If April is the cruelest month, September may be one of the more complex ones. With the latter part of the month signals the beginning of “meteorological” Fall, the beginning of September represents a paradigm that many people still accept as true but which no longer makes much sense: the beginning of the school year. September is a firm dividing line between summer fun and the months of hard work ahead. Summer, for many kids, means much less structured time, more time outside, more time pursuing personal interests, whether that means reading whatever you like, perfecting a favorite sport, or spending a few weeks in rock and roll camp. Sounds like an ideal setup for self-directed learning!
Think about the way our kids access information these days. Consider the availability and promise of personalized learning. There are so ways kids can learn when they have to or want to. “September” may be losing some of its previously assigned cultural significance.
Questions Raised by the Beginning of the New School Year
As the Fall engines rev up, here are some simple questions to ask yourself about the very paradigm of “September,”
- Has your child been looking forward to the start of the school year?
- Did your child learn anything new this summer? If so, how? In what setting?
- How does your child spend his or her time outside of school?
- How does your child enjoy spending his or her time?
- Does your child talk to you about school? What is a typical conversation like?
- How much homework does your child have every day? To what end?
- Do you help your child with homework? Is it easy to get your child to do homework? Can you do the work?
- How much art or music is included in your school curriculum? If it isn’t a lot, or none at all, do you supplement?
- Does your child play a team sport in school or participate in sports outside of school?
- If your child did not start school each September, what would he or she be doing?
It’s important to ask these questions of ourselves as parents, and vital to reflect honestly on the answers, and not take for granted that the current way that your child is being educated is the only way.
Alternatives to the September Paradigm
The September Paradigm is really just another way of referring to School as Usual. These are very tough times during which our kids are returning to school, and we certainly can’t underestimate the multi-faceted workload that teachers face now and every year. Teachers are working harder than ever to make school a meaningful experience. Even though there has been much progress in terms of integrating technology into the schools and with that some personalized learning tools and methodologies, the construct of school remains antithetical to “real life.”
I’m all for kids (and their accompanying adults) getting a break, but I’d like to see less of a line drawn between learning and whatever else we do every day. This is what is happening in the corporate world, with more support for continuous learning and hopefully what will start happening at the college level. In other words, learning will be designed so that graduates can more easily find their place in an increasingly complex world. Do we need to start in Kindergarten, you ask?
Well, yeah. K-12 needs to let more of the real world in as well. We have traditionally referred to or identified specific schools within districts as “buildings,” reflecting the institutional nature of our educational system. Even taking the safety of our children into account, these “buildings” can be extremely closed off, again forming that barrier between child and family, school and the outside world, learning and summer vacation, etc.
It’s great to hear that projects such as the Beam Center in New York City, for example, are coming into the classroom, or bring teachers and students to their location in Red Hook, Brooklyn for maker workshops. Longer terms projects instill a greater sense of community and connectivity while introducing great skills across curricula.
Tools at Schools is another real world, project-based group that partners with corporations to bring design thinking into the schools. Six-month projects result in products designed to solve real problems, including the sneaker of the future with Puma, and furniture for the classroom produced by Bernhardt Design, whose manufacturing facility the students visited as part of the project.
Less Could Mean More
Less time in the actual . . . buildings could mean that kids are synthesizing what they are learning into activities that take place in the “outside world” every day. In addition to experiential, project-based learning partnerships such as the examples given above (and many others), including online learning either in the classroom or out, and for older (high school) students, more apprenticeships earlier on and independent, community-based learning activities could alleviate so much of the “school fatigue” we see in our children.
We could even play around with the calendar! There really is no season for learning. So there, September!