“After school, kids are devouring new information, concepts, and skills every day, and, like it or not, they’re doing it controller in hand, plastered to the TV. The fact is, when kids play videogames they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom. Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about connecting and manipulating them. Doubt it? Just ask anyone who’s beaten Legend of Zelda or solved Morrowind.”
– James Paul Gee, Professor of literary studies, Arizona State University
I don’t play computer games. I find them to be too loud and too intense. So I don’t play. As a child I did play some games from start to finish but it was never something that I got hooked on. I played Candy Crush for about three months until I got tired of it. Then I deleted it from my phone.
This does however not mean that I cannot understand or appreciate why others play computer games. In fact, I have spent a good amount of the past couple of months exploring the world of game development and gaming in general. I have watched some amazing films documenting the resilience and genius creativity of game developers such as the documentary Indie Game: The Movie and two TED talks, one titled Gaming to Re-Engage Boys in Learning and another that inspired me greatly with game developer Jane McGonigal titled Gaming can make a better world. I have furthermore talked at length with my students about their favorite games and it taught me a lot about gaming. For example: Minecraft is the number one game among my younger students and one of my first grade students recently explained to me why it is so popular.
He said: “Anna, do you know why Minecraft is so fantastic!?”
“No” I replied.
“Because everything is square!” He said.
So there you have it, the mystery of why kids love Minecraft: solved.
The way I see it, because computer games happens to be the number one interest of my students, I have an obligation to honor and explore that interest with them – to latch onto their journey through life and through that assist and support them in any way possible to grow and expand, even if that growth and expansion takes them far beyond my comfort zone or realm of knowledge.
So I am not writing this to advocate why gaming belongs in the education system. There has been written thousands of reports and papers and articles about that, including the previous post I wrote on the matter.
In this post I will focus on the point of how we as teachers and parents can promote an educational environment of self-directed learning, where we as adults stands as catalysts and facilitators rather than as someone who is blocking learning opportunities because they do not fit into our preconceived ideas about education. I will do that through sharing an example from my work with gaming in class.
Ever since I started working as a teacher, I have tried to find ways to engage my older students (ages 11-15) to no avail. I have come to realize that they in many cases have been in the school system for so long that the school system in many respects have managed to ‘lobotomize’ them to the point where they will either go with the motions of daily school life in a zombified state or they will assume a position of reluctance and defiant apathy towards anything that is presented to them by the school system. They are not there because they want to be but because they have to be. Learning is not something they do to expand their horizons but because it is expected of them.
It has been a challenge to find a way to make learning authentic for them, as I to them am seen as yet another adult who does not understand what they are going through or what their life is like, but who nonetheless tell them what they need to know and when and why they need to know it.
When I embarked on the journey of using gaming in my work as a teacher, I had no idea just how far I would be able to reach the students through opening myself up to their interests. I had no idea that they had so many resources, so much passion and lust for learning – and that is in itself a disturbing fact.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the initial lesson plan was developed my one of my colleagues and I found his idea to use gaming to be so inspirational that I immediately took it, ran with it and developed it further.
In the previous post I described the projects I did with the younger students where we worked on developing board games inspired by computer games. With the older students however (ages 11 – 15) we embarked on a journey where the students created their own fantasy computer games. They got the task of coming up with an idea to a computer game where they were to write out a script describing the game environment, the characters and the background story.
We had a lot of fun talking about computer games, game music and game development and the students would share with me what games they played and what they liked about them. We talked about how their parents did not like them playing as much and they would share how much they learn from playing the games. What was interesting was that even though we did not actually play any games in class (we did look at trailers from games), and even though the students primarily had to write – they were more engaged than ever.
We also started playing with the idea of having their games produced as real computer games. We talked about how long that would take as several of the students asked if we could do it for real. I explained to them that it most likely takes several years (with the proper training) to create a computer game.
Then I had an idea: what if we got a hold of a game developer who could review the students’ games?
I searched online and within a matter of days I found a game developer who was more than happy to participate, having been a gamer himself and understanding the value of gaming in education. We set up a date where he was going to come to speak to the students and I told them that I was going to share their games with him and that we was going to come and review them. Knowing that a real game developer would look at their work completely changed their production process.
What they created was amazing.
All the students were engaged in their games and a fifth grade student who normally does not do any homework (in any class) would send me his scripts and not only that; he would edit them two or three times and send me the updated versions without in any way being prompted to do so by me.
Another student, a seventh grader who suffers from a learning disability and because of that normally only write a few sentences, wrote an entire page. At the end of one of our lessons he said: “by the way, I did some drawings at home.”
With an inconspicuous look on his face, he pulled four drawings up from his backpack and handed them to me. What he had done floored me.
He had drawn four drawings that must have taken him hours to draw, one depicting the character from the game, one the environment, one of the logo for the game and a portrait of the character.
He had done exactly what the other students had done in writing, only through drawing. And I had no idea that he could draw.
We had our meeting with the game developer once all the students’ games were finished. It was a huge success. He talked about his work, how games are created, how many hours of script goes into each game, how he became a developer. He showed us games he had developed and gave us the ‘behind the scenes’ tour into the world of coding and programming, much of which was presented in a highly advanced technical language that I could barely understand. The students nodded as they sat and listened in complete focused silence for nearly two hours.
Afterwards, the fifth grade student who normally does not do homework, have continued on to developing his own game, using a professional coding platform.
The seventh grader’s (the one with the learning difficulty who normally does not have many successful experiences at school) grandparents created a WordPress profile for the sole purpose of leaving a comment to his game on our blog where all the games are published telling him how proud they are of him. His mother had sent an email to their entire family sharing his game.
Another seventh grader created such an amazing story, with such rich detail and reflection on the inner lives of the characters that I suggested to him to keep developing it and maybe make it into a story. I eventually told his parents who had no idea how good a writer he was and who are now trying to convince him to write a book.
All the amazing results that came from this project can be contributed to the fact that I worked with something the students were interested in, something that is a big part of their daily life and that normally is not given any value or supported by adults.
I provided a structure and an idea in which the students could unfold and explore their creativity but all the work was their own. When they had an idea, I ran with it. When they wanted to change something in the lesson plan. I ran with it.
I have been amazed and astounded to see aspects of the students emerge that I had no idea existed and it has made me keenly aware of how much we as teachers and parents are missing out on by not engaging with children on a real and authentic level, to actually get to know them and understand them and what their life is like, without fear or moral judgments about what they ‘should’ be doing or becoming.
One aspect of this project that I am particularly satisfied with is how the project had a direct correlation with the real world. This is something that I have long advocated and this project underlines that perfectly.
When a real game developer became involved in the project, the students took the project seriously, because they were being taken seriously as having real and valuable perspectives to share with the world. They got to see a man who had chosen a career path doing something that their parents would judge as being a waste of time. It made a real impact on them.
This is something that could be easily copied to other subjects or themes or projects where, if a class or student is working with food as a topic for example, a chef can be invited to cook with them or taste their recipes. Or if a class is working with democracy as a topic, they can work with changing things in their local environment or school that they are not satisfied with. They can experiment with various democratic methods such as writing petitions or letters to the newspaper or even direct social intervention and investigate which methods are most effective for change.
Not only does it establish a direct and very real connection between schools (as life-preparation facilities) and ‘real’ life, it also provides the students with a entrepreneurial aspect that is remarkably absent from most schools.
If we are serious about making this world into a better place, we ought to be equally serious about the interests of our children, to listen to what they have to say, to support them to grow and develop their utmost potential, which may just be incrementally different from what we would have imagined or preferred.
I have stopped seeing myself as a teacher who’s job it is to transfer knowledge and information into the minds of my students. Instead I see myself as a sparring partner, as someone who has experience in various fields and who can assist them to develop and materialize their visions and goals into substantial and valuable content.
