Let The Students Teach
Last night I read An Unschooling Manifesto by Dave Pollard. It's a very inspiration post and well worth reading. I don't know enough about the unschooling movement to know if I should get behind it or not. But so much of what Dave says rings true to me. I particularly like this part:
To the astonishment of everyone, including myself, I did very well at this. By the end of the first month of school my average was almost 90%, and I was exempted from attending classes in all my subjects. I'd become friends with some members of the 'clique' I had aspired to join, and discovered that, together, we could easily cover the curriculum in less than an hour a day, leaving the rest of the day to discuss philosophy, politics, anthropology, history and geography of the third world, contemporary European literature, art, the philosophy of science, and other subjects not on the school curriculum at all. We went to museums, attended seminars, wrote stories and poetry together (and critiqued each others' work).
As the year progressed, the 'keeners', to my amazement, found they were struggling with this independence and opted back into the regular structured classroom program. Now our independent study group was a remarkable group of non-conformists, whose marks -- on tests we didn't attend classes for or study for -- were so high that some wondered aloud if we were somehow cheating. My grades had climbed into the low 90% range, and this included English where such marks were rare -- especially for someone whose grades had soared almost 30 points in a few months of 'independent' study. The fact is that my peers had done what no English teacher had been able to do -- inspire me to read and write voraciously, and show me how my writing could be improved. My writing, at best marginal six months earlier, was being published in the school literary journal. On one occasion, a poem of mine I read aloud in class (one of the few occasions I actually attended a class that year) produced a spontaneous ovation from my classmates.
The Grade 12 final examinations in those days were set and marked by a province-wide board, so universities could judge who the best students were without having to consider differences between schools. Our independent study group, a handful of students from just one high school, won most of the province-wide scholarships that year. I received the award for the highest combined score in English and Mathematics in the province -- an almost unheard-of 94%.
Russell Ackoff, who I took a class from at Wharton twenty plus years ago, says in his book, Turning Learning RIght Side Up, that he has learned more from teaching than anything else. Of course that makes sense. I learn way more blogging, giving talks, and teaching than I do listening to others. When you are required to explain something to others, you have to figure it out yourself first.
I love the idea of turning students into teachers and I would do that going all the way down to elementary school. But in high school and college, it ought to be a primary way we educate students.
I am going to dig deeper into the unschooling movement and look at other models, like the Montessori schools, to figure out who is doing this well and why. It's a bit late for my own kids, who have largely been educated in the traditional school system (albeit a progressive one).
But if we are going to fund people who are hacking education, I think its best to figure out what is working and what is not. Then we know what to hack and why.