or well-educated people. The problem with this theory is that knowledge is specific, and nobody knows everything. Feel free to discuss, but do not be surprised when those of us with ties to the education system snort, point fingers, and call you a moron. We don't mean to assert that you're dumb about everything, merely that you're talking out your ass.

At this point, I'm going to flame you. To get the question of why out of the way, it's because I've had to repeat myself multiple times with you continuing to take nonsensical response positions. Earlier you stated you've been through multiple educational systems, and had sucess with all of them. I will now posit that you are, in fact, not nearly so intelligent as you think, because simple sentence structure appears beyond your grasp.

First, just because my system is more flawed does not gaurantee that the current system is not flawed.
That is redundant, and barely coherent. Your system having greater flaws is in no way connected with the flaws, or lack thereof of any other system. That's like saying that an apple being red doesn't necessarily prove the orangeness of a tangerine.

Again, the system is flawed; it does not accomplish its intent, whether that is possible or not, therefore it is flawed
More redundancy, and really ackward structure. This is either the result of sleeping through freshman english in high school, or graduate study of english in college.

Finally, I do not need any qualifications whatsoever to pass judgement on the system so long as my arguments are cogent and convincing
Only on a weblog could people begin to toss about assertations such as that. This would have the medical equivalent of me insisting I can perform an appendix operation, despite my lack of formal training, as long as I do it right. Sure, I might get the appendix out, but why should you listen to me in the first place?

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]
Apologies (none / 0) (#46)
by Elmin on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 03:34:24 PM EST

"Earlier you stated you've been through multiple educational systems, and had sucess with all of them. I will now posit that you are, in fact, not nearly so intelligent as you think, because simple sentence structure appears beyond your grasp."

Wrong. I did not say that I had success in ANY of them, much less all. In fact, I have never been successful in anything academic until a few months ago.

Aside from that, I think that you are not actually listening to me and are just responding in frustration to random phrases in my comments (that would be a flame, right?), and that I am doing the same thing. All I have to say now is that I apologize, since I have obviously insulted the basis of your profession, and perhaps other things as well.

Actually, I'm not sure how I got involved in this discussion in the first place, because the points of view I have been defending are absolutely opposite to what I thought I believed, which is much closer to what you were saying. Just for the record, I have the utmost respect for teachers, and I apologize again for being such an annoying waste of time.

[ Parent ]
What an odd position (none / 0) (#47)
by Miniluv on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 04:22:12 PM EST

I'm going to attempt to not sound like a jerk, though it may not work very well.

I was reading your posts, I was trying to understand where you were coming from and failing, though now I think that may be because you were arguing a bit abstractly as they were viewpoints you did not necessarily support.

I don't think you insulted the basis of teaching as profession, rather that your comments indicated a misunderstanding of the point of view of many people in the educational field. That was the major idea I was trying to get across, that the basis of this story is not so far from what the teachers actually want and strive for but which society, not education, prevents.

I apologize for misinterpreting your statements regarding your success with various schooling systems, and am glad to hear you have finally found an environment which is conducive to learning.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

What School I Went To (none / 0) (#25)
by the Epopt on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:01:42 AM EST

I can cite classes where I contradicted all 3 of those points, and in one cherished case could even add "better paid". . . . I'll wager a donought that the classes that meet your criteria don't make up a majority of the classes being taught.
As can I, the first example being in seventh grade and the final example being in college right before I dropped out for the final time. But I'll take your doughnut -- you and I are "curve-breakers." For the majority of students and the majority of teachers, my statement obtains.
You're a teacher, aren't you? :)
I'm glad you smiled when you said that, pardner. I'm a home-schooling parent. No fscking way am I letting the State get its talons into my children. But to stay on the subject, my children are not my peers. And to use an example from another post, I'll happily let them choose whether to study friction or torque first, but that they will study physics is not open to debate.
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

[ Parent ]
Not as arrogant as it sounds... (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by Elmin on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:16:05 AM EST

How do you expect immature teenagers to respect the intellectual prowess and/or superior wisdom of a teacher if they are not peers? Pre-graduate school students are not well known for dealing with unconditional authority in a productive fashion, and treating someone as a peer is probably one of the best ways to earn their trust. In the context of a learning environment, it can also help increase their maturity.

Again, as I've said earlier, learning objectives should still be kept in focus, most likely by grading criteria -- there are certain things that need special attention in the curriculum -- but that does not necessarily require the learning process to be totally in the hands of the teacher.

Really, the only downside I can see to this idea is that it requires most, if not all teachers to be somewhat creative, and that is a scenario that is not extremely likely to occur in the near future.

[ Parent ]

ignorance is not stupidity (5.00 / 1) (#13)
by _Quinn on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:18:24 AM EST

   Ignorance is not stupidity, but many people (and teachers) conflate the two, and undervalue student's contributions -- which typically are more valuable for the other students than for the teacher. (Unless you know yourself to be particularly dense, your question probably is similar to questions other students have. It helps refine the lecture/discussion.) In my experience, people who /want/ to learn -- those who have volunteered in some way, e.g. signed up for an honors class -- will respect the teacher and allow him/her to control the discussion as necessary. S/he /moderates/ a discussion, guiding that discussion to a goal. (My favorite technique being very nearly the Socratic method.) Most people remember something better when they think of it than when they hear it, so a lot of teaching a more `democratic' class is asking leading questions.

