Having been involved in schools for many years now, I came to wonder what they were actually for. Compulsory schooling is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of people on this planet. Mozart, for example never went to school, yet his achievements were incredible. So the idea that you have to be in school in order to learn seems redundant. People do learn things in school, don’t get me wrong; but they also learn things everywhere else too.
If I think back to my time at school and the time since I was at school for thirteen years of my life, I can say with confidence that since then I have learned much more about the world around me and how to navigate through it than during my time of being a servant to the system. Thirteen years of being told what I had to learn and how I had to learn it. Thirteen years of counting down the days to Saturday or the next vacation where I could (after completing my homework) be free to explore, climb, read about something that interested me or play.
We often hear parents say to their children when they come home from school, “What did you learn today?” This seems like a perfectly legitimate question, but one that you rarely hear from a parent on a Saturday after their child has been with friends playing for the day. The question reverts to, “What did you do today?” – a distinction which implies “learning” takes place at school and “doing” takes place outside school. People can choose to learn everyday wherever they are and whatever they are engaged in.
So, you might ask, what are schools for? Why do I spend my days within a community of children and adult learners called Glacier Lake School? The answer is that our school is different from the mainstream. We, like many other schools similar to us, trust children to decide for themselves what they choose to do each day. The curriculum for each child is only limited by their own imagination; their passion for learning is natural, organic and personal. Studies and analysis of children who are given the freedom to pursue what is important for them show that 90-100% of them enter adulthood going to the college of their choice and the others pursue careers and experiences that they choose. They leave school happy and eager to continue learning throughout their lives.
So, next time you find yourself saying to a child, “What did you learn today?” when you pick them up from school, think about what your answer would be if they asked you the same question, “Mom/Dad, what did you learn today?”
Ben Kestner November 2015