Structures Make Assertions

At most schools in the US, students learn in community.

It’s worth thinking about the implications of that default.

What would you do differently, as a teacher or school leader, if you believed that students in your school learn because of your school’s community?

And what would you do differently if you believed that students learn in spite of that community?

Or from that community?

Mainly from that community?

Outside of that community?

Independent of that community?

In college, I spent my junior year in England. My schooling for that year was exclusively handled through a tutorial system.

Each week, I read a book and a bunch of critical articles about that book. Toward the end of the week, I wrote a paper and then rode my bike to my tutor’s flat. After settling in, often with a cup of tea, I would read my paper out loud and then my tutor would ask me pointed questions about my logic, my assertions, my research, my reading, my word choice, etc. I was part of communities — one in my own flat, one surrounding the college’s basketball team on which I played, and one at a local pub where people went to play trivia or argue about politics or philosophy — but I did not “do school” in community. It was an individual endeavor. I didn’t have to speak in front of other students, couldn’t hide behind them if I didn’t do the reading, and didn’t have the benefit of listening to them as they made sense of the material.

I point this out, along with the questions above, to help us to see that our inherited educational structures make assertions about how students learn best. Given that we probably can’t change some of these structures — i.e., we can’t suddenly shift our classes into tutorial models — we need to either teach with the momentum granted by structure or teach around the barriers erected by structure. And before we can do either, we have to work hard to see just what it is that our schools, and their learning goals, are built upon.

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