   That being said, certain material must be covered, and it's appropriate to lecture on it -- briefly reminding the students of the main points of whatever they read before class, and including details left out, or elucidating obscure ones. In a history class, this works out as the known facts of the period, with the leading questions in the discussion being `Why did this happen?,' 'And how about factor Q?,' and so on. Hard science classes can do this as well: what does this pair of equations imply? Where does this derivation end up? What does it mean?

   Finally, I think cooperatively deciding on a curricula is less of a problem than you might think, but it depends -- as does the whole idea -- on motivated students and competent teaching. I think the goals for most classes can be met relatively easily (this core material must be covered if you want to understand the next course in sequence/pass the final/etc), and the more advanced topics, or what particular examples used to illustrate the core material, can be discretionary. Furthermore, after a relatively brief introduction, most students will be capable of understanding /why/ a particular topic must be studied, and (since they volunteered to learn is this scenario) will /want/ to study it.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
About roles, too (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by bjrubble on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:06:51 AM EST

The teacher is also in a different role. Walk into an extension class, and see how older, wealthier students treat younger, poorer teachers. They're *not* peers, not in the classroom.

That's not to say there aren't terrible teachers. When the author finally gets around to the point -- that we should try to attract better teachers by among other things giving them *more* power -- I can't disagree with that. But they're still there to teach, and students are there to learn.

[ Parent ]
Peers versus peons (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by spaceghoti on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 04:08:05 PM EST

But the student is not a peer of the teacher in any measurable sense.

While there's no sensible way to argue this point, there is a concept surrounding the topic I'd like to expand upon. While students are, by definition, subservient to the teacher in matters of education and learning, that doesn't mean that the teacher must automatically treat the students as inherently inferior.

Attitude goes a long way toward connecting with people, as peers, superiors or inferiors. A student who "sucks up" to a teacher will find herself receiving more attention and approval, which tends to be reinforced with more positive responses. A student who badmouths and otherwise disrespects a teacher will find themselves ignored or punished, and education will become a secondary aspect that gets largely overlooked. Conversely, a teacher who attempts to connect with students rather than stand in front of them and drone on about esoteric knowledge is far more likely to engage their attention and interest, resulting in productive interaction and discussion. While this discussion may occasionally veer into tangents, it should be the teacher's goal to direct education rather than dictate it. A good teacher will take the inevitable tangent and adapt it back toward reinforcing the goal of the day's lesson.

The role of an educator is largely a thankless one, and the rewards can be few and far between. Even the best teacher is not going to be able to engage all of the students, which is a good example of how attitude is a two-way street. But some approaches will work better than others. Almost everyone has fond memories of one or two teachers (some lucky ones may be able to point to more) who were able to get past the dogma and mindless recitation to directly connect to their students. Those teachers are both rare and cherished by those students who are eager for such a connection. Rote and recitation can only go so far; once you get into the levels of education that require creative deduction, you need to engage the students' imaginations which is almost never accomplished in a pure lecture setting. The advantage of rote and recitation is that you can convey the greatest amount of information to the largest audience, at which time it's up to the students to actually do something with what was relayed to them. I submit that any teacher who approaches the classroom with the attitude of a military dictator handing out orders to his troops has already lost, and that's the point behind the concept of treating students less as peons and more as peers.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
The hidden attribute (3.20 / 5) (#7)
by xriso on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 11:06:02 PM EST

The school actually teaches the structure to the students, and while learning the material, they also learn to submit to authority. You could get pretty bad results if you teach a student to be interactive, and to treat the teacher like a peer. If this student goes to a traditional business, they will be quite out of place.

I'm not advocating that students be trained to be slaves, but they do need to be taught how to be a slave, so they can survive in a hierarchical business.
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

Not quite (3.50 / 2) (#15)
by Elmin on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:38:24 AM EST

"You could get pretty bad results if you teach a student to be interactive, and to treat the teacher like a peer. If this student goes to a traditional business, they will be quite out of place."

I'm sure. I'm also sure that any student who can learn over the course of their education to meet goals and expectations by their own motivation will not make this into a problem. I've started to realize that this whole idea is just the universalizing of higher educational techniques -- increased student responsibility and freedom simultaneously, leading to greater maturity and effectiveness.

Of course, there's probably a significant number of people who simply aren't intelligent or creative enough to handle it, and a separate system would need to be devised for those people.

Also, just because a learning environment is not centered around hierarchy does not mean that it cannot teach it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it could teach it better.

[ Parent ]
untrue (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by jgriffo on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 03:21:10 AM EST

I completely disagree. I spent time in 'alternative' schools, and in regular schools. It was my experience that the motivation levels of the students in the alternative environments. As was the production levels. 80% of these kids went on to college, as compared to 30% of the kids in the traditional school. At this school, teachers were called by first name. Attendance was not mandatory, and the only expectations that students were expected to uphold was that they 'give a damn' about their own education. I am disgusted with the state of schools in this country. training mindless minions doesn't do the US any good in our quest for creativity, innovation, and excellence. It just creates more 'monkeys in suits', and keeps the state universities in business with hordes of business school students....uuugh. God bless the few creative, non brainwashed individuals that remain. Theres fewer every day.