It is a position of honor and great privilege and it is a responsibility that requires the utmost amount of humbleness and courage because it requires us as adults to take a step back and admit that we do not know everything there is to know about the world. We have to be willing to let the children educate us and so transform us so that we may be fortunate enough to stand next to them as they direct their own learning and explore their potential in life.
Teachers all across the world are struggling to engage their students.
Standardized tests and archaic curricular that must be rushed through in a matter of months, are filling up the classrooms.
At the same time, we see a development in our society towards an increased integration of technology into our children’s lives. While struggling to stay awake at school, most kids will gladly spend an entire night in front of the computer, playing games, surfing the web or chatting to friends on Skype.
The question that many parents and teachers ask in concern, is whether the investment in technology is compromising our children’s education. They will say that it is hard enough to motivate them as it is, without some screen distracting them and pulling them away from what matters. While that may be true, I am here to share a different perspective.
A couple of years ago, I made it my mission to teach in a way that was relevant to the students. I started experimenting with various topics and methods with the aim of unlocking the students interest of learning rather than sitting across from them, one zombie regurgitating information to another – just because that is the ‘normal’ way to do things.
I discovered that every single person in this world wants to do something that matters; something that is real and that has a real impact in the world. No one wants to spend years on end in artificial facilities doing simulations of real life while being told that their perspectives don’t matter – and this is exactly what schools do.
I also discovered that what students care about, is the real world around them, that which they hear about in the media or read about in the news. Above all, something that almost all my students had in common was a passion for modern technology, the Internet and computer games in particular.
I decided to embark on an adventure with my students, an adventure into ‘their’ world, the world of computer games.
I have never myself played a lot of computer games. It is simply not something that I’ve found particularly interesting. I do however have a passion for modern technology and all the opportunities that the Internet opens up. So I make it a point to stay up to date with the latest technological developments, gadgets, social media sites and various apps coming on the market. So on one hand, I embarked on a journey into the world of gaming simply because it was something I respected that my students were passionate about. On the other hand, it was made easier by the fact that I was already open to the current developments of modern technology.
I know that many adults are cautious towards the current developments and that many parents worry that their children are gaming too much and that they do not spend enough time outside playing or spend time with their physical friends (rather than the ones they meet in cyberspace). I also understand that there are some pitfalls and dangers about the Internet, such as kids having access to pornography, issues with privacy and cyber bullying.
However, it is also my perspective that the current development of modern technology is unstoppable and that if you as a parent prohibit your child from having access to a computer or the internet, they will simply find another way to get on – because being online has become an integrated part of what it means to be a child today.
Because the development of technology and digital media is like rushing river of rapid development, the best way to approach it is through embracing it by going downstream with the flow, rather than trying to fight it or slow it down, which is virtually impossible. It is something that like a force of nature has its own momentum.
Our Gaming Project
The students and I started the project with the younger students (ages 6-9) working on creating board games inspired by their favorite computer games. I laid out the foundation of the way we would be working with creating the games by saying that my goal was for this game to be so fun and challenging that they would want to play it with their friends. I shared with them how I had created board games as a child that weren’t a lot of fun because they weren’t very challenging.
So the first few lessons we spent creating a plan of how we were going to design the game. We talked about various ways that board games can be structured and how they don’t have to go from ‘start’ to ‘finish’ but can be circular, like labyrinths or have a completely new structure entirely.
I started asking the students about the computer games they play and I could see how genuinely pleased they were with being able to talk about their passion in a ‘school setting’. Most of the younger students have Minecraft as their favorite game so they would tell me all about it and what they liked about it and what elements from Minecraft they thought would be cool to incorporate in our board game.
Many of the students had lots of ideas that incorporated digital elements, where I had to show them how it unfortunately wasn’t transferrable to a physical board game. Instead we had to ‘translate’ the elements of the computer games into the board game in a way that could work effectively.
One group for example decided to create a game where, during the game it switches from day to night and at night the monsters come out, just like in Minecraft. We then had to figure out a way to incorporate the day-to-night element into our game and together came up with the idea of using an hour-glass that, when it runs out, the game switches from day to night.
Another student decided that in his game there should be four different ‘worlds’ or ‘games’, each based on its own computer game, so there was a ‘Minecraft world’ and an ‘Spiderman world’ and to go into each world you’d have to go through a portal.
Throughout the process of creating the games, the students would speak and write, for example to create cards to use in the game or through writing instructions for the game. These elements are all included in what is my actual task as a teacher, to teach them a language. We could have done the exact same project focusing on math elements or art – or even all of these in a multi-disciplinary project. The point is that throughout this project there has been absolutely no resistance or boredom coming up within the students.
I call it ‘sneaky learning’ when I am able to incorporate elements like grammar that otherwise would be perceived as ‘tedious’ and ‘boring’ and the students don’t even notice that they are learning grammar. They are doing it because it is an important part of the game. Like one student said: “If you don’t have instructions, you can’t understand how to play the game”. So obviously we had to create instructions, but it wasn’t a deliberate ‘language learning lesson’ and therefore working with the language came natural and with ease – because it had a purpose, because it was a tool to be used to support something that the student was passionate about, proud of and invested in.
Through this project, the students have created the most amazing and inventive board games. They have come up with ideas that I would have never thought of. Throughout it all, I have stood as a sounding board to assist them to manifest their vision and to make suggestions and share perspectives that may support them to consider details they hadn’t thought of before.
The result of doing this project is that students go home and write more cards by themselves without being prompted to by me as ‘homework’. One first grader (7 year old) even continued to work on the game while he was sick at home. Another student considerately went to the store and bought an hourglass with her pocket money – again, without being prompted to do so by me.
It is my perspective that all learning is supposed to be like this, no matter how old you are or what subject you are busy learning. This doesn’t mean that learning will always be thrilling or fun. When you are passionate about something, it sometimes requires some hard work or that you do some tedious task, but the difference is that the students have not resisted this aspect of learning in this project, because what mattered was their creation process and their vision of a final result. The more I have stepped back and humbled myself as an adult, the more the students have stepped forth and shown me their potential, their strength, their passion.
Based on the example from this project, taking the students passion as its natural point of departure ought to be a focal point of all education. Because we have all been educated in the same wretched school system, we have come to take it for granted. We have come to accept (because that’s what we’ve been taught) that learning is not fun, that it is forced upon us and something we must learn to force upon ourselves. Learning in schools happens through intimidation, competition and force and the question is how much is actually grasped at a foundational level within the students. I mean, how many of us remember anything we learned in school? What many will say is that they remember specific teachers who were passionate or fun or they will remember specific projects where they got to work independently or choose their own topics.
With the day and age that we live in, it just happens to be so that modern technology, digital media and the Internet is one of the biggest interests of kids today. It would be a shame to not embrace that momentum and let the stream take us on a journey together with the kids, a journey where we can be there with them and stand as support along the way. Because one thing is certain; modern technology is not going anywhere anytime soon. But our kids are going places, that’s for sure. The question is whether we are going to be stubborn and stay behind in fear of the unknown or whether we are going to go on this journey with them and see where the river of modern technology takes us. Because if we don’t, we are holding them back. We are dismissing and diminishing something that matters to them. We are trying to force them to learn in unnatural ways through intimidation and then we miss the opportunities where real learning could have taken place.
There is not a single human being on this planet who is not aware of how much easier it is to learn when it is something you have decided for yourself, when learning is something you want to do. You do not only learn more easily, but you also remember it better. When learning is self-directed and passionate, it integrates into you and becomes part of who you are as a real time expansion of your being. It is something that never leaves you. This is what learning is supposed to be like.
