Think back to those you attended. Recall the buildings, the classrooms, the design and arrangement of classroom furniture. More often than not what you’ll remember are physical environments that had little or nothing to do with learning by doing. Typically, the buildings, classrooms, and furniture encouraged passivity—sitting still, facing front, maintaining eye contact with a teacher, listening, speaking either when spoken to or when given permission.
Traditional schooling assumes learner passivity. That’s what gets textbooks printed, talking heads videoed, “star” teachers recruited, virtual learning ballyhooed, tough-love charter schools populated, university lecture halls furnished with hundreds of podium-facing seats.
We say, “Experience is the best teacher,” then build schools that say we don’t believe it. Point out the inconsistency, and hear the rationalizations: “Learning by experience is too inefficient.” “Kids don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” “Trial and error take so much time it’s not possible to cover the material.” “Learning by doing should come later, after essential knowledge and skills have been learned.”
I’m not saying that new ideas can’t be transferred intact from the mind of a lecturing teacher or textbook author to the minds of learners. I’m saying it rarely happens.
So I’ve a proposal. America has trillions invested in school buildings, their foundations deep underground, their shapes set in brick and reinforced concrete, networked with pipes, wires, and ducts, doors and windows permanently in place. Their designs encourage learner passivity, and there’s neither the money nor the will to change them.
Can they be re-purposed to really educate?
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