[ Parent ]
right and wrong (2.00 / 1) (#19)
by axxeman on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 04:28:16 AM EST

I agree with your assessment of the situation, but not with the conclusion on what the students "need to be taught".

To sheeple, who will go on to work in an environment of much hiararchy, the slave mentality is already inborn and does not need to be taught.

The non-sheeple are at a disadvantage here because the sheeple are a majority both as students and as teachers.

Being or not being married isn't going to stop bestiality or incest. --- FlightTest
[ Parent ]

heh (1.00 / 1) (#32)
by xriso on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 06:30:55 PM EST

sheeple is a cool term. I gotta use it sometime.
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]
Some teachers already do this (3.20 / 5) (#11)
by ajschu on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:09:18 AM EST

My fifth grade teacher (and my sister's current teacher) gave my class an opportunity for a week to truly experience anarchy.

Modeled after Lord of the Flies (which we had recently read), she gave us time during each day in a week to build our communities, construct governments, and just generally be free of teacher instruction. Sort of like Survivor, 8 years ahead of its time ;)

I seem to recall that most of us walked away with a new respect for authority...not so much being subverted to a "yes ma'am" mentality, but we came to be aware of why rules are necessary in most environments.

I'm not sure if she's still running this simulation or not...perhaps I should check in with her over spring break. In any case, Thanks Mrs. Dym!


borrow from university (3.25 / 4) (#17)
by nickp on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 02:36:05 AM EST

Perhaps US high school education can be improved if some ideas are borrowed from higher education institutions, such as universities. There you see much more diversity in teaching styles, more freedom, more student participation, socialization in the classroom, etc. In general, I think the gap between public high school and university in USA is larger than it should be. I remember my transition to university... it was quite tough academically and psychologically, because it was so different. Of course it will always be different (becoming an adult, living away from parents, etc.) but at least the academic transition can be made more smooth.

"Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love." -- Albert Einstein

Already happening (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by leviathan on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 04:05:28 PM EST

When I reached the last two years of my 'high school' education, there was suddenly a marked reduction in how strongly the teachers enforced their authorities. Especially noticable in one case, the most strict teacher suddenly allowed us to talk freely in lessons and would wait for us to stop talking before he would start - a marked difference.

Partly this was because (I believe) the age of the students, but I think it's more likely that by this age students had selected the courses they wanted to do rather than being forced to follow a wide curriculum. Students were genuinely interested in the subject (to a greater or lesser degree, of course), so enforcing concentration was less necessary.

Of course, it was nothing like University turned out to be, even back then. I believe that being given too much freedom at too early an age would have harmed me educationally, both in the classes where I couldn't care (less) for the subject, and those where it was my peers that were bored, well, not witless - that's precisely the wrong word!

I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert
[ Parent ]

home school, anyone? (2.00 / 4) (#20)
by chale on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:00:35 AM EST

there is little need for children to be exposed to the atrocious mediocrity of the American public school system(yes, this is another us-centric comment).there are systems and curricula available to assist in the teaching of children at home.

after all, there have been many successful people who were self- or minimally educated. if you teach someone how to learn, they can continue their own education.

mandatory public education is one of those ideas that may have started off with good intentions but has degenerated into a terrible situation.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir

Authority and Learning (4.00 / 3) (#22)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:26:52 AM EST

This is a hard one.

Our educational system requires that teachers teach kids who have no interest in the material being taught, because, as a society, we believe kids need to learn at least some of that stuff. So teachers need a least some authority to control their classes. Even ignoring the straightjacket of compulsory education, teachers are there to teach kids, if the teacher has no control, the kids will not learn anything.

On the other hand, kids learn much better when they are actually interested in the matererial, and they become interested much more easily if they are allowed to participate in the lesson and think things through in their own way. That requires that teachers back off and allow their pupils as much control as they can.

The upshot is that you need something like the current system, with a single teacher controling a lesson taught to class full of pupils, but with more emphasis on the pupils participation. As you have observed, this is how good teachers work today. Unfortunately there are a lot of bad teachers, who just want to get through the material without engaging their brains.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Yep. It works. Sometimes. (4.00 / 4) (#23)
by Mr Tom on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 07:35:14 AM EST

In the UK, there's a secondary (11-18) school (called Summerfields, IIRC) where students are not obliged to do anything. They are given complete freedom over their time, and are not compelled to take any classes. Any major decisions in the day-to-day running of the school are made by consensus.

And, despite the best efforts of the Daily Mail-reading conservatives (With a small 'c', note.) it's been running successfully since the 60s. By which I mean, it's grown, and turns out well-rounded, well-educated students on a fairly consistent basis. Of course, there are a few students who leave having had practically no formal education, but that's in-line with the rest of the education system in the UK.