“Rules in the absence of principle are often found to be irrelevant by children. Principles lived fully make rules unnecessary.” —Karen Tucker
We are facing a time in history where breaking with the conventions of yesteryear is not only inevitable but in fact a necessity. Radical unschooling represents such a break with conventional thoughts, as it challenges everything we thought we knew about education and parenting.
Out with the old. In with the New.
The realization that we exist in an Orwellian system of control is slowly but surely making its way from the fringes of society to its mainstream arenas. The walls of segregation are thinning and the veil of wool that we have pulled over our eyes is slowly but surely starting to unravel.
We realized long ago that the revolution would not be televised. The time of paramilitary overthrows of totalitarian regimes is over. The grand idea of a global revolution has become archaic in a world where the powers of a system that should not be, has wormed itself into every fiber of our existence and has engulfed the world in a paralyzing toxic haze.
One by one, we are starting to realize, each in our own way, that to subvert the subjugating mechanisms of this system, we must to become creative, and as the Icelandic activist and member of the Pirate Party Birgitta Jónsdottir puts it: find ways to hack the system from within.
All over the world, people are finding ways to subvert the system of control, from guerilla gardening to co-op farming and alternative media outlets. This is done, not through vehemently fighting against the system and demanding that it change, but through understanding that, as corporate whistleblower Richard Grove puts it: “The system wasn’t broken, it was built this way.”
We must assist the system to collapse – and we do that through immersing ourselves into the system, through changing it from within.
Hacking the System from Within
The iron claw of the system reaches into even our most private and intimate spaces, but instead of looking upon that with apathy and trepidation, we can use this as an opportunity to start hacking the system virtually anywhere, in any place, in any area of our lives – and we can do that as individuals without necessarily having the support of large communities, vast financial resources or intricate knowledge about how to take down the overlords of the military-industrial complex.
Each one of us has skills and abilities or unique insights into sustainable solutions that can be used to defuse the firewalls of the system, from independent journalists that tirelessly work towards exposing the cognitive disinformation oozing from the mainstream media to high-school kids inventing affordable 3-D printers in their bedroom.
We can hack the system in our personal lives through recognizing the inner mechanisms installed through predictive programming, where our minds too are subject to the system of control, for example through the alluring promise of happiness and fulfillment offered to us by the advertisement industry. Once we understand the mechanisms and see them for what they are, once we admit to ourselves that we too fell for the magic trick, we can begin the process of restoring (or for the first time creating), our sanity.
We can hack the system in our relationships with other people, through agreeing upon principled ways of living, where we see that which is best for everyone, (including children and animals) as being of equal importance, thereby disrupting the patriarchal, authoritarian and speciesist narratives that for so long have governed and restricted our lives and our ability to co-exist peacefully with one another on this planet.
Education and upbringing is a hallmark example of the extent to which the system of control has saturated our lives, bodies and minds. We do not realize is how extensively our way of seeing the world and more importantly; how we see ourselves in it, is a direct result of our upbringing and education. As Ivan Illich, the author of “Deschooling Society” puts it: “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”
One of the most prominent examples of how it is possible to hack – and thereby take directive action to reprogram, the system in our day-to-day lives is through radical unschooling.
Radical Unschooling Paves the Way for a New Humanity
Unschooling is an educational philosophy, but even more than that, it is a form of direct political activism that aims at empowering the future generations through a total paradigm change – and it is all happening inside the home.
Educator John Holt coined the term ‘unschooling’ in the 1970’s. Holt believed that children did not need to punished or threatened into learning, that each child had a natural capacity and ability to learn. Unlike traditional homeschooling that aims at bringing the traditional school classroom and curriculum into the home, unschooling takes the approach of ‘learning through living’ where the child has no textbooks, no tests and no curriculum to follow, but instead can follow its own interests and passions, with the guidance and support of a parent.
Common – and for most provocative – examples of how different unschooling is from traditional schooling includes: no fixed bedtimes for children, no restrictions on food and no restrictions on media consumption. Unschooled children wake up and go to bed on their own accord. They have no chores, no homework, no textbooks to read and they learn in the way that is most comfortable and interesting to them. As such an unschooled child might spend weeks or months on end playing Minecraft or building with Legos, all supported and facilitated by their parents. Unschooled children are also not expected to learn how to read, write or learn math according to any specific time-frame or method and are often self-taught at that.
Radical unschooling takes unschooling a step further as it rejects any notion between educational and non-educational spaces. As protagonist Sandra Dodd says: “everything leads to everything.”[i] Radical unschooling is further more an approach to parenting and education where equality and respect become practical and tangible principles that can be transferred into the participants daily lives. The parent is no longer an authoritarian figure who’s role it is to modify behavior through punishment, but a partner and a facilitator who makes it possible for the child to explore and develop their unique natural learning abilities. Education is no longer about the child preparing itself to be functional in a dysfunctional society but about exploring life in a natural and expansive way. Radical unschooling thereby becomes not only a way to transform the notion of what a family is or how education happens but can even be utilized as a tool for self-transformation of who we are as parents and human beings in our relationships with one another.
By showing that a child that learns from home (and life in general) in its own pace without any restrictions, is just as equipped to step into society, perhaps even more so, than a traditionally schooled child, radical unschooling parents are challenging the very foundation of our education systems. It can however only work if the parent dares to step out of their preconditioned ideas about life and as such become a catalyst for change.
Radical unschooling provocatively questions the very foundation of our education systems and playfully shows us how it is possible to not only succeed by stepping out of the schooling industry, but also how tremendously limited we have become because of it. As John Holt says: “Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
A specific element of radical unschooling thus has to do with a detoxification period that parents as well as child who have been in the school system, have to go through called ‘deschooling’. One of the key aspects of deschooling is that especially the parents have to go through a process of deconstructing and letting go of preconditioned fears and beliefs programmed into them through their own school years. This could for example be the parent thinking that “a child needs boundaries and routines” or that “punishment teaches the child that there are consequences in life.” (Author Charles Eisenstein has long been a protagonist for the process of deschooling and regularly hosts seminars on the subject. [ii] In his seminars he encourages participants to investigate the effects that schooling has had on them.)
Another aspect of the deschooling process is a period of ‘binging’ on things and activities that previously would have been seen as ‘sinful’ such as gorging on candy, computer-games, movies or staying up very late. According to many unschoolers this is a natural part of the process that will slowly but surely even itself out, where the child and adult will become more inclined to making decisions that are best for them as they get in contact with their authentic selves beyond the limitations of rules and restrictions.
Dangers of unschooling
Unschooling is often criticized as leaving children unprepared for stepping into society. Those critical of the philosophy fear that unschooled children are left unsupervised and unsocialized and that they will have trouble integrating in society, as they grow older. According to a survey[iii] done by professor Peter Grey Ph.D at Boston university for Psychology Today, unschooled children do not only go onto higher education such as college, but tends to do remarkably better than their traditionally schooled peers.
Unschoolers have claimed that one of the reasons why unschooled children do well in college and university is because they have been self-motivated to learn their entire life. Often they have discovered a passion for a specific area already in their early teens, so when they start college they are self-driven and purposefully directing their education. Prominent unschooled people who have gone on to being successful in the system includes filmmaker Astra Taylor, astronomer Lisa Harvey-Smith and professor of law at Duke university, Jedediah Purdy.
So perhaps the greatest danger of unschooling is how it questions everything we thought we knew about education and shows us that the traditional school system is not only failing at its basic task of educating the young, but that it was never meant to in the first place.
The greatest anarchistic experiment of our time?
Radical unschooling might very well be one of the greatest anarchistic and open source experiments of our time. As Sandra Dodd says: “I never knew how much damage school did, until I saw someone who hadn’t been”. It begs the pertinent question of what the world would look like if all children were supported to harness and explore their unique natural learning abilities? Radical unschooling might very well be a significant key to the transformation of the world system, exactly as it will be significant to transform the way we live with the earth, the way we conduct business, how we work together or the way we view and speak about gender. No stone can be left unturned when it comes to subverting the subjugating mechanisms that has become our accepted ways of co-existing.
