The Dimensions of Many PathsJanuary 18th, 2009 at 15:23
What I have gotten paid to do over the past fifteen years is to be a “systems analyst”, a job that involves understanding all the component parts that make a business process and/or the information systems (generally computer networks) that support that business process work, and given that, how to improve and enhance those processes and underlying systems. One of the techniques of this trade is to define things in terms of categories, some time-honored and used repeatedly others invented one-time to address a particularly unique situation. So applying this technique to looking at schools, I attempt to define a category “school type”.
From my reading, discussion, and personal experience, I characterize at least three profoundly different types of schools. I generally refer to these types as…
1. Instructional – like conventional public schools
2. Holistic – including Montessori, Waldorf and schools based on the educational principles of John Dewey
3. Liberty-based – including democratic/free schools like Sudbury Valley
I would guess that at least 99 percent of public schools in our country are Instructional, and an overwhelming majority of private schools are as well. What happens in the learning environment of these schools is generally decided by administrators – school-based administrators in a single private school, district- or state-based in a public school. The instruction is generally compartmentalized into discrete academic “subjects”, at a minimum – English, social studies, math and science – and hopefully others – art, physical education, foreign language – to name a few.
Maybe one out of a hundred public schools and a larger but still small percentage of private schools are Holistic. Unlike Instructional schools, what happens in the learning environment is generally decided by teachers, who are specifically trained to teach based on a pedagogy generally originated by the charismatic founder of that particular holistic methodology. Maria Montessori was a worldwide education star. Rudolf Steiner, the Waldorf school founder, was considered by many a genius. John Dewey is often cited as one of the great American minds of the 20th Century. Unlike Instructional schools, the knowledge areas are not compartmentalized but rather woven together into a complex whole that is believed to be more than the sum of its parts. The education goes beyond the academic focus of Instructional schooling to address the “whole person”.
The remaining schools, currently much fewer in number than even Holistic schools and virtually all private, are what I call “Liberty-based”. Unlike Instructional or Holistic schools, what happens in the learning environment is generally decided by the students, who are specifically empowered to chart their own educational course as individuals and/or the schools course as participants in democratic process. The educational approach can be a unique mix of instructional and holistic, based on the student’s own decisions.
There is a lot more I want to say on this breakdown, but I’m having trouble pulling it out of my head. So for now I’ll just put out there my model of the three basic types for your consideration and feedback.