Mind, it exists in special circumstances. It's a boarding school (which is pretty rare nowadays), in the middle of the countryside (Dorset?), and charges quite exorbitant fees. (I think it's around 20,000 UKP/pa, BICBW).

And that's why although an 'anarchic' system /can/ work, it won't work for every student. I reckon that it's fair to say that if your parents can afford that sort of money for your education, you'll already have had very good primary education, and be in a much better position to take advantage of the freedom offered to you than someone that has been less privileged, and not so well educated.

(I don't want to sound like a social divisionist here, but it's an empirical fact that public (ie, fee-paying) schools provide better education than state (ie, paid-for by taxes) schools.)

Short version: horses for courses. If you're the sort of person that thrives in a libertarian environment, you'll do well out of it. and if you're not, you won't. So it would be a disaster for all schools to adopt this philosophy, but to have the option is a good thing.

-- Mr_Tom<at>gmx.co.uk

I am a consultant. My job is to make your job redundant.

Summerhill, I believe (3.50 / 2) (#26)
by Joshua on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:51:15 AM EST

I believe the school you are reffering to is the Summerhill School. It looks quite quite an interesting place, imho. We have an article on my website, terradot, about this school and some good discussion has been sparked.

I personally feel that a less structured and less stressful environment is exactly what chilren (and adults for that matter) do need. If I was in a beautiful place, and there were lots of classes to be taking, I'm sure I would go to them fairly often, but I would certainly not want to feel obliged to go. And although some children would come out without learning too much academics, many people are simply not well-suited to academics, and would rather do something physical. I would very much like to see a school that offered many classes in crafts and physical skills and trade as well as the academics. As long as every child learns to read and that learning is something that goes on your entire life, and you can learn anything you want to learn, children will pick up what they need, and they will be better off for it. This is similar to how I plan to raise my kids (and live, myself).

cheers, joshua

[ Parent ]

hierarchical systems (4.00 / 3) (#24)
by codemonkey_uk on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 08:35:40 AM EST

Hierarchical systems may not be popular, but they do work. At least, they scale well.

And, I think, that kind of the point, teaching is most effective (for the student) when its one to one, but its also less efficient, you need one teacher for every student, which isn't really practical.

Schools are all about efficient education, its not practical to home school, its not cost effective, and it doesn't expose the students to a suitably wide range of subjects and expertise. Being able to teach groups, increased class sizes, without having a detrimental effect on the students is dependent on having a hierarchy in place.

A democratic school would be inefficient and ineffective. How do you educate the "electoral"?
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell

Sometimes teacher does know best (5.00 / 9) (#27)
by iGrrrl on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 11:11:13 AM EST

There is a difference between anarchy and democracy. Ms. Whale advocates some form of classroom structure which does not involve a dictatorial teacher. This idea could take either anarchic (individual choice) or democratic (group choice) form. I'd argue more for a republic model, where there is some student direction, but the teacher has the ultimate say. Following is a longish defense of this position, sprinkled with personal anecdotes.

The epopt has already pulled out this comment, but I'd like to add my thoughts on the matter.

The teacher should treat the student as a peer, not a peon.
I respectfully disagree. In the forum of K5, ObeseWhale deserves all the consideration of someone I consider my peer in this sphere. In the lab or as a student in any biology class I might teach, she may deserve to be treated with respect (not as a peon), but I could not consider her my peer. She has nothing like the training and experience I have. I will in no way back down from this sentiment, not because I am "power hungry" (see below) but because I'm correct. At this point she has not the requisite training, skills, experience, etc. to do what I do.

But I do know one thing for sure from my experiences, that a more open and liberal classroom environment facilitates learning much better than one cramped by a power hungry teacher and a canned curriculum invented by bureaucrats.
She knows this from her experience, but the point can be made that she already writes at a level higher than many college graduates. By no means is Ms. Whale a typical student. For some students, the anarchic or democratic models work. For some students, variations on the models work. For a few students, nothing works. Codemonkey_uk pointed out that current educational models are in use because they are efficient. These methods get the job done for the greatest number of students, but like anything done in bulk, that doesn't mean it fits all students.

And now let me write in defense of teachers. Yes, one finds jerks anywhere, and perhaps some teachers have to reinforce alpha (power) status by being classroom tyrants. Many teachers, however, may simply be overwhelmed and tired. My father taught in (US) public high schools, and my mother taught at a form 6-12 private school. I have taught college level, both basic (no more complicated than high school) and advanced (medical students). The job is not an easy one.

My father taught English and Humanities, and had 6 classes of 25-35 students daily Unlike most of his colleagues, he required his students to write essays and papers. He graded the writing assignments and the rewrites when they needed to happen. Can you imagine the time it takes to grade 300 essays? Many teachers won't do it, and as a consequence, many US students arrive at college unable to write coherent paragraphs, much less construct a cohesive essay. His effort was so unusual that professors at the local university could spot one of my father's former students precisely because they could write. He brooked no bullshit in his classroom, but his students learned well and respected him.

I remember my classroom teaching experience as draining -- very rewarding as well, but at the end of the day I would be exhausted. Biology is so often taught as dry memorization, and I try to make it more engaging, to demonstrate (by doing) that science is a process of asking questions, not simply memorizing facts. Teaching by that style is very hard work. If I had to do it 6 times a day for 30 students, I don't know whether I could maintain it.