Each area of our lives that we dare to look upon with brutal self-honesty and see for what it truly is, through the veil of conformity, and thus take responsibility for changing, will be a significant and imperative key to rewrite the codes that govern our lives. It will not happen overnight and it will not be a global revolution where the whole world will joyously join together in some grand awakening. Instead it will happen one individual at a time, on a one-on-one level, from within the very depths of the system, in the miniscule seemingly insignificant everyday moments of our lives.
Radical unschooling shows us how each of us can take the process of changing the world into our own hands by starting with ourselves. Radical unschooling is an example of the transformation that our societies (and minds) has to go through, for us to upcycle the toxic waste of the past and turn it into something of substantial and lasting value – not just for us, but for generations to come.
The other day while getting my hair cut, I struck a conversation with the hairdresser who has two children of her on. We talked about how difficult it is for parents to know whether they’ve sent their child to a good school or not. I could see a subtle look of concern in her eyes glancing back at me from the mirror when I shared with her how different the schools are and how the child might be taught something in one school in grade 1 that in another school is only being taught in grade 6 or maybe not ever.
She said what most parents say when asked about the quality of their child’s school: “Well, it seems good.”
Like most parents she has little to no idea what her children is being taught in school, because school-life and home-life has been inexorably separated and severed from one another. Teachers and parents barely have time to meet or to talk and when they do, it is only to make sure that everything is going according to schedule when it comes to the development of the child’s cognitive and social abilities.
Let me tell you a little bit about my work:
I go to over 20 different schools every week. In some preschools, the teachers hug the children each morning when their parents drop them of. They make sure to have a personal and individual conversation with each and every child and this is not a show they put on for the parents, because they do it whether the parents are there or not. It makes it a safe place to come to school, even for someone as young as 3 or 4. These preschools (and schools in general) are often private, small in size and/or run by a cooperative of parents. The state- and municipality-run schools are usually bigger in size and have a constant influx of teachers.
Unfortunately most parents don’t get to chose which schools to send their children to and even if they do it’s difficult to know whether the school is good or not. Often you only find out when it’s too late.
I teach students individually or in groups of three. Through teaching this way I have discovered that each child has its own entirely unique and individual learning requirements. No child is in the exact same place in its development process; some benefit from more structured and calm environments. Others learn best when they can take initiatives and push themselves. Some are good at math but bad at reading. Each one has their entirely own unique needs for an educational environment that will support them to grow and develop their potential.
The way the school system is build doesn’t even come close to supporting each child’s unique requirement for learning, not even by a long shot. When 30 students are stuffed into a small room with 1 teacher and are expected to rush through a standardized curriculum, at best we call it a ‘one size fits all’ system – at worst it is a system that prohibits each individual child from reaching his or her full potential.
The fact of the matter is that children can learn, all children have the potential to expand and grow and even defeat the odds that comes with poverty or learning disabilities.
So on one hand the education system is random. It’s like a lottery where, if you’re lucky enough your child might just end up in a school where there are teachers who teach because it is their passion and where there are resources. On the other hand, the education system is also tragically predictable in most cases, where it is almost guaranteed that your child will not be able to reach its full potential.
As parents it is our responsibility to be the main caretakers and guardians for our children in those first vulnerable years – but when it comes to education most of us have completely handed over the reigns to the education system, turning a blind eye to the fact that it is in no way equipped at providing our children with the education they require to truly reach their full potential, academically as well a personally.
It is time that we as parents start daring to see what is actually going on in the world of education today – and that because no one cares about our children as much as we do, it is our responsibility to make sure they get the education that will foster and nurture their full potential to develop.
Whether that means getting involved with the school board or setting up impromptu lessons around the dinner table or investing in sound educational materials for our children, we have to stop relying on the hope that the problems we see in schools today will sort themselves out.
If you don’t have the skills or resources to teach your children, if you don’t know what’s actually going on in school, if helping your child with their homework is daunting or something you resist doing – then start there. Start by taking one step, just one step towards ensuring that your child won’t just become another number in the statistics used by corporations and governments to serve some obscure and delusional agenda leading our world into even more dire straits than what they’re already in. The change starts with you, because without you, your child won’t stand a chance, and your child is the future of tomorrow.
If you start today, you will give your child a head start to face tomorrow and it will be a gift that will last a lifetime, with the potential to change, not only your child’s life, but also the world as we know it.
If you are ready to get involved in a political and economic change of paradigms and thereby also a change of our education systems, I invite you to investigate the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System. This proposal suggests a groundbreaking change in political paradigms that doesn’t ‘take sides’ but instead presents a completely new approach to solving the problems we are currently facing in this world.
Are you a parent to a child in school or do you plan to be one day? If so, I’d like you to join me in a thought experiment. How we’re going to do that I’ll explain in a moment, but first let me explain why exactly I’d like you to join me in this experiment:
Working as a teacher I’ve come to realize that parents hold the key to changing the education system.
Parents, unlike teachers, aren’t paid to do what they do. You don’t get paid to be a parent. As teachers we are hired to follow guidelines and curricular, often stipulated by governments and other formal institutions. Our jobs depends on us following and adhering to the goals and principles set by the status quo of the current establishment. This means, that even if we see fundamental flaws in the education system, there is little we can do about it because our very livelihoods are dependent on that same flawed system. As parents, your primary interest is the wellbeing and success of your child. You don’t get paid to be a parent and so within the boundaries of the laws of your country, you have the right to raise your child as you see fit.
Now – I know that many parents are worried about their children’s future and whether the education system is equipped to effectively educate their children to step into that future. I also know that many parents feel left out and unable to effectively direct their child’s education because so much is left up to schools to decide and most parents have very little time to acquaint themselves with what’s going on in school. What the media and politicians are sharing is often ambiguous and confusing as they in one moment talk about how advanced the education system has become and in the next, expose one troubling result after another showing how schools in many countries are failing even the basic task of teaching their students to read, write and do math. Because of the poor results, many countries are implementing reforms and taking measures into improving the academic performance of students. Students are therefore being tested like never before.
As a teacher spending every day in the education system, I observe and reflect on children’s experiences. I do that because I care, because education is my passion – because I would like to see an education system that truly supports children to grow into their full potential. I see that the current education system is in no way optimal. I see things happening in schools that I would never want my child to experience. But as a teacher there is little I can do about it, because my job is to stand by the status quo, that is what I am hired to do and the children are in an even more disadvantageous position as their voices doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things. They’re there because they have to be, whether they like it or not, whether it supports them to truly learn or not.
The people with the greatest power and ability to speak up and stand up to change the status quo of the current education system are parents. But most parents don’t know what’s really going on. Instead they put their faith and trust in the teachers to teach and in the politicians to effectively determine what principles and values that their children are being taught. But what do you as a parent actually know about the life your child live when they are in school? When you ask them how their day went or what they learned, what do they say?
Therefore, I would like to give you as a parent a glimpse into what your child may experience as they go to school on a daily basis. I’d like to give you a glimpse into what it is really like for a child to go to school in today’s society – so that you may start to see that what’s really happening within education is not what is best for your child. I would also like you to see that there is an alternative, that there is a solution, that this is not how it has to be and that learning and going to school could be so much more than what it is today.
But before we get to that, let’s us start with our thought-experiment:
The following is a story of a day in the life of a student of unspecified origin, age and gender. Some of the details may coincide with your child’s experiences, others may not. The story is based on my observations of the lives of – and conversations with children in today’s Western school system. As you read the story, I’d like you to imagine that you are this child, that these are your experiences – and to then ask yourself whether this is the kind of education you would want if you were a child today.
