Part 1 explains how introducing the option for independent, self-directed learning in all public High Schools would help many teens learn more effectively, all the while would contribute to the class size and composition problem, as well as free up money to be used where it is needed.
I’ve learned through CrossFit that when deciding policies for a CrossFit gym, in order to create—and more importantly—to retain clients, as well as raise coaches who make a good living and a business that generates enough revenue to turn a profit, you have to base your decisions on what will help all three components of the business: the client, the coach and the business owner.
It only seems logical that the same principle should apply to public education. Our decisions need to help the students (client), the teachers (coaches), and the government/tax payers (the business).
My brainstorming about this has been spurred by the recent teacher’s strike in British Columbia, a seemingly endless controversy between the teachers’ union and the provincial government that is having negative effects on families in this province today.
It is all that anyone is talking about in B.C right now and has challenged me to go back to High School and think about how it could have been better for me as a student. While I’m not a politician or a teacher, I was a student for 20 years of my life.
High School for me:
On paper, it looked like our public education system worked for me. I was a straight-A student through high school, went on to university, got an NCAA basketball scholarship, finished my undergraduate degree and went on to complete my master’s degree, pursuing varsity rowing at the same time.
Truthfully, though, I did not like High School. At all.
Too much wasted time in class, and I hated feeling like an animal—herded around all day, my whereabouts dictated by a shrill-sounding bell. We were treated like children; decisions were made for us and we were dictated to, which I don’t feel prepares you at all for the real world.
I know not everyone learns like I do, but I also know I’m not alone in saying I’m an independent learner and worker who didn’t need to be in a class from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. everyday. I remember zoning out during lectures to work on my homework during class, which then freed up my evenings to play basketball and workout at the gym.
I was a self-motivated student who wanted to get my work done so I could pursue other things outside of school. School trapped me in a union-like learning environment, where we weren’t allowed to leave until the bell rang, even if we had worked harder than the person next to us and had completed all our work by noon.
So I struck a deal with my mom. If I maintained all As, she would quietly hang up the phone when the school called with an automated message that said, “Hello, your son or daughter missed one or more classes today.”
I skipped class all the time in high school, and I knew which classes I could get away with missing. I wasn’t naturally a math whiz, so I made sure to hit my math class everyday. But french, geography, often-times biology, I could get away with missing class, getting my homework done on my own and scoring 90% or higher on exams.
In university, I was the same way. Like many college students, I picked and chose the classes I needed to attend, and I personally learned more about how the kidneys work by studying a textbook and taking notes from my reading than I ever did by sitting with 100 other students listening to an often inarticulate and uninspired professor race through the intricacies of the nephrons during a lecture.
These experiences have led to Part 1 of my education proposal:
Offer self-directed learning in public High Schools.
I know of one school that is run as a self-directed school - Thomas Haney Secondary - in Maple Ridge, B.C. This High School is part of the Canadian Coalition for Self-Directed Learning. The school has been subject to controversy at times; despite the controversy, the school is always above both the district and provincial average on exams. While I won’t pretend to know exactly how this school works on a day-to-day basis, what I envision for our schools is as follows:
High Schools would provide the opportunity for teenagers to attend a program that looks more like university: Instead of biology class being at 9 a.m. five days a week, it would now involve just two one-hour labs per week, while English class might include two discussion classes per week.
If you’re taking a full university course load (5 classes), you likely have 15 hours of scheduled class per week. There’s no reason many High School students need to be in a class directed by a teacher more than that.
The rest of the time, students would be free to complete their work, study for their exams, at least partially on their own time.
I envision a study hall at school, where students would be able to get their work done. Checking-in and checking out would be automated with a FOB. When students finish their homework, they would hand it in and would be free to leave.
The study hall would be able to accommodate more than a classroom full of students—perhaps 60 or 70 students—and one teacher/supervisor could be present if need be to oversea the students and collect homework.
Admittance into the program, as well as the ability to stay in the program, would be based on grades. In this way, students would be incentivized to work hard in order to remain in the program.
I realize this way of learning is not for everyone. Some people need more discipline and accountability; others need hands-on help from a teacher. And some students are happy to sit in class from 8 a.m until 3 p.m. and beyond. But I believe self-directed learning should be an option in our schools, an option I feel a good portion of students would choose.
How it would help the Students, Teachers, Tax Payers
1). Students: A self-directed, independent studies curriculum would help students who learn better independently. It would also free up time for busier students, especially those who wish to work while in high school, or who play competitive sports or an instrument, and who want more time to practice these other passions. Further, I believe it would incentivize students to work harder, faster and more efficiently because acceptance into the program, as well as the ability to stay in the program, would likely based on grades.
2). Teachers: This would at least make a dent in the class size and composition problem we have in B.C. If, let’s say 25% of the student body decided to join the independent studies curriculum, ordinary classes would be much smaller and manageable for teachers. Similarly, those left in ordinary classes would likely be a more streamlined group of students who possibly all learn in a more similar manner to one another. Classes would likely run more smoothly. And because you would need fewer teachers—since an independent learning program would require less labor—the money saved on needing less teachers could be used to either pay teachers more, or could be re-directed to hire more teachers' assistants for students who need extra help.
3). Government/Tax Payers: Government and tax payers would save money, and could re-direct these savings to pay teachers more money, or to hire more teachers' assistants.
Next up: Part 2: Incentivize the Teachers!