From a reply in the thread ObeseWhale stated:

I see no reason why students - especially those in advanced courses - shouldn't have some form of control over the subject matter being taught.
To go back to my point above, the methods Ms. Whale advocates can be implemented most easily with advanced students. Another point goes back to the peer issue -- there are times when an instructor, due to greater experience, knows best what needs included in the curriculum. As a graduate student, which one could call a fairly advanced class of students, I've been on the wrong side of this argument.

Although I could come up with examples from a high school standpoint, let me indulge, please, in two illustrative examples:

Neuroanatomy. I hated learning it, but had to. The idea of that sort of rote memorization in graduate school incensed me on some level. "I know how to learn, and I'll look it up if I need it!" Had the instructors conceded to my viewpoint, they would have done me a disservice. It has been of great value, even for this molecular and cellular neurobiologist, to have the basic maps of the brain and its connections available to me in memory. At the very least, I understand more of what my colleagues talk about and am not limited by my experimental prejudices.

Biochemistry. Many years ago I memorized the structures of all the amino acids in order to pass a graduate physical biochemistry course. This knowledge serves me almost daily. I memorized chemical reactions and chemistry behind certain techniques, which now makes me the answer source for troubleshooting. Anyone (even Ms. Whale, right now, with some training) can learn to follow lab protocols, but not many can troubleshoot the way I can, because I understand how they work.

I cite these examples because I never would have troubled myself to learn such things in an anarchic or democratic classroom. Had my father been democratic about writing -- "Who wants to write an essay?" -- his students would not have the communication skills they carried into the world. One size rarely fits all, yet sometimes the one in charge really does know what's best. In a republic, the leadership should be responsive, but they also bear responsibility. Sometimes the unpopular thing is the right thing.

Lastly, I cannot resist throwing in a neurobiological point. Human brains are still very plastic and continue to develop and refine through the late teens. Much of the final wiring is dependent upon use and experience. Many classes where a student may wonder things like "When the hell will I need to use the Pythagorean theorem?" may really be helping to wire the brain such that the student can understand similarly non-obvious things in the future. Think of it as the mental version of a musician playing scales. Yes, there are people who learn to play by ear, but most of us need the practice in the basics before we move to the complicated. More often than not, standard curricula supply the necessary basics.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.

Common misunderstandings, general lack of time... (4.25 / 4) (#31)
by Elmin on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 06:28:46 PM EST

"In the forum of K5, ObeseWhale deserves all the consideration of someone I consider my peer in this sphere. In the lab or as a student in any biology class I might teach, she may deserve to be treated with respect (not as a peon), but I could not consider her my peer. She has nothing like the training and experience I have. I will in no way back down from this sentiment, not because I am "power hungry" (see below) but because I'm correct. At this point she has not the requisite training, skills, experience, etc. to do what I do."

This is somewhat misleading, but only because you're approaching it from the wrong angle. As you have said, a teacher generally has more experience, wisdom, and knowledge in the subject they are teaching. This is not always the case, but for now let's just deal with situations where it is. Certainly, a student with no foreknowledge of the subject matter could never be considered the peer of a teacher in that subject, but this is not the end of the story. What is the goal of being in a class at all? Take a math class, taught by a capable mathematician. No student in the class can be called a mathematician in the same sense as the instructor can, but the student is there to learn, not to be a mathematician. Similarly, the teacher is there to teach, not to be a mathematician. The same can be said of science, the arts, and any other subject. Because of this, the comparison between teacher and student is anything but clearly defined. In fact, there is no comparison at all. To learn effectively, a student needs a certain skill set, including strong time management and memorization skills, but a teacher requires a completely different set of abilities.

In a classroom, the ultimate goal is that the teacher transfers a subset of their knowledge to the students in the room. Obviously, there are a few things the teacher must be in absolute control of: judging the success of the students in aquiring the necessary knowledge, and the actual teaching of that knowledge. On the other hand, there are certain things which the students must be in absolute control of: managing study time and the actual learning of the knowledge. Each party has goals, expectations, and responsibilities, and each has a skill set that they are, for the most part, competent at. While the current hierarchical model is adequate, I believe it could be improved by a more collaborative approach, where teacher and students are peers in the context of transfer of knowledge, and control is awarded accordingly.

"I never would have troubled myself to learn such things in an anarchic or democratic classroom. Had my father been democratic about writing -- "Who wants to write an essay?" -- his students would not have the communication skills they carried into the world."

This is by far the most common misunderstanding about anarchic and democratic learning; the idea that mundane subjects are necessarily ignored. I'm running out of time here, but that idea assumes that the teacher relinquishes all control. Obviously, one of the most significant areas the teacher needs control in is what material is learned, though not necessarily in what order. To cite a common example, home schoolers are not immediately required to learn the english language, but if they wish to get a GED in the US, they must learn it at some point if they wish to pass.