I’m snugged into my bed when my mom yells at me to wake up. I open my eyes and see that it is still dark outside. I tug the blanket over my head. My mom comes into my room, yanks the blanket off and says that I have to get up or I will be late for school. I drag myself out of bed. It is cold and my body feels tired. I can barely open my eyes. I put on my pants and suddenly remember that kid yesterday who teased me because my pants didn’t have the right cut. The right cut. I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I quickly pull the pants off and throw them in a corner. I yell at my mom and ask why she bought me these pants that aren’t even in style and that I want new pants. They have to be this brand, it’s important. She yells back from the kitchen that we’ll have to see if we have enough money at the end of the month. I sigh. It’s always about the money. I scavenge my closet for a pair of pants that can pass as acceptable. When I put them on I feel nervous and hope that no one notices the patch that my mom has sown on. It would be so embarrassing. I feel a knot forming in my stomach.
When I come into the kitchen, my mom is running around looking for her keys. With a stressed look in her eyes she tells me to quickly eat my breakfast so that I won’t miss the school buss. She’s frowning. I don’t feel hungry at all but I chuck down a bowl of cereal with milk as fast as I can while I watch TV. My stomach feels funny afterwards, but I feel more awake. I hear the school buss pull up and I run out, grab my backpack, and barely get to put my shoes on before I’m out the door. I can hear my mom yelling from the kitchen that I didn’t finish my breakfast. I run as fast as I can but still miss the buss. Now she’s going to be pissed. I come back to the house.
My mom is already standing outside the door with her car keys and a tight look on her face. She says that she has an important meeting today and that she can’t be late. We get into the car. None of us say anything on the way. Right when we pull up to the school she asks me if I remembered to do my biology homework. I feel the knot in the stomach again. I tell her I did, not to worry her or get into trouble… but I didn’t. I tried for half an hour, but I couldn’t understand the questions. The knot is there again, churning in my stomach.
I get out of the car and start walking up to the school. It is a towering grey building with tiny windows and a cemented yard. It looks intimidating and cold, like a prison. I think to myself: “why does school look like a prison?.” I hurry in through the door to not be late. The staircase is dirty and the wallpaper is crumbling off the walls. As I walk into the classroom the teacher looks at me with a sour look in his eyes. There are 35 students in the class and I wiggle my way down in-between the tables and chairs that barely fit into the small room. Someone throws a paper ball directly on my head. I turn around, unsure who is out to get me. I pretend like I didn’t feel it and sit down, feeling slightly paranoid whether I am now going to be targeted by one or more bullies in the class. The knot in my stomach churns.
The table I sit at is too small, too tall and the chair is cold and hard. My stomach already feels empty again and it starts rumbling. I’m afraid the other students will start laughing at me if they hear it, so I quench my stomach muscles to make it stop. While the teacher is talking I try to pay attention but it is so difficult. It is literally like the words are buzzing around my head like a swarm of mosquitos or a fog that surrounds my head, but its like I can’t tune into the right frequency and clearly hear and absorb the words.
Mechanically I write down what the teacher is saying and writing on the board. It is math. That much I know. The muffled sound of the teacher’s words feels oddly soothing and I start dozing off. I realize it when my head nods and I try to stay alert. The worst thing that could happen is if the teacher calls on me, so I am thankful that I am so far back in class. I hope he won’t notice me. When the bell rings I feel a sigh of relief. One lesson down of a day that feels like its going to last eternally.
All the students run out of the classroom pushing and shoving each other. The hallway fills up with children and a loud, almost unbearable cacophony of voices. The kids are bumping into each other, some start wrestling, and others take out their albums with soccer stars or stickers to trade with other kids. Someone starts crying. Everyone puts on their coats, some grab a soccer ball and we all walk out into the yard. The rules stipulate that the students must be outside during recess. Today I would much rather be snuggled up somewhere inside with a book. I long for the peace and quiet of my bedroom. In the yard, there’s not much to do. There are two broken hockey nets that the kids use for soccer. There’s a faded hopscotch patch that the girls don’t use anymore.
Mostly the kids just run around or walk around. It reminds me of one of those prison movies that I saw one night when my mom was sleeping. In the prison movie the inmates would walk around in the yard, play cool and tough and would make deals and break out fights with each other while the guards look the other way. It’s the same in our schoolyard, except that we are children and the guards are teachers. Someone is always getting picked on and I try my best to make sure I don’t get noticed so that I’m not next. Some girls are whispering about another girl that walks away crying. An older student knocks down a boy with funny looking legs that can’t walk straight. They laugh. I look away.
The noise is reaching its heights when the bell rings. I’m almost grateful the recess is over and I drag myself to yet another classroom, yet another lesson. One of the teachers is real nice and I like the lesson, but it is so short and many of the other students didn’t read the book we had for homework so we don’t get far. I try to talk to her about what happens next in the book cause I found it so interesting and I have a question I’ve been waiting to ask her since last week. But she hushes at me and instead goes over everything again so that the other students can keep up. It’s the third time I’ve heard it. I draw doodles on my book.
And so it continues until lunch. I go into the cafeteria that is again filled with the buzzing and deafening sound of voices. I feel starving now. At the cafeteria I look around to see who I can sit with, it’s like playing chess in my mind. If I sit with that girl, the other kids might think I like her, but she got bullied last year and I don’t want to be next. That kid used to be my friend but everyone hates him now so I’m not going to sit there. There’s that cool kid that everyone looks up to, but he’s such an asshole. Last time I sat next to him he stole half my lunch and I was hungry the rest of the day. So I sit alone.
The lunch is cold and soggy. After I’ve eaten it I feel a little fuller but its like the food doesn’t really fill me up. So I go to the vending machine. They put up these machines all over the schools with soda and candy. Then the soda and candy companies came and gave us some pens and other material. So I have a soda. Afterwards my teeth itch but I feel a little bit more awake.
After lunch we have a test. I can barely understand the questions and I can’t sit still. I keep looking up at the clock. Tick tock. It feels like the time is moving faster than normal. I try to concentrate on the questions on the test but the kids behind me keep talking and whispering. The letters on the test look all mushed together and I can’t focus. I guess and hope that I got enough right to pass. I count the time till the bell rings.
All I want to do is to go home to my nice cozy bed, play some computer games, watch some series and sleep. The bell rings. I take the buss home. When I come home my mom is again running around in the kitchen looking stressed. When we sit down to eat, she asks me how my day was. I say: “Fine”. I go to my room and close the door. I exhale.
This story might seem thought provoking, unrealistic even. Much of it might not resemble what your child experiences on a daily basis; some might be worse in real life, some might be better, but what I would like to show with this story is how the current education system is not an optimal learning environment for any child.
As I mentioned earlier, what I’ve realized as a teacher is that most parents know very little about what school is really like. Obviously all parents have gone to school themselves, so they do have some reference and probably remember much of what I’ve described here from their own experiences – and yet there is this hope and faith that the education system will effectively take care of their children, when in all honesty it will not.
Obviously as teachers we do what we can to provide your child with the best possible education, but at the end of the day we have no choice but to conform to the standards and conditions we are met with. We don’t have time to talk to your child individually. We don’t have time to even get to know your child enough to effectively teach them in a way that works best for them. I certainly wish we did. But we don’t decide how many students are to be jam-packed into one class. We don’t decide what curricular to teach. We don’t even decide what principles to teach according to. We’re given standardized tests to hand out to students because that’s what the current establishment sees as the best way to optimize the current education system, to get your children to achieve better… for the sake of the economy and the competition on the global market.
