Long below there was a Department of Education, there was the one-room school house. According to the book: Why School – Reclaiming Education for All of Us, by Mike Rose:
The one-room school typically included first through eighth grade; ages and attendance varied widely, and class size ranged from half a dozen to forty or more. For all their variety, and given the minimal centralized regulation, – they epitomized local control – they were surprisingly uniform in their organization (young children in front, older in back), pedagogy (heavy on memorization, drill and recitation), and curriculum: reading, writing (grammar, spelling, penmanship, arithmetic, U.S. history, physiology, geography).
What is interesting to me is how similar these schools were even though they were not centralized or regulated in any way. That should tell us, intuitively, that these schools taught what was truly needed. Have we gotten away from the common sense purpose of school? What is it that students really need to know? According to Mike Rose, education is “what the culture deems important enough to support and organize.”
But who is the culture in this regard? It consists of the people in the community. These are the people who will directly utilize the services — the learning — done in the schools, so they should be the ones to determine what is taught and learned. And that, I believe, is why a country-wide standardized learning curriculum can be detrimental to the culture at large.
The quote noted that schools were uniform from the first though the eighth grade. Isn’t that really what we all believe all schools should be like. They should deliver the same basic knowledge and skills to all children. This seems like standardization but it’s really common sense. All citizens in a country need to have the knowledge and skills that are important for living successfully in that country. However, there are also different ages within one classroom. There are no grade levels, just differently aged students learning at their own level and at their own pace. A teacher is there to guide and monitor their progress, which consisted mostly of drill and practice.
What happens after grade 8? Does school continue? Usually the learning transforms to on-the-job learning. What can be gained from this fact? It is that students are capable of determining what is best for them at that point — age 15-16, or late adolescence. And they should have a choice, a choice about how they want to continue their education. What about ending school after Sophomore year — it would eliminate the drop-out rate — and then letting students determine how they can learn best. Maybe they can learn best through an apprenticeship, rather than a typical school.
And what about the notion of the one-room school? Certainly it could be done through computerized learning. One teacher could monitor the work of all students proceeding at their own pace through an individualized program. What’s old could be new again. Common sense led to the formation of the one-room school house so it could best support the people who lived in the community. We could do it again, if we regain local control and let the people in the community decide what is important.