Our Current System
Our current system of five days a week, six to seven hours a day ignores a basic truth: teenagers crave independence. Federal mandates, state laws, State Board of Education rules and standards, and local school district policies all combine to remove choices from teenage students.
Many students have stopped attending school. Rising absenteeism and outright dropout rates concern many officials. They are an indication that teenagers want something different.
Recently, EdChoice did a survey of teenage students. They found that over half of them would prefer a school week that was fewer than five days a week.
So, if this isn’t the right path, what is?
One high school principal I know indicated that he would love to change the way that we do school. He thinks that teenagers, with parents, should be in charge of the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
Time, Place, Pace, and Path
Choice in when to learn: Not all teenagers are morning people. Yet most of them must wake up by 6 a.m. to be able to leave by 7 a.m. to get to school by 7:15 a.m. That is a schedule for someone who thrives in the morning. There have been numerous studies that high school should start later in the day, because teenagers need more sleep. Allowing students to choose when to learn could be the solution.
Choice in where to learn: Is the classroom the best place to learn? That probably depends on the topic, right? Some learning could happen in the classroom, but sometimes it might be better to learn outside. In fact, some new models of learning are based upon this fact. Students spend 80 to 90 percent of their time outside in these models. And it is very helpful for students with autism or ADD.
In addition, some students are taking classes of interest outside of the school system. Classes like dance, music, coding, creative writing groups, and many others should “count” as learning in our school system.
Choice in how fast to learn: Some students need more time on a subject to really understand, while others need less time. And who those students are can change from subject to subject. Sometimes, students and adults want more time on a topic because they are interested. But regular bell schedules can artificially end those beautiful learning moments that students are having.
Choice in what to learn: We all have different abilities and aptitudes. It is far easier to dive deep into a subject that we love than one that we hate. This specialization can and should be encouraged. We need people who are great scientists, great authors, great artists, and great musicians. This can happen if we allow for choice in what to learn.
Teenagers want to study something meaningful. But what is meaningful to one is boring to another. We can change the way school looks for teenagers, but it requires us to trust parents and to trust students in deciding what, where, when, and how fast to learn.