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Class Desks as Office Cubicles

Written by Zoe Weil | 3 Comments | Published on October 25, 2010 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2010/10/25/class-desks-as-office-cubicles/

In response to my blog post, “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For? How We Educate Our Children,” educational visionary and activist Kirsten Olson shared this:

“Yesterday my husband was observing an elementary classroom in a nearby state. The children in this room, aged 7-8, were sitting in desks lined up in rows, and the teacher had used her own money to buy cardboard shields that the children had to place around themselves at their desks. The shields were high enough so that you couldn’t see anything around you, or anyone around you, and you couldn’t interact at all with anyone. Behind their shields, the children were completing worksheets on blending ‘gr’ sounds and ‘tr’ sounds. The children were to sit behind their shields for their entire ‘literacy block,’ and they use these shields for all seat work (math, social studies), every day. They would be graded on their worksheets. The teacher calls the children’s desks ‘offices.’”

If only this were a joke. If ever there were a more obvious example of how some schools really have as their primary goal preparing students to be compliant workers doing the tasks demanded of them without thought, without interaction, without creativity, without innovation, here it is. And it’s a travesty.

Let’s consider for a moment the world these children are growing up in: a warming planet where species are becoming extinct at dangerous and tragic rates; an overpopulated world where a billion people go to bed hungry and don’t have regular access to clean water; a world rife with strife where war and genocide touch every continent but Antarctica; potential peak oil creating an energy crunch we’re unprepared for socially, politically, and economically, and much more.

Lest I sound like a prophet of doom, let’s also consider some other aspects of our world: a technological wonder where information is at our fingertips connecting our minds and discoveries in nanoseconds; abundant food – enough to actually feed our billions; dramatic increases in life expectancy in developed countries over the course of a mere 100 years.

In a world with such looming catastrophes and such extraordinary opportunities the last thing our children should be doing is sitting at cubicle-like desks filling out worksheets day after day. Their world desperately needs them to be educated, able to think critically, creatively and cooperatively to build a healthy future relying upon the great and amazing strides their forebears have already achieved and solving the problems those same forebears, often unwittingly, caused. They will never learn this doing worksheets behind cardboard screens.

Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

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