Our school system today has its basis in the world of agriculture, industrialism, and academia. However, in today’s world, 2% of the US population is involved in agriculture, less than 3.5% in manufacturing, and .004% of the population is in academia...so why are we still locked into the same school structure?
According to NPR, the modern school system was based on an “agrarian calendar that dates back to farm cycles and harvests.” A summer break was necessary for harvesting crops, and the school day, with its early start time and relatively early end time, was established based on when the work needed to be done at the farm.
In other areas of the country, the school schedule was set based on the fact that school buildings didn't have air conditioning, so attending school in the late afternoon heat or during the summer was not conducive to learning. Additionally, wealthy families would leave warmer climates during the summer and seek cooler weather, so the calendar needed to accommodate that.
By the late 19th century (so, over 100 years ago), reformers pushed for the standardization of the school calendar across all areas, so a compromise was struck which resulted in the modern school calendar.
Our traditional disciplinary subjects were set by a group of higher education academics (called the Committee of Ten) who, in 1893 (again, over 100 years ago) decided that all students should receive a strong liberal arts education. Their goal was to ensure uniform education, regardless of background, academic aptitude, or socio-economic background while preparing everyone for a traditional four year college, whether or not that was the best path for the individual. Under the leadership of Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard, the committee advocated for education to be the exact same for every student.
As for the structure of the day, that was influenced by industrialism (again, over 100 years ago). With many students headed into factory work at the end of their school, the economy needed uniform workers. This can be seen today in the physical structure of schools (students sitting neatly in rows, posters talking about the beauty of acting in an industrious ways, fluorescent light bulbs), the activity in schools (students following a strict schedule, lining up to go from activity to activity, working on similar activities while being directed by a manager), and the product at school (students’ submitting similar assignments and being assessed from a universal standpoint).
Today’s world isn’t the world of 100 years ago, however, and it changes drastically at such a quick pace that it’s hard to keep up with it sometimes.
Learning isn’t uniform for every student, based on a factory model. Learning is chaotic and embraces play and is self-directed and involves freedom. Our students aren’t working the farm in their free time and preparing for a life in the factory. Students are each unique and need an education system that recognizes that.
Sir Kenneth Robinson, in his TED talk about changing education paradigms, points to how different the world that created our education system was from where we are today. He connects the rise in ADHD to the focus on standardized testing and points to how an education system that was designed for the needs of society 100 years ago just isn’t what we need today. We don’t need to cultivate a production line mentality; we need to cultivate thinkers and problem solvers.
At Einstein Academy, we are so excited to be a school for the 21st century being designed today for the world of tomorrow. We are excited to provide individualized learning programs for students so that they can learn and grow best. We are excited to engage students in problems that matter and in learning that is relevant and authentic to students’ lives in order to engage them and prepare them to be change-makers and leaders in their world. We are excited to be part of shifting the educational paradigm so that more students can receive the education they need and deserve -- an education for today and the future.