|Fort Slocum (now fully demolished) from the Structural Descent Blog|
The Drool Room(2007) River Foyle Press
We so rarely acknowledge this need in schools. In fact, we fight daily against this. Our students - especially secondary students, go through the day without any personal space or time. It is an abusive, continually challenging environment which forces students to adopt the worst of self-defense mechanisms - from bullying, to gang membership, to surly disassociation from all those around. It robs students of the psychological space in which to think, to add knowledge to a framework in a personally effective way. Our students end up acting exactly as caged rats - with lizard brains locked in survival mode - they simply fight or please their captors, rather than having time or opportunity for higher learning.
This is why, when I ask people to "re-think learning spaces" I rarely suggest that they think about "schools" at all. Our notion of "school" is a trap. It presupposes a certain concept of spatial and societal organization which interferes profoundly with our expressed desires for education.
|The Long Meadow, by Frederick Law Olmsted, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY|
|Outside the Brooklyn Public Library, Main Branch [photo cc: Ira Socol]|
|JP's coffee, prime hangout, Holland, MI|
Make sure your classroom has various kinds of furniture, various kinds of lighting, various kinds of noise control. Make sure your school offers kids options in terms of space wherever they are. Booths, high tables, benches, in the cafeteria. Carpeted floor areas to hang out on. Umbrella tables outside and in offering a tiny sense of enclosure. Make sure those spaces offer choices - calm, interactive, private, voyeuristic, loud, quiet, and make sure creation tools - from wireless access to drawing spaces are available. We want students to have the option of personal learning time or an environment with contagious creativity.
This means being less paranoid. It means less pretending that somehow your school security systems will see all. They won't. They don't. Right now they miss the bullying going on by the lockers - hall or gym. They miss the sex acts in the back stairwell too. They miss the casual cruelty of the crowded corridors during your 4 minute time between classes. But your attempts at security do make your students' lives miserable. So just calm down.
|Seattle Public Library|
When I sat in that park - in a place as comfortable for me as any I have ever known - I was breaking all "the rules," but I was not away from education. There, certain parts of my brain relaxed in important ways, and the world came into a certain kind of focus. I sat on fossil-pocked boulders hacked up and flipped by the movement of great glaciers. Tidal pools with life's beginnings glistened at my feet. The inexorable reach of salt water stretched to the east and west. Airplanes began their descent toward LaGuardia. Wind pulled some boats along while others moved with throbbing motors. A Civil War-era fort marked one horizon, speaking of a time when distances were much greater and, perhaps, war much closer.
All kinds of things I had heard in disconnected trivial segments from "teachers" came together in a place I might both learn, and find questions.
Why couldn't school offer me that?
- Ira Socol