2013-07-07 – Think about cave people. Can you imagine cave people rounding up 30 11-year-olds and forcing them to sit in rows for six hours a day with only one adult present? Can you imagine them doing it with 24 11-year olds?
No. It’s not about class size. It’s the absurd idea that education is best accomplished in rows and rows of like-age kids. Equal age doesn’t mean that kids are equally prepared to learn. This is not how cave people did it. They taught their kids amidst their own work. They taught them in fields. They taught them one or two at a time. They taught them young and old together. And it worked. They knew what they were doing.
Then along came the industrial revolution. Suddenly parents lacked the skills or contacts necessary to get their kids trained for work. So they outsourced it. They took it on faith that a new profession of teachers would do what was needed.
And, of course, the teachers did reasonably well, given that they had the same inborn teaching skills that any parent has (we teach them to walk and talk and ride a bike, after all). But sitting cohorts of kids at row after row of desk just made it harder.
Outsourcing your kid’s education wasn’t as good an idea as everyone thought. Not only was it impossible to structure lessons that matched the readiness level of even half a class, but segregating kids by age created social problems. Rather than leadership coming with age—older kids leading younger—a new type of leader emerged: the bully. Yeah, I know this oversimplifies, but the point is that the social environment in a classroom is totally artificial and has many negatives. Conflict among kids is often fostered rather than cooperation.
Is there a way out? Our society is not structured to make a return to cave life likely. You and I are not soon going to be taking our kids to work with us every day. And even if we did, the pace of work is such that we’re not going to be doing too much teaching on the job. But it’s an interesting thing to think about.
A modern version of a one-room schoolhouse might be a good alternative.