“We learned how to learn, we learned how to teach, and we learned how to work.”
A New York Times op-ed piece by Susan Engel entitled “Let Kids Rule the School,” profiles a recent school-within-a-school project independently designed and run by eight high school students, called the Independent Project:
We want young people to become independent and capable, yet we structure their days to the minute and give them few opportunities to do anything but answer multiple-choice questions, follow instructions and memorize information. We cast social interaction as an impediment to learning, yet all evidence points to the huge role it plays in their psychological development.
That’s why we need to rethink the very nature of high school itself.
I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school. They represented the usual range: two were close to dropping out before they started the project, while others were honors students. They named their school the Independent Project.
Their guidance counselor was their adviser, consulting with them when the group flagged in energy or encountered an obstacle. Though they sought advice from English, math and science teachers, they were responsible for monitoring one another’s work and giving one another feedback. There were no grades, but at the end of the semester, the students wrote evaluations of their classmates.
The students who created the Independent Project also created a film about the experience, and a blog with video posts documenting their “individual endeavors” and their “collective endeavor”:
From a member of the school staff: “So often, in this school and in others schools, I see kids who look like they’re being, sort of, passed through the system. I have to get to this period, I hear this bell, now someone put out this work for me to do, I’m going to get through this, so they’re getting through–oh, I’m not talking about kids who are dropping out even or rebelling–but even successful kids are sort of being pushed along a conveyer belt. And what I see when I’m looking at the Independent Project are kids who are moving themselves into and out of experiences.”
From one of the Independent Project students: “Three weeks into the Independent Project, this thirst for knowledge has come up. And it’s, it’s just simply, I notice in my train of thought, like a subject comes up that I don’t know about, instead of glossing over that and going onto something else, I actually, I truly find myself wondering: what is that about? I could learn about that. And in that way, you’re finding questions in everything.”