I’m an educator on a mission: to find out how young people attain meaningful educations. I spent the last year as a small-group instructor at a K-8 charter school on the West Side of Chicago. I learned so much, and I’m grateful for the experience, but I was also disillusioned by much of what I saw–particularly how my school’s insistence on standardized tests and college preparation depleted the children of intrinsic motivation.
Grades, standardized tests, and rigidly structured school days with little room for freedom all seemed to me to be disconnected from what the learning process is really about. For the students, college was a faraway, abstract, and mostly meaningless concept, and yet preparing for it was the justification we used to explain why the students had to behave, why they should put effort into their schoolwork, and why they were there in the first place. All the while, many of the students’ present, age-specific developmental needs went unaddressed. Their fears and anxieties, their search for identity, their natural curiosities and passions–those things most essential to their experience of the world–all were secondary, unimportant, hidden away. Sadly, it seems my students’ experience is not unlike the experience of many other children and adolescents around the country. I believe there must be a better way to educate, and so I’m setting out in search of an alternative.
For the next year I plan to travel the country with the goal of gaining a better understanding of alternative educational practices in the US. A major part of this goal is to understand how educators, parents, and communities foster students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.
I hope that my project contributes in some way to an educational revolution that is (hopefully) beginning to take hold. I believe that many people see the benefits of intrinsically-motivated education and are becoming aware of the ways in which traditional school structures and practices are antithetical to the natural processes of human learning. I plan to look deeply into a range of alternative educational approaches including Montessori, Waldorf, Sudbury/democratic schools, Unschooling, and others.
Throughout my project I plan to keep you updated on my whereabouts, the schools I visit and their philosophies, the people I meet and what they have to say, and the other things I see and learn along the way.