I had cause this morning to drop by the primary school where my wife teaches, to drop off some goods she bought yesterday. She showed me where they’re planning to do some internal building works to change the way the different age groups use the space. Better linking and more sharing of the spaces used for the early years; more enclosure for the older ones.
There’s a gradual and deliberate transition as the children progress through the school from informal, open areas where the teachers move freely amongst small groups of children engaged in different activities, to a formal class setting where the children sit in rows at desks and the teacher stands at the front and, well, teaches.
In secondary schools, things are even more regimented.
Its fascinating how thoughts feed off each other. Having read yesterday about the contrast between formal and informal structures, and the power of accidental conversations, I was struck by the way in which the education system in this country conditions and prepares students for the traditional hierarchical structures of old-world organisations. The very environment subtly implants expectations of formality, authority, conformity, and reinforces straight-jacketed thinking.
My wife teaches the youngest children, about age 3+ to 5, called the Foundation Stage in the UK. Her goal has always been to develop independent learners, yet she finds that all of that independence and natural creativity gets squashed as the children “progress” through the school, by the top-down demands generated by centralised educational planning. This at a time when organisations are just waking up to the idea that creativity is one of the most valuable, and least common, of all human assets.
This isn’t meant to be a rant against the education system; the problem goes deeper than that. It’s the wider social and organisational norms which underpin education that have resulted in this structure.
The system is self-sustaining. Future organisational leaders and followers; future teachers, school architects, educationalists; all learn at school the absolute authority, both hierarchically and intellectually, of those in charge; the invalidity of conversations that fall outside of formal organisational structures; the need for tangible, often physical, frameworks to reinforce formality.
Is it any wonder that old-world systems live on long past their sell-by date, when the structures are embedded in our psyche at such an early age?