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The Iridescent Classroom

Most school curricula are based on a set of assumptions which the experimental program rejects. For example, most school programs assume (1) that knowledge is best presented and comprehended when organized into "subjects," (2) that there are "major" subjects and "minor" ones, (3) that subjects are things you "take" and that once you have "had" them, you need not take them again, (4) that most subjects have a specific "content," (5) that the content of these subjects is more or less stable, (6) that a major function of the teacher is to "transmit" this content, (7) that the practical place to do this is in a room within a centrally located building, (8) that students learn best in 45-minute periods which are held five times a week, (9) that students are functioning well (i.e. learning) when they are listening to their teacher, reading their texts, doing their assignments, and otherwise "paying attention" to the content being transmitted, and (10) that all of this must go on as a preparation for life.

This memorandum is not the forum for a serious and thorough critique of these assumptions. Hopefully, it is sufficient to say that contemporary educational philosophy disputes most of them, in part or whole, and that few teachers would deny the merit of experimenting with programs based on an entirely different set of beliefs.

The following quotation from Walden expresses compactly the major beliefs which generate the form of the new program:

"Students should not play life, or study it merely while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?"

In other words, we are assuming (1) that learning takes place best not when conceived as a preparation for life but when it occurs in the context of actually living, (2) that each learner ultimately must organize his own learning in his own way, (3) that "problems" and personal interests as well as "subjects" form a realistic structure by which to organize learning experiences, (4) that students are capable of directly and authentically participating in the intellectual and social life of their community, (5) that they should do so, and (6) that the community badly needs them.

This set of beliefs is sometimes referred to as the "judo" principle of education. Instead of trying to forestall, resist, or neutralize the natural curiosity intelligence, energy, and idealism of youth, one uses it in a context which permits both them and their community to change. Thus, the experimental program reduces the reliance on classrooms and school buildings; it transforms the relevant problems of the community and the special interests of individual students into the students' "curriculum"; it looks toward the creation of a sense of community in both The Program, students and adults.

- Alan Shapiro, Neil Postman, Charlie Weingartner 1970

Choice in Action (Writing Assignment)

So let me make this the number one idea behind a "good IEP": Start by describing all the things the student is good at. Because, as I said in the "Twitter-portion" of the great KIPP debate - (a) "I have never met a kid who couldn't do a million amazing things," and (b) "Start telling me what kids can do, not what they can't."
- What a good IEP Looks Like

I sometimes put this in microeconomic terms. Attending school, just "paying attention" in school, has an opportunity cost for kids. If what we offer is not perceived as having sufficient value to them, they will either not show up - if their community culture tolerates that - or they will mentally 'check out' and drift through the school day - investing in other thoughts - until they can leave.

- Schools that Matter

You'll never get it if you don't slow down my friend