There are so many schools that attempt to close the achievement gap, a problem often associated with below grade-level test scores. But if we consider achievement to be more than just high exam rates, we have to consider non-traditional schooling. There are a handful of schools which are headed in the right direction.
Expeditionary Schools concentrate on space and place. Studio Schools, developed in England, focus on hands-on apprenticeship programs. ChicagoQuest‘s model takes an inquiry-based and systems approach. Within traditional public education, Common Core Standards attempt to bridge the social-emotional with the academic needs of the person. But Common Core, like other efforts, comes from a top-down, linear approach to education.
This approach is especially troubling for adolescents, who are built to explore and come to terms with their environment and place in the world in a less restrictive, exclusive manner. Media outlets often pit policy and funding as the primary issues with the school system. But they do not mention the 45-minute class period, the lack of hands-on activities and the inability for students to develop and focus on their own interests. Rather than provide the healthy environment that young people need we coat it with discipline, dress codes, more structure and less opportunities for discovery.
An approach that is often left out of the equation is the Montessori method, which integrates all of these pedagogies for a holistic understanding and application of learning. Montessori has traditionally been a private school, early childhood endeavor, but in the last decade a number of public schools and support systems have cropped up to implement the Montessori method.
The reason that among the “innovative” methods Montessori’s is the most compelling is that it is a scientifically evidenced method of teaching and learning. One of the first books I read on Montessori was Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. She discusses the cognitive development of children and provides convincing supporting evidence of the approach. There are so many more cognitive scientists emerging who support the Montessori method, too.
On episode 5 of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, Jamie spoke with staff who would not switch out chocolate and strawberry milk for two percent. The excuse was that young people refuse to drink milk that is not tasty. Regular milk does not satisfy the tastebuds of kids so we need to coat it in something sweet.
What we are doing in public schools today does not demonstrate love, and it is not providing the nutrients that human beings need to better themselves or the world we live in. How do we get beyond the idea that sugar coating milk provides still provides the nutrients we need? We need to simplify the process and As Montessori says in one talk compiled in Basic Ideas of Montessori’s Educational Theory, “The secret wholly lies in two words: milk and love.”