Every week articles and editorials are printed about education. The context is always limited to traditional approaches to education, not progressive education. I suppose this is because educators, parents and students frequently question progressive education. As a high school student, learning through a progressive approach, my experience suggests that they should be questioning traditional education instead. I live in New York City where I attend the progressive Calhoun School.
William Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University argues:
We know that to attain advanced conceptual understanding in all subjects, explicit teaching is necessary. Conceptual understanding does not come without the hard work of studying a subject for a long time and in depth. The teacher needs to guide the student throughout and often to impart knowledge directly.
Evers clearly believes in "explicit teaching," that consists of a teacher lecturing their students. This directs their thought processes, as opposed to teaching the students to construct knowledge. As a student educated in a progressive school, I strongly disagree with Evers' argument.
Calhoun believes, "People learn best through experience and discovery." I have been a student at Calhoun for 11 years, and this has been my experience. In class I'm often asked, "What do you think?" As a class, we discuss what we have learned on the subject in past years and from individual experiences outside of school. After further learning about the subject, we consider how this knowledge can be applied outside of our education.
When students are in pre-school, Calhoun teaches them to love learning through an exploratory curriculum that will continue throughout their education. This love for learning gave me the determination to learn and work hard once I entered grade school. Although I was not getting graded for my work, I still had a desire to evolve as a student and as a person with my own ideas and opinions. It was not until 8th grade that I received my first letter grade on my report card. My classmates and I were nervous. I knew this grade would be important for my future and would also reflect how hard I had worked during that semester. Even though getting grades was a new concept for me, I soon realized that it was no different from past years, and that I had to rely on self-motivation and desire to learn in order to do well.
The combination of learning while doing and having fun still applies to me now as a 9th grader: Doing projects like, building a cart to keep a clay dummy safe in order demonstrate the importance of airbags, a seatbelt, and a crumple zone, or having the freedom to choose an ancient political figure to compare politics from that era to contemporary times. These assignments, along with many others, are examples of how Calhoun's exploratory curriculum has followed me through my educational growth.
Some of my friends attend the most rigorous schools in New York City, but the primary difference in our responses to our educations is that I have developed a love for learning, which they have not. My friends are constantly stressed and frustrated with the amount of work given at their traditional schools, which mostly consists of taking notes from textbooks. Unlike me, my friends never developed a love for learning. Love is rare in a rigorous and restricted environment. Calhoun's ambiance allows students to be independent by assigning a manageable amount of homework. This gives students an opportunity to have extra-curricular activities that are as important for human development as academic classes. This freedom and flexibility has given me the opportunity to be a serious athlete and to take various classes in the performing arts. Not only has progressive education given me a love for learning at school, but it has also encouraged me to apply it to my own extra-curricular activities.
While there are common aspects of progressive education, each school has different characteristics that define their curriculum and atmosphere. In the Calhoun building, on the floors where most of the classes take place, there are no walls separating the individual classrooms. This was done to create a sense of community, to teach students to adapt when there are distractions and to stay focused. Also, the Calhoun high school does not go by semesters, but by modules. The school year is split up into five sections with only four classes per section on each student's schedule. This allows students to immerse themselves in four subjects, giving us the opportunity to become familiarized with the material, and not just learning it to do well on a test. This also reduces stress because we are not focused on seven or eight different subjects at once, but fully engaged in four.
One concept that all progressive schools have in common is the relationships between the students and the teachers, and the sense of community that comes along with it. Most progressive schools allow students to address their teachers by their first names, which creates a sense of friendship. I have been taught not to think of myself as inferior to my teachers, but as a student willing to learn from a wiser friend.
When discussing education, our society seems to recognize that we need citizens who are innovative, critically thinking, well-developed, self-directed and who are not only inquiring, but love learning. These characteristics are rarely associated with children who attend traditional schools, though I have developed these attributes by going to a progressive school. When thinking about the future leaders of our country, shouldn't all parents want their children to go to progressive schools, where establishing these qualities are guaranteed?