The question I would ask myself as a parent is: is that enough? Is that all I want for my child? Am I satisfied with that? Can I honestly say that the education I received as a child sufficiently prepared me to face life as an adult? What would an education system look like that truly prioritized the learning and wellbeing of my child?
To answer this question, in the next post, I’d like to invite you to join me in another thought experiment.
This time we will imagine what school would be like if the wellbeing and expansive potential of our children was a top priority in the education system. We will imagine what school would be like if the status quo of our society changed its governing principles from competition in the global economy to a system of mutual support, a system where each citizen is supported by society as a whole to thrive. We will imagine what happens to a child’s education when parents take active part in their learning process – and we will discuss how this has the potential to, not only change the life of each individual child, but in fact the world as we know it. So stay tuned.
If you are ready to get involved in a political and economic change of paradigms and thereby also a change of our education systems, I invite you to investigate the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System. This proposal suggests a groundbreaking change in political paradigms that doesn’t ‘take sides’ but instead presents a completely new approach to solving the problems we are currently facing in this world.
Re-Educate yourself here:
A couple of weeks ago I was part of the panel on a Live Google Hangout about the Common Core standards initiative. I definitely recommend watching it.
The Ultimate History Lesson with John Taylor Gatto:
PROPAGANDA | FULL ENGLISH VERSION (2012)
The Century of the Self
The Power Principle
Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century
The Story of Your Enslavement
Inequality for all documentary:
The Four Horsemen:
On Advertisement and the end of the world:
Third World America – Chris Hedges
More articles about parenting and education in a Guaranteed Living Income System:
Watch the hangout about Education for a New World in Order: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlj5wGCRnSU
In this post I discuss how class sizes are one of the biggest, yet most overlooked problems in the current education system – both when it comes to facilitating students academic achievement as well as nurturing their overall wellbeing and development on a personal level. The questions I raise in this post has to do with the priorities we make within the education system, and so for our children and ultimately for the future of humanity. They are questions I suggest that every parent, teacher and concerned citizen considers for themselves, because although it seems trivial, this is an example of the disintegration of our education systems through a hostile takeover by the corporate world, that we’ve come to take for granted as ‘the way it is’. But it doesn’t have to be.
I will begin by sharing recent experiences I had within teaching here in Sweden to exemplify how grave this problem is and how it can be seen having tragic consequences in the seemingly trivial events of our children’s daily lives.
Recently I was teaching a three-year old student in a preschool. While we were playing, he found a tiny Lego wheel on the floor and joyously said, “It belongs in the Lego box!” So together we walked out of the playroom and with determination he marched towards the Lego box in the other side of the room. Meanwhile, one of his regular teachers had heard that we were going to the Lego box and promptly stopped him in his tracks, telling him to go and clean up where he had played first. I saw that she had misunderstood his intentions and I explained to her that he was simply on his way to put the Lego piece back in the box. It was interesting because I could see that she was rather embarrassed over having gotten strict towards him in assuming that he was just leaving what he’d been playing with to now play with something else. The more important question is: what did the boy learn from this experience?
To see the consequence of this type of misalignment between the teacher and the student, let’s look at another example, this time with an older student that has already been conditioned through the education system for a number of years:
I was walking down the hall at another school with a teacher when a 6-year-old student came in from the outside. As soon as he saw the teacher, he quickly started explaining how he was just going to the bathroom and that he was not wearing his shoes indoors. Already before she had even opened her mouth, he was already preparing himself to get in trouble, assuming that he would get in trouble, even though what he was doing was perfectly fine. Situations like this happen all the time in schools all over the world, and as trivial as they seem, they have the consequence that many children become timid and afraid of adults, always feeling like they’ve done something wrong, even if they haven’t. This on the other hand creates distrust, resentment and a desire to rebel within the children, perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy where the children become that which the teachers expect them to be. And as adults, who do these children become? Followers or leaders? Strong, independent human beings that take responsibility for their own lives or apathetic, confused teenagers that never really grow up?
When teachers become snappy with students and when they make quick judgmental assumptions about children in general, it is not because these teachers are ‘bad’. What many outside the school system might not realize is that there are so many students and so much going on at one time that the teachers simply can’t see everything or direct every situation. Therefore they come to rely on assumptions about how children tend to act. This is not optimal, it is not even acceptable – but it is the education system and the conditions we have accepted for our children.
An example of how a teacher can be so overwhelmed that she compromises her ability to effectively teach, was a situation where I was waiting for a 1.grade student while standing in the class where the teacher was teaching the rest of the students. The students were moving around, making noise and there was a general sense of confusion. The teacher (who is new) stood in the doorway and she yelled at a student for walking out of class saying that he couldn’t do the assignment and that she could do it. She told him that it was disrespectful and that it is his own responsibility to learn. As he walked out the door, another student came up behind her with a timid look on his face holding a paper. He quietly asked what he was supposed to do and she brushed him off and told him to go back to his seat. This was significant to me, because the student had simply asked a question, but because the teacher was already involved with a conflict with another student, she took her irritation and frustration out on this student, who went back to his seat with a despondent look on his face. Mind you, these are 7 year olds we are talking about.
Now – what I would like to clarify is that none of these examples has to do with teachers being ‘bad teachers’. Granted, there are teachers who aren’t necessarily meant for the teaching-profession, but the reason why I share these examples is to show that one of the biggest problems for teachers today is that there are simply too many children in the classroom. It affects the teacher’s ability to teach effectively.
I have furthermore seen for myself how these seemingly small mistakes, where teachers make assumptions or rush to conclusions, can create big consequences for a child’s life and self-development, especially when they are repeated on a daily basis over and over again. And the bigger the class is, the more students the teachers have to oversee, the easier it is to make assumptions and ‘small mistakes’.
In my line of work I see many different schools throughout the week and in reflecting over which schools are more effective in their approach towards children, I’ve been surprised to see how it is not necessarily that certain schools have higher standards or better teachers, but simply that they are smaller. I for example go to a public school in a rural area that has the exact same budget and curriculum as any other public school. But a big difference is that it is about the third of the size of other schools. All the children know each other and they know all the teachers and the teachers know them. Unlike most schools, the school was built in 1997 and was designed by an architect. Most schools here in Sweden are either archaic buildings from the 60’s and 70’s that are drawing their last breaths or are designed ‘economically’ to hold large capacities of students. Classroom sizes may seem like a small detail that shouldn’t affect the actual learning environment, but it does – greatly so.
No teachers can effectively teach 20 or 30 students at once, let alone 50 or 60, as is the case in some countries. Furthermore, the younger the child is, the more supervision and support is needed and I would go as far as saying that any child’s optimal learning environment would be based on one-on-one lessons, at the very least no more than 5-10 students in the classroom. (This may sound controversial and for those interested in reading more about this, I wrote a blog post about this as well which you can find here.) Unfortunately most of us are so used to the cramped and smelly classrooms housing at least 30 students that we don’t even consider the possibility that it could be different, let alone that it should be different.
Some researchers claim, as for example the ones quoted in this article from The Economist, that classroom sizes doesn’t matter as much and that raising teachers salaries is a much more equitable way to optimize education. They used the example from primary schools in China where there can easily be up to 50 students in a class. The problem is that the supposed ’effectiveness’ of such classes is based on strict discipline and a model of teaching where children are expected to be passive recipients of rote learning and memorization techniques, models that may produce great results in grades, but that leaves very little room for the students self-expression, creativity and critical thinking skills to flourish. Other studies such as the one mentioned in this article claims that ‘teacher quality’ is more important than smaller classroom for students overall academic performance, but fails to consider that an education that does not only provide students with the best possible learning environment, but also supports them to grow and develop on a personal level, requires both the best teachers and smaller classrooms; one certainly should exclude the other. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking comes from an outlook on education that first and foremost looks at keeping budgets down while ensuring students academic performance.
