The Best School: A Student’s Perspective

WBEZ radio in Chicago wondered what a “high quality education” means to students themselves. They asked asked students to:

Imagine the best school in the world. Describe what it would be like. How does that compare with the school you go to or went to?

Da Vinci Waldorf (formerly Water’s Edge Waldorf) alum Olivia Love-Hatlestad offered her perspective:

I attended a small private school for ten years, by the name of Water’s Edge Waldorf School. The classes were small, with the same teachers every year. We had a snack time and a lunch time, two recesses, Spanish, German, woodworking, painting, handwork, language arts, hands-on science and practical math. Every morning our teachers shook our hands and asked us how we were. They cared about us, and made the consistent effort to connect with and understand us. We not only learned the (what I now realize is invaluable) skill of engaging in conversation with an adult, but we developed deeply respectful relationships with our teachers. We were inspired to strive for excellence not by the pressure put on a grade, but by the desire to please these mentors to whom we looked up so earnestly. Every day as a child, I’d come home from school, and my father would ask me, “What did you learn today that you didn’t know this morning?” And every day, for ten years, I could tell him something different. I was as eager to relay the information as I was to learn it. I loved school. I loved learning.

I didn’t realize how rare a quality that was until I went to high school and entered a world of total apathy. A world of standardized tests, worksheets, and a mass of people who literally couldn’t care less about any of it. A system of education making teachers obsolete by pushing independent projects, independent reading, and packets to be done (wait for it) independently. Ask any random public school student what they learned on an average day of school, and they will tell you: nothing. Nothing is being taught in public school. Facts are drilled, not taught, memorized, not learned. Posters on the walls of every classroom scream “BE YOURSELF,” “DIFFERENT IS GOOD,” and yet every student is force-fed the same material in the same dry, loveless way. Where in all these fill-in-the-blank worksheets and assigned textbook readings is there wiggle room for individuality? How can we be ourselves if we’re being drilled in droves to be basically indistinguishable? Millions of colorfully unique children should not be taught in an identical way, let alone expected to perform with equal aptitude. It would seem that the goal is no longer to build a brighter generation, but to breed instead a population of brainwashed, mindless yes-men.

In the best school in the world, creative opportunity is present in every class, so the students can take pride in their work and have the freedom to create something truly uniquely beautiful. There is hands-on study in things like science, as well as relevant, relatable science classes.

Math is taught not for blind memorization, but for actual comprehension, exercising critical thinking skills. There is outdoor time at least once a day, as well as an additional 30 minute break in the early morning, because not only is it scientifically proven to stimulate neurological function, it just makes good sense! Lectures are delivered with context, opportunity for questions, by a teacher who in turn asks the students about said topic, so as to ensure that they not only know, but understand and can discuss it. Teachers make an effort to connect with their students, so they can better understand their weaknesses/strengths.

Educators are given the freedom to do just that, unencumbered by the ties of a government-set standard and curriculum. There is study of other cultures in multiple classes, drawing parallels between them. Religion is not pushed, but multiple religions are studied, so that students may better understand the world as a whole. There are a wide range of subjects, all required, so that each student can discover his/her passion, and pursue it. No one feels talentless or worthless, because differences are not only celebrated, they are nurtured.

This school is not a pipe dream. It is not some unachievable fantasy. It exists. School has become demonized as this thing we all hate and suffer through because we have to, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can save the world by putting a stop to the breeding of quietly dispassionate conformists, and allowing humanity to embrace its natural diversity. We can really educate, and raise people who care about what’s happening in the world, and why. If there is to be any real hope for humanity, schools must stop being so concerned with teaching “what,” and remember how to teach “why.”