Friday, March 04, 2005

Summerhill School

For awhile I have thought that there is room for many improvements to be made in the standard education most people receive today. I recently finished reading Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill, and I am convinced of the importance of total freedom in regards to education. As Neill says we should not tell children how to live. However, I also strongly believe in the importance of each subject and the strong connection they all share. Perhaps not requiring class attendance would be successful given the right environment, but clearly attendance has to be required in most real life situations today; otherwise many children would not ever attend school. I believe the solution is to make attendance in classes required, but to not require any work on the part of the students whatsoever, for all levels of school. Students could still do projects and share with the class and teachers could still suggest assignments and review students’ work, but the student would only do any of the work when they wanted to learn about the subject. The choice to do (or not to do) any work at all would be theirs. In the middle and at the end of the semester, there would be an optional exam or final paper, but it would be for statistical purposes only. The grade would exist only as a reflection of the student’s understanding of a subject.

This is key to a successful grading system: optional competitiveness. Just like sports, science bowl, or chess club are optional, grades should be optional too. Ideally students would be motivated solely by a desire to learn, but reality is a long ways from that. Students will in reality want to be recognized for what they have accomplished and an optional grading system is helpful for that reason. Otherwise recognition would go only to the most athletic and most popular students.

Colleges could still look at the grades students want them to see, just like students list their extracurricular activities on college applications now. Students would have no GPA though because they might only have a couple grades total throughout high school. Grades would be inherently tied to the class in which they were received.

Admittedly, this is not the complete freedom Neill talks about that will leave people “free to be themselves without hate and fear.” Instead it is just a compromise, but a necessary compromise and still a step in the right direction.

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