I’ve never met a parent who didn’t have high expectations for his or her child’s school.
First, we expect that school will prepare our children for whatever the next step is. If they’re in first grade, they’ll end the year ready for second grade, and so on through college, employment, and successful adult life.
We expect schools to provide age-appropriate physical education, plus a grounding in the arts, music, and a foreign language.
We also expect that school will help our children learn how to navigate social situations like cliques or favoritism. We hope that our children’s schools will help them become good people.
And we hope our child will fall in love with learning at school. We expect schools to inspire our kids to reach and stretch beyond themselves.
The only trouble is, all those other expectations we have for what school needs to be and do in our children’s lives makes it hard to leave room for moments of inspiration and breakthrough.
Instead, all too often, our school processes and policies teach our kids another kind of lesson of adulthood: how to tolerate boredom.
Take the school schedule. First, there has to be time in the day to cover every core academic subject. The kids need to eat, so save room for lunch. Add fine arts and physical education, and you’re already bursting at the seams.
By necessity, schools wind up with schedules that divide the day into eight or nine class periods. Each period begins with the taking of attendance. (Can you imagine sitting through that seven or eight times every day?)
The collection and assigning of homework further eats into instruction time. Often what’s left is less than half an hour.
Of course, any subject you study becomes more complex as you advance. It’s true for auto mechanics and quantum mechanics alike. A student’s ability to advance to true mastery relies on a firm grasp of the underlying concepts.
But in most schools, when the bell rings, it’s time to move on — underlying concept grasped or not. There’s never time for a deeper dive into one subject. We’ve scheduled away the possibility of exploration or growth. Instead, everything is hurried and fragmented. Students are always going — and never doing.
I know: this is the way school has been done for decades, even generations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best way.
WIth Long-View, we decided to try to build a school that provided everyday opportunities for deep thinking and engagement. We were determined to find a way to improve the school day — for teachers and students alike. What if we made it our first goal to instill a love of learning in our students? What would it look like to put that first — instead of last?
First, that required making some hard choices. We had to give up the idea that school can do and be everything a child needs. Our school doesn’t provide physical education, for example — instead, we all walk together to a nearby park and play for an hour every day.
Our students also don’t study Spanish, or art, or music. (We hold school just four days a week, so families have time to fill in those or any other subjects that matter to them.)
What we focus on is building long-term, transferable skills. The kind that make people great employees no matter where they went to college: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
Don’t those matter more than any grade on a standardized test?
Sometimes, our approach means that we spend several hours deeply exploring an idea in mathematics, and therefore spend less time on literacy or coding. (Yes, we teach coding as a critical skill. Welcome to the 21st century.)
But after that one deep dive, our students have a better understanding of that concept than a week’s worth of 45-minute lessons would have given them. So far, we’ve found that a more flexible schedule is more conducive to learning than the fixed class periods we grew up with.
It remains to be seen what will happen when our students move on from Long-View Micro School to a high school. I have a feeling that they will speak up if they see processes and policies that don’t make sense — and for that, l apologize in advance!
In the meantime, they are actively engaged every day in their own learning. They aren’t balky or bored. They love school — and so do we.