In alignment with my direct experiences from working in schools, many studies does however accredit small class sizes to students academic achievement as well as to their overall wellbeing on a personal level. To show the overwhelming evidence of the importance of class sizes, I’ll refer you to a large selection of studies done in recent years showing exactly this.[i]
Anyone who has tried teaching or directing a class of more than 10 students knows what a challenge it is, and how difficult it is to make sure that each student is given individual attention to suit their needs. Instead teachers are forced to provide students with standardized lessons that is supposed to at least fulfill the academic needs of the majority of a class and it might teach most students how to read, write and do math at a basic level – but the question is how low a standard we will accept just to keep the budgets on education down? Simply because something works on a marginal level, it does certainly not mean that this is optimal – and as a society we ought to look ourselves deep in the mirror and ask why it is we’re not providing our children with the most optimal learning environment possible? Why are we accepting non-supportive learning environments as the norm and even more so: why do we believe that simply because it is the norm, it is automatically the most optimal? With smaller classes, optimally no more than 5 students pr. teacher, each child will be able to be supported on an individual level, which in turn will enable the teacher to assist the child to develop their full potential, based on their individual natural learning ability.
If we truly valued our children’s lives and with them, the future, wouldn’t we want to create the best possible learning environment? And how can we even pretend to answer that question with a solid ‘YES’ when we so blatantly accept our education system to be subject to a hostile takeover by the corporate system?
At the Equal Life Foundation we are proposing real long-term solutions, solutions that involve parents getting much more involved in their child’s education. We are also proposing solutions that will enable parents to take more active part in their child’s education, thereby relieving the pressure on the education system to live up to the task of raising and educating our children, a task that it is in no way equipped to handle. There is absolutely no reason why all children should not be given the best possible education available – and when the sole argument against this fact, is money, we know that there is something utterly wrong with the way we prioritize in this world. This is not a responsibility that solely falls upon the politicians to sort out. It is in fact the responsibility of all of us, because it is our future that is at stake, the future of our children, of this planet, and of life, as we know it. Get involved today, investigate the education system in your area, expose the denigration of the school-system and join us as we embark on this virgin-voyage to, for the first time in human history, create a life we can actually be proud of.
- [i] Zyngier, David. (2014). Class size and academic results, with a focus on children from culturally, linguistically and economically disenfranchised communities. Evidence Base, issue 1, 2014. In this research summary, the author examined class size reduction and its effect on student achievement by analyzing 112 peer-reviewed studies, and showed that the overwhelming majority of these studies found that smaller classes have a significant impact on student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap. The author writes, “Noticeably, of the papers included in this review, only three authors supported the notion that smaller class sizes did not produce better outcomes to justify the expenditure.”
- Schanzenbach, D. W. (2014). Does Class Size Matter? National Education Policy Center Policy Brief. “This policy brief summarizes the academic literature on the impact of class size and finds that class size is an important determinant of a variety of student outcomes, ranging from test scores to broader life outcomes. Smaller classes are particularly effective at raising achievement levels of low-income and minority children. Policymakers should carefully weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other potential uses of funds. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall.”
- Achilles, C. M., et al. (2012). Class-size Policy: The Star Experiment and Related Class-size Studies. NCPEA Policy Brief, 1.2. “A reanalysis of the Tennessee STAR experiment found that small classes (15-17 pupils) in kindergarten through third grade (K-3) provide short- and long-term benefits for students, teachers, and society at large….poor, minority, and male students reap extra benefits in terms of improved test outcomes, school engagement, and reduced grade retention and dropout rates.”
- Shin, Yongyun (2012). Do Black Children Benefit More From Small Classes? Multivariate Instrumental Variable Estimators With Ignorable Missing Data. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 37 (4). An analysis of experimental data from Tennessee’s Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio study show that, for Black students, reduced class size caused higher academic achievement in the four domains (reading, mathematics, listening, and word recognition skills) each year from kindergarten to third grade, while for other students, it improved the four outcomes except for first-grade listening in kindergarten and first grade only. Evidence shows that Black students benefit more than others from reduced class size in first-, second-, and third-grade academic achievement, substantially narrowing the achievement gap.
- Dynarski, S., Hyman, J., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2011). Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investment on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion. NBER Working Paper. “The study concludes that attending a small class increases the rate of college attendance, with the largest positive impact on black and poor students. Among those students with the lowest predicted probability of attending college, a small class increased rate of college attendance by 11 percentage points. Attending a small class also increases the probability of earning a college degree, and to shift students toward earning degrees in high-earning fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), business and economics.”
- Bascia, N. (2010). Reducing Class Size: What do we Know?. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Reviewed research base and analyzed statistical data collected by the Canadian Ministry of Education between 2003-04 and 2007-08. Involved field research in eight school districts, 24 schools, and 84 classrooms. Classroom observations were undertaken at each primary grade level, from K-3. All teachers were surveyed in each school. Parent surveys included representation from every school district in Ontario. “Nearly three-quarters of the primary teachers reported that the quality of their relationships with students had improved as a result of the smaller class size, and two-thirds said their students were more engaged in learning than before class size reduction…Many parents of children enrolled in smaller classes reported that their children appeared to be learning more and were more comfortable at school.”
- Heilig, J.V., Williams, A. & Jez, S.U. (2010). Input and student achievement: An analysis of Latina/o –serving urban elementary schools. Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) Journal, 48 -58. Examined readily available input variables in Texas Ed. databases in three of the four largest TX districts (Houston, Dallas and Austin) in 419 schools that are majority Latina/o over 4 years (2005-2008). Evaluated variables such as school funding expenditures, tests scores, ethnicity, and teacher certiﬁcation, teacher-student ratio and degree obtainment to identify any impact on student achievement in urban elementary schools. “Most powerful predictor of changes in reading and math in all models was decreasing the student teacher ratio…. Essentially, decreasing the student teacher ratio by 1 percentage point would increase the percentage of students proﬁcient on the TAKS by 3% for reading and by 4% for math (p54).”
- Jepsen, C., & Rivkin, S. (2009). Potential Tradeoff between Teacher Quality and Class Size. Journal of Human Resources, 44.1. This paper investigates the effects of California’s billion-dollar class-size-reduction program on student achievement;….”[T]here is little or no support for the hypotheses that the need to hire large numbers of teachers following the adoption of CSR [class-size reduction] led to a lasting reduction in the quality of instruction,” according to the study. “Overall, the findings suggest that CSR increased achievement in the early grades for all demographic groups….”
- Konstantopoulos, S., & Chun, V. (2009). What Are the Long-Term Effects of Small Classes on the Achievement Gap? Evidence from the Lasting Benefits Study,” American Journal of Education 116. A summary of the effects of smaller classes on the achievement gap through eighth grade. Effects significant in all tested subjects, and for those in smaller classes for four years, very substantial. “The results … provided convincing evidence that all types of students (e.g., low, medium, and high achievers) benefit from being in small classes (in early grades) across all achievement tests…. in certain grades, in reading and science, the cumulative effects of small classes for low achievers are substantial in magnitude and significantly different from those for high achievers. Thus, class size reduction appears to be an intervention that increases the achievement levels for all students while simultaneously reducing the achievement gap.”
- Babcock, P., & Betts, J.R. (2009). Reduced Class Distinctions: Effort, Ability, and The Education Production Function. Journal of Urban Economics, Vol. 65, pp. 314–322. Empirical findings indicate that class-size expansion may reduce gains for low-effort students more than for high-effort students, Results here…suggest …that larger gains for disadvantaged students may have occurred because small classes allow teachers to incentivize disengaged students more effectively, or because students are better able connect to the school setting in small classes.
