A Leap of Faith – The Week Wrap Up!

The Wrap-up and a Huge THANK YOU!

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.” 
― Leonardo da Vinci

This last post wraps up my series on A Leap of Faith – Jumping Across the Abyss to Progressive Education.

However, we will have a couple of treats for you NEXT WEEK! I have some POV’s about education from places OTHER than America! Stay Tuned!!

But before that happens …

I want to thank the contributors, Jennifer, Harrison & Janet, for taking time out of their day to write a post for The Mercenary Researcher. Their insight and experiences are truly inspiring; exploring the road less traveled takes courage.  For all the great things each person wrote, there were undoubtedly rocky parts along the path.

I know my son was teased in summer camp by kids because he didn’t go to a ‘real school’ – he was confused and dismayed because he’d never had that experience before. He innocently opened up about not having homework at his school or tests and it turned into a barrage of teasing. As a parent, it breaks my heart to see that kind of situation arise, but he held his ground and talked about community and homeroom.  As parents of kids in a progressive education model school, we know there are times of doubt and second guessing and as teachers – having to explain to other teachers exactly what you do in the hope that there is no offense taken nor harsh judgments. But so far the good things outweigh the tougher things, in my opinion. And we will continue this journey for as long as it is something my child wants and benefits from.

I hope you all enjoyed these posts and/or it got you thinking. Even if you are not completely ‘sold’ on the progressive education model or such a school is not in your area OR it’s private and not something viable at the moment, I wanted to present what I think is a very helpful guide to what to look for in a classroom or school. I think these attributes or ‘signs’ can be found in great classrooms from any educational model – from public to charter to private.


What to Look for in a Classroom

                                                                                                      -By Alfie Kohn


This revised version appeared as Appendix B of The Schools Our Children Deserve.


FURNITURE Chairs around tables to facilitate interactionComfortable areas for learning, including multiple “activity centers”

Open space for gathering

ON THE WALLS Covered with students’ projectsEvidence of student collaboration

Signs, exhibits, or lists obviously created by students rather than by the teacher

Information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom

STUDENTS’ FACES Eager, engaged
SOUNDS Frequent hum of activity and ideas being exchanged
LOCATION OF TEACHER Typically working with students so it takes a few seconds to find her
TEACHER’S VOICE Respectful, genuine, warm
STUDENTS’ REACTION TO VISITOR Welcoming; eager to explain or demonstrate what they’re doing or to use visitor as a resource
CLASS DISCUSSION Students often address one another directlyEmphasis on thoughtful exploration of complicated issues

Students ask questions at least as often as the teacher does

STUFF Room overflowing with good books, art supplies, animals and plants, science apparatus; “sense of purposeful clutter”
TASKS Different activities often take place simultaneouslyActivities frequently completed by pairs or groups of students
AROUND THE SCHOOL Appealing atmosphere: a place where people would want to spend timeStudents’ projects fill the hallways

Library well-stocked and comfortable

Bathrooms in good condition

Faculty lounge warm and inviting

Office staff welcoming toward visitors and students

Students helping in lunchroom, library, and with other school functions

Copyright © 1996, 1999 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.

(Of course the Zappa-Loving-Librarian in me wanted this quote at the top….

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” 
― Frank Zappa  ) 

This series was inspired by all the great people at my son’s school who have made a difference in his life.

A Leap of Faith – A Series on Progressive Education

A Leap of Faith – A Teacher’s Perspective

A Leap of Faith – A Student’s Perspective

A Leap of Faith – A Parent’s Prespective

About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Children, Education, Family, Guest Blogger, Librarian, Parenting, Philosophy, Progressive Education, Teachers, Teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to A Leap of Faith – The Week Wrap Up!

  1. Paul says:

    Good series Rutabaga. Very informative and well-written. Thank you

  2. Reblogged this on The Mercenary Researcher and commented:

    And finally – the wrap-up on the reblog posts for Progressive Education.

  3. hbsuefred says:

    Just wanted to add my 2 cents, even at this late date. After reading the first entry in this series, I was reminded of my friend’s daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD sometime in middle school as I recall. After the diagnosis was confirmed and treated, my friend was able to recall that her daughter had no problem concentrating on and pursuing an interest in the subjects that were already interesting to her. The medication she received enabled her to maintain at least a minimal concentration on the subject in which she had little interest but were and are still required in life or at least in higher education. The whole family is much happier as a result and the daughter is now pursuing her education in nursing, where she can continue to cultivate her nurturing nature.

