Bells and Schedules

Forcing students to keep to class schedules and bell schedules all day long for thirteen years is appropriate if you are just preparing them to be workers, but it is not natural or effective.  If we were offered a one-year sabbatical to study anything we wanted and we determined that we were going to master Icelandic history, needle point, “Calvin’s Institutes”, “War and Peace”, and a few other substantial subjects; would we set a timer and switch subjects every fifty minutes all day long, all year long, rotating through each subject every day?  ”This makes no sense!”, we would cry. ”I was just getting into War and Peace and the bell went off “.  Such an approach would take all the pleasure and some of the effectiveness out of our sabbatical.  What we would actually do is rotate through two or three subjects, study one until we were tired of it and then switch to another.  The point of exhaustion might be 30 minutes or several days, depending on the nature of the subject.  Everyone’s timing would be different, but one thing is for certain, no one would chop their sabbatical into 50 minute segments, yet this is exactly what we do to our children and…. for thirteen years straight!

How much better for our independent learners to spend some time each morning reviewing that which is mostly memorization: catechisms, poetry, math facts, Latin. The rest of the day could be devoted to only one or two subjects. The independent learner will make the call; it is their responsibility. The more mature student, aside from their morning review, may devote three days to reading “The Count of Monte Christo”, or a whole week to a science project. How much more efficient, pleasing and natural this arrangement would be.  Only with independent learners is this possible.  Curriculum guides will ensure that the subjects a child learns are reasonably balanced in the long run. “Lesson of the Bells” is a phrase used by John Gatto, author of “The Underground History of American Education.” He explains that if you are educating students to work in a factory or a cubicle and no more, then responding to bells is the most important thing to learn; conform, but don’t think.  If a child is being educated liberally (a liberal education is an education for a free man) and classically to be a life long learner, a thinker, a do-er, then maybe their education should not be regulated so much by bells.


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