- King, J. (2008). Bridging the Achievement Gap: Learning from three charter schools (part 1), (part 2), (part 3), (part 4). Columbia University (Doctoral Dissertation). “School size and class size are linked to the five key cultural values ….: a culture that teaches effort yields success; a culture of high expectations; a disciplined culture; a culture built on relationships; and a culture of excellence in teaching. Small classes and small overall student loads allow teachers to spend more time working with individual students to help them track their own progress and develop their skills – thus reinforcing the principle that effort yields success. High expectations are easier to maintain when teachers know their students well (because of small school and class size), can identify whether a student’s poor performance on an assessment reflects deficiencies in their effort or their understanding, and can respond accordingly.”
- Lubienski, S. T., et.al. (2008). Achievement Differences and School Type: The Role of School Climate, Teacher Certification, and Instruction. American Journal of Education, 115. Multilevel analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics data for over 270,000 fourth and eighth graders in over 10,000 schools finds that smaller class size is significantly correlated with higher achievement.
- Magnuson, K.A., Ruhm, C. & Waldfogel, J. (2007). The persistence of preschool effects: Do subsequent classroom experiences matter? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22(1), 18 – 38. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K), it has been demonstrated that children who attended preschool enter public schools with higher levels of academic skills than their peers who experienced other types of child care. This study considered … the types of classrooms in which students who did not attend preschool “catch up” to their counterparts who did. The findings suggested that most of the preschool-related gap in academic skills at school entry is quickly eliminated for children placed in small classrooms and classrooms providing high levels of reading instruction. Conversely, the initial disparities persisted for children experiencing large classes and lower levels of reading instruction.
- Ready, D. D., & Lee, V. E. (2006/7). Optimal Context Size in Elementary Schools: Disentangling the Effects of Class Size and School Size. Brookings Papers on Education Policy, pp. 99-135. Study finds that class size rather than school size makes a positive difference, and suggests that “if children remained in the same elementary school for five or six years … differences would be very substantial: a roughly 10-point advantage for children in small over large classes by the end of sixth grade, or 4.5 months of additional learning.”
- Unlu, F. (2005). California Class Size Reduction Reform: New Findings from the NAEP. Princeton University. Study found that California’s fourth grade students who were in reduced class sizes in grades K-3 had substantially higher scores in math on the national assessments (NAEPs), of between 0.2 and 0.3 of a standard deviation, compared to closely matched students who were not in smaller classes.
- Finn, J. D., et. al. (2005). Small Classes in the Early Grades, Academic Achievement, and Graduating From High School. Journal of Educational Psychology. “For all students combined, 4 years of a small class in K–3 were associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of graduating from high school; the odds of graduating after having attended small classes for 4 years were increased by about 80.0%. Furthermore, the impact of attending a small class was especially noteworthy for students from low-income homes. Three years or more of small classes affected the graduation rates of low-SES students, increasing the odds of graduating by about 67.0% for 3 years and more than doubling the odds for 4 years.”
- Dee, T. (2004). Teachers, Race, and Student Achievement in a Randomized Experiment. Review of Economics and Statistics. Study showing that student/teacher racial differences appear to negatively effect student achievement in regular size classes. Yet in small classes, students learn more, and racial disparity between teacher and student has no significant effect.
- Barton, P. (2003). Parsing the Achievement Gap. Educational Testing Service. Despite the fact that class size reduction has been shown to narrow the achievement gap, this study reveals that schools with large numbers of black and/or limited English students are more likely to have classes of 25 or more.
- Institute of Education Sciences. (2003). Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide. U.S. Department of Education. Class size reduction identified as one of four K-12 education reforms proven to increase learning.
- Krueger, A. B., & Whitmore, D. M. (2002). Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap? from: Bridging the Achievement Gap, Brookings Institution Press. “Our analysis of the STAR experiment indicates that students who attend smaller classes in the early grades tend to have higher test scores while they are enrolled in those grades than their counterparts who attend larger classes….Moreover, black students tend to advance further… from attending a small class than do white students, both while they are in a small class and afterwards. For black students, we also find that being assigned to a small class for an average of two years in grade K – 3 is associated with an increased probability of subsequently taking the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, and 0.15-.20 standard deviation higher average score on the exam.”
- Fidler, P., Phd. (2002). The Impact of class size reduction on student achievement. Los Angeles Unified School District, Publication No. 109. “The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of class size reduction (CSR) on achievement among 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students with different numbers of years of participation in CSR…. We believe that CSR will help to increase student achievement, especially for students who need it the most: low SES students, limited English-speaking students, and those students in inner-city schools…. It can be concluded from the results of this study that CSR does help to increase language achievement gains, especially for ELL students.”
- Biddle, B., & Berliner, D. (2002). What Research Says About Small Classes and Their Effects.Wested. “When it is planned thoughtfully and funded adequately, long-term exposure to small classes in the early grades generates substantial advantages for students in American schools, and those extra gains are greater the longer students are exposed to those classes.”
- U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. (2000). School-Level Correlates of Academic Achievement: Student Assessment Scores in SASS Public Schools. NCES 2000-303, by Donald McLaughlin and Gili Drori. Project Officer: Michael Ross. Washington DC. The most authoritative study showing the importance of class size is in all grades, analyzing the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools, as measured by performance on the NAEP (national) exams. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be positively correlated with student performance was class size, not school size, not teacher qualifications, nor any other variable that the researchers could identify. Student achievement was even more strongly linked to smaller classes in the upper rather than the lower grades.
- Grissmer, D., et. al. (2000). Improving Student Achievement: What State NAEP Test Scores Tell Us. RAND. “States with higher per-pupil spending, lower class sizes and more pre-K have higher achievement levels. Disadvantaged children are the most likely to gain benefits from such programs.”
- Pritchard, I. (1999). Reducing class size: What do we know? U.S. Department of Education. A comprehensive and wide-scale analysis of CSR analyses, experimental studies and state initiatives. “Researchers have used various techniques to study how class size affects the quality of education.… Overall, however, the pattern of research findings points more and more clearly toward the beneficial effects of reducing class size.
- Bracey, G. (1999) Distortion and Disinformation about Class Size Reduction. EDDRA. Critique of Hanushek’s analyses of class size reduction.
- Cromwell, S. (1998). Are smaller Classes the Answer? Education World. Thorough analysis of contemporary research articles evincing the benefits of smaller class sizes.
- Achilles, C. M. (1997). Small Classes, Big Possibilities. The School Administrator. “Perhaps the idea of small classes for students in the early grades is so commonsensical today that educators don’t consider it a challenge. Yet education’s leaders must look beyond the surface variables to understand the systemic, domino-effect possibilities of class-size changes.”
- NCTE: National Council of Teachers of English. (1996). Statement on Class Size and Teacher Workload: Elementary. Guideline for NCTE’s position on educational issues is in strong support of smaller class sizes, complete with facts and challenges. All of the major professional organizations in the field of composition recommend course sizes of no more than twenty students for K-1, based on the literature on class size and writing.
- Mosteller, F. (1995).The Tennessee Study of class size in the early school grades. (1995). The Future of Children, 5.2. Formidable results from the historic large-scale experiment for early grades, Project STAR. “After four years, it was clear that smaller classes did produce substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies and that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children….”
- AEU Fact Sheet Number 1. (1995).Class sizes do matter. Australian Education Union. Fact sheet with evidence from class size research projects and reading list for the general public.
- Boozer, M., & Rouse, C. (1995). Intraschool variation in class size: patterns and implications. NBER Working Paper, No.5144. “We find that not only are blacks in schools with larger average class sizes, but they are also in larger classes within schools, conditional on class type…it appears that smaller classes at the eighth grade lead to larger test score gains from eighth to tenth grade and that differences in class size can explain approximately 15% of the black-white difference in educational achievement.” – Source: http://www.classsizematters.org/research-and-links/