    • It is never too late! I think most people have something to contribute – and finding how to cultivate it is what makes the difference. It’s all too easy to give up on those that don’t quite fit the mold – and no one deserves to be a ‘throw away child’.

  4. Jennie Saia says:

    Something I’m curious about: I wonder how this type of school experience changes things for kids going through puberty (which I know is a long process, but I’m thinking especially of around ages 12-16). That was my hardest period in school, when I was teased, and had really low self-esteem, despite the As and honor roll, etc. I feel like I would have thrived in a progressive environment as opposed to public school… but I could imagine some kids hitting that rebellious adolescent stage and becoming disaffected with an educational system where they aren’t required to put out much energy if they absolutely don’t want to. Have you heard stories of whether this is an issue, or how the teachers handle it, since I’m guessing standard disciplinary actions like detention etc. aren’t really used?

    • No – there’s no detention but you can be asked to take a day or so off (and if you’re behavior is completely unacceptable – you can be asked to leave the school permanently). But we get kids at all different ages starting school so it’s hard to say – if a kid starts school and has had horrible experiences prior, they may just shut down for a while and not do anything and that’s fine – after a while they tend to start participating. Puberty is hard (jr high) – and I think the Jr High kids tend to have the toughest time – not quite ‘young adults’ not still ‘children’ – but like I said – we get all sorts of kids at all different periods in their lives. The classes are so small that it’s easier for a teacher to know if a kid is a feeling off kilter and depending on the relationship, how they might deal with it.

  5. unfetteredbs says:

    It was very interesting and educational reading. Well done my librarian friend!

  6. The Hook says:

    Great wrap-up, old friend!
    You’ve done parents and bloggers everywhere proud.

  7. stephrogers says:

    Thanks. This really was great

  8. I’ve loved this series! I think I would have benefited, as a child, from this kind of education after reading this series. I think there’s a lot of mystery surrounding education that doesn’t follow the traditional path, and people assume that means it isn’t viable. Interesting especially considering the fact that our education system is failing us right now.

  9. Denise, congratulations on an awesome blog series. Great posts and perspectives offered. It’s interesting looking at this list. My first reaction is that class discussions, at least in the early primary years, seem to be teacher-led, with kids responding to the teacher and not so much to each other. Also, less group activities, too, which I don’t like at all. It does seem to be about obeying the rules most of the time and group interactions are kind of stifled. I don’t see students helping out in the lunchroom at all, but they do in the library because there is NO librarian. How sad is that? Once again, congrats!! I’m so proud of you.

    • Group activities were my bane in grad school – but it’s kind of fun watching little kids bring up topics that interest them. I think it’s more about just the teacher up front sending out facts – and more about active involvement in your own learning. Little people are quite interesting when they get time to voice their opinions..and they need more play time than we see in traditional schools anymore.

      • That is sad that there is NO librarian. At D’s school – each home room takes turn on lunch duty – cleaning up the eating area and the older kids do phone duty (for part of their community service hours) while the front office person takes her lunch. They LOVE being ‘in charge’ – we don’t hae a librarian either, but we have a small school and a teacher that takes care of the library (with a card catalogue) and volunteers that shelve books.

      • Little people are fascinating, so much more than us adults, right? Especially, when they’re all together. My child complains about school and how not fun it is. It’s not that I think it should be fun ALL the time, but…at least some of the time. I’m not sure we’re going to make in the current model. We’ll see. It pains me that he doesn’t like school. This is his little brain we’re talking about which I believe has great potential.

        • I am always saddened when LITTLE kids don’t like school – that’s supposed to be the BEST time for them…
          I think maybe not ‘fun all the time’ but it should be an enjoyable experience and something to be dreaded. Too many kids dread going to school – it’s so sad b/c education is such a great gift that our society offers us – and it’s gotten so onerous for so many, it breaks my heart.

          His little brain does have great potential! I hope you find a place that he loves and you love! I wish you well on your journey.

        • Thanks, Denise. Right now, homework is a huge chore and he has a ton of it. We are constantly behind because he absolutely refuses to do it. A lot of it is stuff he’s already done in class, so repeat busy work. I’m not sure of the point of this. Thanks for the well wishes.

