So without further ado:
The Barter School
Barter Theatre was founded during the Depression by an enterprising young actor named Robert Porterfield. He and his fellow actors found themselves out of work and hungry in New York City. Porterfield contrasted that to the abundance of food, but lack of live theatre, around his home region in Southwest Virginia. He returned to Washington County with an extraordinary proposition: bartering produce from the farms and gardens of the area to gain admission to see a play.
What if we returned to a very old-school style of a school accountability’s to its community by funding and founding barter schools? What if schools for kids of all ages were like a mash-up of the Barter Theatre and Thomas Jefferson’s academical village? A place for learners and teachers to live and study in community? What if such a village was run democratically by the kids and adults who lived there so that continued housing, food, and support for teachers was dependent on voted appraisals their service to kids and learning? How do you fund such an endeavor so it’s tuition free? It doesn’t have to be a boarding school – it can be a community one, but one which educators are recruited and retained by the appeal of a very concrete connection between the worth of their teaching to a community and their livelihoods. We could do this on a farm with cottages or in a high rise with “classroom” (or studio or lab, etc.) and apartment floors.
I guess what really I’m asking is this: what if you gave an entire community a voucher for the cost of its school system? What could or would it do then to build the system it wants, and how would the process of deciding what it wants move that community and public education ahead?
Social media environmental scans
So, if all assessment is meant to provide information from which inferences can be made (#abolishgrades) about learning, why not throw open the floodgates of social media for a school for a day or week or month or year (or use some kind of infrastructure like Edmodo) and collect qualitative data about student experiences? Hand out mobile/hand-held devices or open the network to kids’ own computers – or set up kiosks in the hallways, classrooms, and/or cafeteria. Ask kids to check in for attendance. Ask them to check in whenever they learn something. Ask them to check in whenever they feel uplifted. Ask them to check in whenever they are bored or feel disrespected. Ask them to share their work, feelings, and experiences. Pull data analysts off numbers and ask them to code students’ feedback for a “quality of life” scan at any given school or in any given district. Share the anonymized data with adult stakeholders. Work off of that assessment for a while.
We need those acts in education, as well, inside and outside school, from kids, parents, and educators alike. We cannot go on supporting a system that is increasingly narrowed and privatized in what it teaches and who it promotes.
So I invite all of you – students, teachers, admin, parents, community members, unschoolers, homeschoolers, virtual schoolers – to share with #occupyedu how you think out system of public education needs to change to become more democratic, student-centered, and inquiry-based.
That is all.