[ Parent ]
I misunderstand my experience? (3.00 / 1) (#34)
by iGrrrl on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 09:16:58 PM EST

While the current hierarchical model is adequate, I believe it could be improved by a more collaborative approach, where teacher and students are peers in the context of transfer of knowledge, and control is awarded accordingly.
And, yes, almost anything can be improved. The idea of "control awarded accordingly" pretty much sums up my ideal of a republic style classroom: Let the students decided where appropriate, and let the teacher decide where appropriate.

Left to my own devices, I would never have learned neuroanatomy. I would have isolated myself in the bastion of my cellular and molecular prejudices, failing to appreciate the work of colleagues of different leanings. Or a better example: I was dragged kicking and screaming as a child to an exhibit of the Dali jewels. I did not want to go, but my parents forced me. Then they had to drag me out, entranced by jeweled sculptures. Left to my own devices, I'd have stayed home and watched a Bugs Bunny rerun. Sometimes things have to be imposed. That forced exposure left me with an abiding love of Dali to the point where I have followed the anarchic learning path. A blend of learning and teaching style is best, IMnvHO, and the proportions of each component which work most appropriately depends on the student.

You have your view on the peer issue, but as I said, I won't back down on that. At least, I am unpersuaded, but we may have a semantic disagreement. Respect is important. Simply saying that someone is not my peer in an area need not imply condescension.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

Ack, never mind about the initiative... (3.00 / 1) (#38)
by Elmin on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 01:02:19 PM EST

Ok, point taken. Still, the peers thing...

The problem I have is not with your answer to the question "are students peers of their teachers," but the question itself. I think that there should instead be two questions: first, "Is it possible to devise a system where most students are peers of their teachers?" and second, "In what sense can a student either be or not be the peer of a teacher." The second question needs an answer before the first, which is what I was attempting to do. The first question is the subject of this article, namely that a system of democracy or anarchy might be such a system. I don't know if Ms. Whale was intending to suggest that in the sentence you originally cited, but in any case it is a valid interpretation of it.

To summarize: The idea is to question the current establishement not by evaluating it, but by devising another one. The current system does need to be evaluated, but the results of that evaluation need not be directly relevant to the concept of a replacement.

[ Parent ]
The Sudbury Valley School may be what you seek (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by Ricdude on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 11:23:39 AM EST

The Sudbury Valley School itself is in Massachusetts, but there are similarly modeled schools across the country. The idea is to rely on the natural inquisitive nature of humans to lead the students in their quest for knowledge. The children are not assigned to classrooms, but when they have questions, "teachers" are available to answer them. My favourite success story from their school is how one teacher took a group of 12 motivated students, aged 6 to 12, from kindergarten to 6th grade math level in two months. Instruction was given from an 1890 math textbook in one hour sessions, two (maybe three) sessions a week. The key was waiting until the kids were ready to learn about math, instead of declaring 9:15 to 10:05 "math period" and beating them over the head until they were sick of it. There's a public school in Texas that tried some of the same ideas with some success as well. By allowing the "class" to flow free form, the teachers were able to keep most of the class attentive at any given time, by changing focus from science to math, to social studies, etc. Just being able to freely explore tangents in this setting makes for much more attentive students. One particular student went from having serious English problems (barely reading at first grade level) to "teaching his classmates words like predator and camoflauge, words from fourth grade exercises." Of course, the more I read about these free form schooling projects, the more I want to have had them available when I was growing up...

Our little club (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by hardburn on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 03:32:01 PM EST

This was the first year of a "computer club" in my high school (it had to be my seinor year before such a thing happend, grrr). The primary founder was a newbie to GNU/Linux, but understood computers fairly well. I was the most knowledgeable in administrating networks and GNU/Linux, and was thus made the sys admin. Most of the other members were mostly Windows users starting to make the transition to GNU/Linux or were barely knowledgeable in computers at all.

I immediately set on a crusade to keep Windows out of club computers. This was not easy for some of the lesser-adept ones, but I knew that getting them on GNU/Linux early on would be good for them. Besides, a fully installed X and GNOME box isn't much harder then Windows.

Now on to why all this is relevent to the discussion.

At first, we orginized ourselves in a republic. We talked a lot about what we were going to do, but spent more time talking then actual doing. The elected officals of the club (including me) were doing a lot of the work. Noticing this trend, we submitted to the club that we should change to an anarchistic government (knowing school adminstrators might not like a bunch of teenagers with their own club spreading anarchy, we officaly call it a "true democracy" *g*).

The transition went quite nicely. We orginized ourselves into "commities". Whenever somebody wants to do something, they ask others "Hey, want to help me do this?" and form a commitie. Theres the finance commitie, the adminstration committie, the jukebox committe (yes, a committe devoted to pumping out MP3s all day :).

Now we're actualy getting stuff done.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

At the company for which I have worked ... (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by LegionDaMany on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 08:00:58 PM EST

... they have a class in leadership. It is designed for people looking to or actually entering management for the first time in their careers. One of the things the point out is that there are different kinds of people ... and they teach you to subdivide your workers (in one's mind) into these groups and handle them differently.