        • There is no point – it’s mindless busy work – a lot of parents are dealing with the same thing. I feel for you!

  10. Le Clown says:

    You rock, you’re bright, and our blogs are only better because of the writing of other contributors. At least, the writing of some. Love you, and live with this PDA.
    Le Clown

  11. Jennie Saia says:

    I just wanted to drop by and say that I have only been able to read one of these posts this week, because it’s been the kind of insane whirlwind that means I can’t process anything that requires time or critical thinking. But I’m SO looking forward to revisiting them next week when I can really absorb them, and finally joining this awesome party you’ve been throwing. Congrats!

  12. Twindaddy says:

    Congrats on this week, Ladycakes. I had no idea what progressive education even was prior to Monday.

  13. dentaleggs says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your progressive education topic this week. I’ve learned quite a bit from reading varying points of view and from my own investigative research on the topic.

    For the record, I used your above table and applied it to my daughter’s public, 1st grade class. I didn’t find it judgemental or harsh. I found it quite helpful. I feel better knowing what I’ve been seeing in her class is a product of public education but, at the same time, utilizes the above ‘good signs’ list that I’ve always noticed in her class. In fact, Syd’s teacher switches the kids from table to table to enhance their connectiveness towards each other.

    As much as my husband and I would love for Syd to attend a progressive school, we simply cannot afford it — even with financial aid. Erik and I have talked about this for a year or so and tried to come up with clever, financial options but to no avail. It’s disappointing but I have to say that I’m so pleased to see Sydney’s teacher has implemented a progressive ed. model as much as she can. It will be interesting to see how her future teachers fair in that regard.

    Erik and I are still taking Syd out of the standardized tests when she hits 3rd grade. I hope we can stick to our guns on that. The pressure is ridiculous. Kids, in 1st grade are talking about the importance of a college education. That’s absurd beyond measure.

    One last comment, if I may: The American public education system is a profit machine and it’s growing out of control. If parents band together, get out there and take action, full of uncomfortable discourse and in-your-face activism, perhaps the progressive education model may become what we know today as ‘public education’.

    I was listening to this song with it’s accompanying video while typing this comment:

    Many thanks, Rutabaga. Thank you for keeping my eyes open.


    • Hi Eva, So sorry this is so late – it was i my spam of all places! You bring up a lot of good points about the crazy going on in early education; college and kinder do not need to mix at this point!

      I’m excited to see you were able to use that list and that it helped you feel more at ease for your daughter’s classroom – it’s nice to have something like a benchmark for comparisons.

      I know the cost of private school is hard – but you’re armed with knowledge and more things to think about and it can only benefit your family and daughter’s education.

      I am glad to have this series make an impact – that was my hope!

      Take care,

  14. El Guapo says:

    An excellent series of posts!

  15. Lisa says:

    Uh oh does this mean Hogwarts would give us parents “possible reasons to worry”? Just kidding! Thanks for a wonderful discussion and giving me lots to think about!

  16. Carrie Rubin says:

    A great wrap-up to a strong week of posts!

  17. I actually like the version of the chart with both columns. I would just change the column headings to be more descriptive and less prescriptive. School choice incorporates so many complex factors– the child’s learning style is one, but so is the value-set of the family. For some kids and families the environment described in the second column of the original chart might be a better fit. As you say, who are we to juidge.

    I have really enjoyed reading these posts. Your child’s school sounds wonderful!

  18. This really has been an interesting and enlightening week for me over here! Funnily enough, before I read Ross’s comment there, I was thinking something along similar lines – just a general observation really that whenever people make different choices in life that go against the norm, as soon as they start telling people about it, it can be taken as some of criticism, even if it isn’t said in a “My way is better than your way” tone. You see it all the time, like someone will say they’re vegetarian, and the person they are talking to will say “Well I don’t eat much meat!” or something. It’s kind of funny really.

  19. rossmurray1 says:

    I’ve been quietly enjoying the series, making me think about my own situation, so good job on that. When I see the table above, though, I feel a judgement, that one system is better than the other. Every system has its pros and its cons (like uniforms!). What’s important is informing parents about the choices, which you’ve done an admirable job doing. Of course, not every option is available to every parent, which is unfortunate. Abby is thriving and developing much-needed management skills in her new private school environment; however, I am highly conscious that this is a privilege I would not be able to afford if I didn’t work at the school. Looking forward to Part 2!

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