The relationship school

BY DAVID BROOKS

Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.

When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in New York City, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. 

The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.

The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker. He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. 

The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student. 

FULL ARTICLE

The Relationship School (New York Times)

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