One of the ways they teach to subdivide your workers is to determine who can handle independence. Some people do need to be given direction on a regular basis. They feel most comfortable when given specific instructions and a definite goal, cf the students in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Other people do best when given free reign within limits and the exact goal may be quite a bit more obscure. They can be creative within certain parameters and they are most happy in that type of situation. The crime is when one is confused for the other ... or when one type of person is expected to perform in the milieu of the other.

Now, casting this back from the workplace (after people have been socialized to be one way or the other) to my experiences in high school ... I can see how there were already tendencies towards one or the other. I submit that students who are motivated to learn will succeed in either environment and that students who are not motivated to learn will fail or at the very least be dead weight in the "democratic" environment.

Ideally, we would have different environments for different types of learners ... but that's neither here nor there.

Call me Legion for I am Many ...
My recent related story (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by Rainy on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 11:22:40 PM EST

I posted a story a few weeks ago that is related closely to this one. I was talking about throwing the grade system out completely and empasizing problem solving instead of aquiring knowledge. Note that if you stop grading, that's what you'll effectively get - students won't be below the teacher since grading is the main attribute of teacher's authority. OTOH teacher should still have the right/responsibility to kick out any student who is being distracting others from studying. Here's a link to that story.
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
My Experiences (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by nurglich on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 11:56:33 AM EST

In Junior High school, I took a class called EEE, or Extended Educational Experiences. The course was not graded, and yet I learned more in that class than in any of my others. About half the time, the teacher actually taught. But teaching consisted of things such as watching The Simpsons to learn about satire, or else highly interactive discussions about religion, government, and assorted other topics. As the theme of the entire year was "Power", there was a lot of space to explore. The rest of our time was spent in independent or group research projects. I worked with a friend to develop a simple role-playing game. It sucked pretty bad, but I enjoyed the process. Another group developed a theory of a heptagonal Earth. All the projects were chosen by the students, worked on whenever we wanted, presented to the class if we wanted, and again, totally ungraded. Except for a few kids who shouldn't have been in the class, everyone loved the freeform educational environment. While this probably isn't the best way to teach math, for example, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding in that one year. I took it again the next year, but got a different teacher that insisted on a more authoritarian class setting, and it was painful to get through. We worked like a normal class, yet recieved no grade. But for one year, for an hour every day, I could learn basically whatever I wanted.

Again, most people can't be taught in this way. Most people, especially in Junior High, need to be forced to learn, or else they won't. In general, I think advanced students need this free environment though. Without that freedom, it actually seems harder to learn.


"There are no bad guys or innocent guys. There's just a bunch of guys!" --Ben Stiller, Zero Effect

i agree (2.00 / 1) (#48)
by alprazolam on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 04:43:23 PM EST

the answer to the poll is "yes and no". i went to this math and science high school (nerd school). there were mostly smart people there. our lit and english classes consisted of at most one hour (of 4) a week of lecture, the rest was discussion, reading, yada yada. these were much more useful than just plain lecturing, which none of the geeks would have listened to. this method even applies to physics...the smaller, second year physics class was so much more intense because we all discussed everything. we took turns teaching subjects and explaining stuff. however this wouldn't have worked at all at my original dumb school. nobody cared their. so the answer is to have gifted classes and charter schools where this can happen and let normal high school end at age 16 and turn more towards teaching trades like car repair. notice i am saying charter schools by which i mean public, so anybody who is qualified gets in. i hate the idea of private school vouchers.

[ Parent ]
Democracy for Everyone! (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by BlackStripe on Wed Mar 07, 2001 at 01:18:38 AM EST

I totally hear what you're saying (alprazolam) but I find the distinction between who should and shouldn't have democratic classrooms really problematic. I feel, and it has been my extensive experience, that all students become more engaged and well-behaved and generally better students and human beings through the experience of a democratic education- with infinitessimally rare exceptions. The students that don't care in traditional schools have no reason to care, the schools aren't doing anything for them.

If the only students we allow into democratic classrooms are elite students- students who are already flourishing in the authoritarian setting- we are leaving out the very students who are probably best suited to these democratic classrooms. Since top-down education is already serving these "gifted" kids then the only reason they need a democratic classroom is the moral reason, if you believe in it, that a democratic classroom is more righteous in some way or another. The kids who are not identified as gifted, however, are being failed by the current system by the very nature of their definition as second-class students and thus could only do better in a more democratic learning environment.

In my experience as a youth soccer coach whose style would be described as anarchistic, ALL students of ALL subjects are able to learn better in a democratic/anarchistic environment and, moreover, far better than they did in the traditional one. For anyone interested in anarchist perspectives on education I STRONGLY urge you to look into the books listed below. The first three are edge-of-your-seat page-turners for anyone, whereas the last two are a little thicker reading. The Kozol book is really neat because it talks about the incredible success of the Cuban literacy movement and the Holt book is just KICKASS for a thousand reasons. If just one in every one hundred people read Instead of Education this world would be incredible.

