Sunday, January 25, 2009

Big Picture Schools

A friend of mine, Elliot Washor, along with Dennis Littky, is co-founder of the Met School in Providence, RI and the Big Picture Company which allows high school students to design their own curriculum. The idea is that if learning is firmly rooted in the interests of the child, each will stay in school long enough to graduate and be well prepared for a productive future. It is a profound concept, and one which I was privileged to see in action a few years back.

Now there are over 60 big picture schools in the US, each reinventing education one student at a time. The formula is simple:
* Use a project-based learning curriculum
* Build a collaborative environment for students
* Treat the students with respect and dignity
* Individualize the curriculum to meet the needs of students
* Showcase student work on a regular basis

But simple as it may seem, building a culture of learning is not easy.

Part of the challenge Big Picture Schools face is that by the time students reach the high school level, so many are alienated from the process of schooling. It often takes a student's first year in a Big Picture School to overcome his or her adversarial relationship to teachers and education.

At some point in the future, we will have more schools like Clear Spring in which students stay engaged in learning from the earliest years through graduation and beyond. Those students will be well prepared to design their own educational processes as life-long learners. But if you are a parent whose child has begun to suffer from alienation in school, check out the Big Picture Company and support what they are trying to do for education.

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