One constant feature of modern education is the endless time and money spent on every kind of untested new thing that is supposed to improve learning. The latest example of this appears in a Gazette column by Sophie Petit.
The PTA at an elementary school in Bowie has just built an outdoor classroom “with no walls or roof or chairs.” The classroom will be used for all subjects, not just outdoor subjects like botany or biology, and the children will supposedly learn more because of the outdoorsy openness.
Of course it’s a good thing that this school has a garden. And it’s an even better thing that it was paid for with funds raised by the PTA and not squeezed from taxpayers. But the idea that children learn better without walls is absurd. In fact, we know this isn’t true because this theory of education has already been tried. Classrooms without walls were all the rage in the 1970’s, and large sums of money were spent building entire schools based on the untested (and implausible) idea that students would learn better without privacy and quiet. The new schools didn’t work. Students didn’t learn because they couldn’t focus, and teachers couldn’t teach because they couldn’t be heard. So large amounts of additional money had to be spent to retrofit those foolishly fashionable school buildings with walls so academic work could actually be done.
We should have learned from that experience, but now the idea that a classroom without walls or a roof will be an improvement is back. Eager to do anything to improve education, we are duped by the same gimmicks over and over again.
And if the return of an old education gimmick isn’t frightening enough, then brace yourself for what Kevin Maxwell, the new superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, had to say about it. He said the new outdoor classroom would “raise environmental awareness among students” and educate “our children on what they need to do.”
Yikes. This is nothing but politics in the classroom. It’s exactly what a good school should never do.
Modern environmental issues are politically controversial, from global warming to recycling. Students who are too young to learn about these controversies are not ready to have their “environmental awareness” raised. And any attempt to do this is not an education; it’s just propaganda. The superintendent admits as much when he says the goal for this classroom is to get the young students to act on these teachings.
While we can be glad that the PTA did the hard work to build a pretty garden for the students at this elementary, let’s insist that the political activism be left for the college campus and get the elementary students back inside a classroom with walls and a roof where they can focus their attention on the subjects they really need to master.