Instead of Education - John Holt
Deschooling Society - Ivan Illich
Children of the Revolution - Johnathan Kozol
Education and the Rise of the Corporate State - Joel H. Spring
Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Friere

[ Parent ]

democracy in our schools (none / 0) (#53)
by purplehaze21 on Tue Aug 07, 2001 at 05:44:45 PM EST

I toltally agree with what you are saying. If true democratic school systems were more available to our youth our country/world would be so much better. We wouldn't have children walking around with big chips on their shoulders that "teachers" have created. Most "teachers" nowadays are nothing but power hungry men and women. If children were allowed to study what they feel is important and are passionate about at what intensity level they feel they can handle our children would learn to love so many more things. The poor children in our society are continously shafted by our government. They are forced out of schools by inadequate funding and "teachers that are not teachers but babysitters. im not sure if this is on topic or not but oh well. purplehaze21

[ Parent ]
My experience with the situation (2.00 / 1) (#39)
by deanc on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 01:17:36 PM EST

I took a class in Byzantine History taught by a visiting professor from University of Edinburgh. It was taught in a very "British" way... we were told which topics the instructor was going to discuss, and we were given a very, very large reading list. He told us, "come talk to me about what you're interested in studying and i will point you in the right direction to prepare for your class presentations and class papers."

So a lot of the class was completely self-directed and I was really obsessed with it... read a ton of books, learned about a lot of interesting topics in depth, and it was great.

However, I _wanted_ to take the class, and I _knew_ why the material was important. That isn't always the case. Some classes were required, and I would rather not taken them, but I ended up glad that I did and glad that they forcibly challenged me. I'm not sure that I would have been as self-motivated in all my classes as I was in the Byzantine History class.

I didn't necessarily know what I didn't know, and I didn't necessarily know what was important and what was not-- those skills didn't come along until graduate school.


Submission to a mentor (3.50 / 2) (#40)
by tweeg on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 03:24:23 PM EST

I am a student, and have been practically all my life. I'm in my fifth year of undergraduate work in music and science. I have experienced many different modes of learning, studied with teachers of all different styles, and grew up with two parents who were also teachers. I've often approached learning quite arrogantly. "I know what I want to learn, and I'm going to learn that and throw out the rest."

What I've discovered recently, in my last few years of college, is that the specifics of the value system which dictates those desires to me is as dynamic and impermanent as anything else in my life. Making choices based on a ephemeral value system, while sometimes necessary, closes future options. Education, or my idealization of it, is more about uncovering options and finding the multiplicity of paths that exist.

All that is leading up to my new favorite way to be a student: submitting myself and my intellect to my professor(s). I find out from the professor what she wants us to learn, how she wants us to do the work, in what areas she wants us to focus, and I do that, whether or not it is what I think I want at the time. This is a hard thing when some of us have developed the idea of customizing education to fit our individual needs and desires. However, the way professors are cultivated enables them to give us an incredible amount of information, insight, and tools for critical thought, and they do it better with respect to their (very specific) areas of expertise.

A good analogy is the custom of asking an experienced sushi chef to choose your selection for the evening. He will be able then to give you what he does best, and will probably do it with more care, in response to your display of respect. On your end, you'll get the best food possible, even though it may not be what you thought you wanted going in there.

This is probably less relevant to a high school student, because you're less likely to have great teachers, and it's much harder to trust oneself and one's mentors when one is in the psychic tarpit known as american adolescence and high school. (Don't worry, y'all, it only gets better.) But it is good to remember that it can be rewarding and can make you smarter to every once in a while allow yourself to give up and do what you're told.


Something to be said for interactive teaching (3.00 / 1) (#51)
by dagoski on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 12:43:47 PM EST

Years ago when I was failing to be a grad student, I was part of a volunteer program where grad students signed up as a guest teachers for inner city schools. I signed up to teach a class on electromagnetism. For a long time I wondered what I was going to do in the classroom. Emag is hard even for college kids. So much of it seems unbelieveable til you actually see it in action. And for inner city kids firmly rooted in reality, the idea invisible forces acting at a distance would just be bullshit in their eyes. What to do? I walked over to the U's physics demonstration lab and checked out the equipment they had available. What I did was put together some whizbang stuff, went to radio shack and bought a couple of bag fulls of electronic junk. I put together small lecture segments on the basic topics of static electricity, currents, and magnetism. After every section, I had little demonstrations that I handed out to the students. They'd spend the next few minutes playing around with them and seeing that this stuff really worked. I followed that by a Q&A session run by the students. The center piece of the class was the construction of a 'Smith-Ma' electic motor; basically a simple electric motor made out of a chunk of wood, a couple loops of wire, a magnet and 9-volt battery.

The results? One of the most tiring days I ever had! It was a blast. The teacher kept writing me letter back the rest of the year telling me how that one class focused the students for the rest of hte year. What happened? I like to think they took ownership of the knowledge I brought to the them. This type of anarchy was very benifical because the students were actually thinking about the material presented. They didn't just tune out, they participated. And, a lot of them kept tinkering with the little projects I gave them in their own time.

A postscript to this story: Last year I was walking around on the engineering campus here when someone came to me out of the crowd. He was one of the students who was in that class. More than six years later he remembered that class. He even told me that was what got him interested in engineering.

kick ass (none / 0) (#52)
by Remmis on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:17:31 AM EST

That's one of the coolest things I've ever heard, wayta go : )

[ Parent ]
Anarchy in the Classroom! | 53 comments (51 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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