- The Forgotten Basic Human Right
Kathie F Nunley
son, Kole came home from school yesterday with a small styrofoam
cup, with a lid, and a worm. The worm, presumably, was inside the
cup. Honestly, I didn't verify it.
spent the entire time of our drive home regaling me with the story
of the worm. A man had come to their school that afternoon and gave
them a wonderful informative lesson on worms and passed out pet
worms. To a 6 year old, this is just about as good as a school day
I said, "all your classmates took home worms today?"
not everyone," said Kole, "Some students didn't take worms."
I said, thinking about the age group "you mean some of the kids
thought the worms were too icky to take home?"
He said nonchalantly, "Some of the kids didn't choose to do that
parents whose children attend a student-centered school, like my
son's Montessori school, statements like these are an everyday event.
But this statement struck a chord with me yesterday in the car,
with my son, and his worm, Fred.
all students are so lucky in their education. Not all children get
to go to a school where the afternoon presentation is viewed as
an option. Where some children who may find working the geography
puzzle more appealing than worms can live out their desire without
reprimand. Not all children have this opportunity to develop responsibility,
creativity and a positive view of learning.
It's a basic human need. Not only is it a basic human need, it is
a basic human right. Because with choice comes a sense of control.
A sense that I have some input in my life and in what I do and in
what happens to me. And because of that, I must also take responsibility
for myself and my state in life. If I'm not learning, if this is
not helping me meet my goals, I have the power to change my behavior
and my course. The absence of this right is slavery.
I don't believe very many people (myself included) would advocate
total freedom of choice for children and their education. Obviously
they don't always have the ability to make good decisions and their
long term planning skills are less than mature. But I do believe
we need to look for more ways to add it into any traditional "teacher-centered"
a strictly teacher-centered classroom the teacher makes all decisions
-from where the students sit to what they learn, when they eat and
even when they can go to the bathroom. Imagine a child spending
7 hours a day in an environment where all decisions are made by
others. Now imagine this happening for 12 years, at which time we
turn this person loose in society and wonder why he or she can't
make good decisions, has no self control and doesn't want to take
responsibility for their actions.
most immediate benefit to running student-centered classrooms is
in the reduction of management problems. People want some control.
If you don"t give it to them, they will take it. This power struggle
for control leads to 99% of classroom management problems. The easiest
way to lessen the power struggle is to allow the students to feel
they have some control somewhere.
Imagine as an adult if you were living in a world where all decisions
were made by entities outside yourself. What if someone told you
what subject you would teach, where you would teach it, what grade
level, what text book, which pages you would cover on which days,
what assignments you would give students, how you were to grade
them, which projects you could assign, when you could use the faculty
bathroom or worse yet, who you needed to ask to get permission to
use the bathroom.
doubt some of you look at that list and find some or many items
that are in fact, controlled for you . Maybe you are assigned a
school or a text. Maybe you do give department designed tests. Maybe
you are told when you can leave your classroom. But I will bet none
of us have ALL those things assigned.
point here is that we can live with some things being "mandated".
My district can mandate the curriculum I teach. They can tell me
what text to use, when I have to turn in grades, what days we have
school, when to show up and when to attend faculty meeting. But
they don't dictate everything. I can teach the curriculum in the
order I see fit. I can use the text and supplement it as I see fit.
I can create my own projects, assignments and lectures. There is
are no different. Students don't mind you telling them what they
have to learn and when it is due and how it is to be graded and
what days and times they need to be at school. But could they also
have a little freedom within that structure to be the most creative
learner they can be?
Look for small areas where choice could easily be added. Could they
have some choice in the order in which they complete assignments,
the seat they sit in for certain things, the problem sets to work?
is a wonderful thing. Suddenly the student is in control. And with
that comes responsibility, creativity and feelings of self-worth.
When you offer choices you may find students doing what you would
have had them do anyway, but now you have their interest and attention
because THEY decided to do it.
Fred the worm slept in his styrofoam cup in my son's bookcase last
likes the dark" I was told.
you ask him if he likes the dark?" I asked. "Maybe he's not one
of those worms that likes the dark. Did you ever think of that?
Why don't you give him a choice about where to sleep?"
he's just a worm".