Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal

A number of high-ranking political figures have recently been seriously suggesting that American young people should spend more than the current 180 days a year cramped into small desks in classrooms.

I would humbly propose that what American young people actually need is less time held captive in small desks and more time in the great outdoors. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, provides

compelling research to support his statement that children who spend more time in nature are “happier, healthier, and smarter.”

And so, to my plan for revolutionizing education in the 21st century: simply put, kids would spend 6 months a year—from November-April—in a traditional classroom and 6 months a year—from May-October—at camp. Of course, there would be family vacation times and holidays (and perhaps Swine Flu outbreaks) built into this schedule but I leave that for someone else to figure out.

Let’s look at some of the societal changes that have made this proposal a good idea. Take technology, for instance…we know that in today’s world more information is being generated every day than anyone can possibly “learn” during that day. Therefore, the challenge for educators is not to fill children’s heads with knowledge, but to teach them how to learn, and how to access the information they need. And even more importantly, young people need to gain curiosity and wonder in order to become life-long learners. Where better to gain a sense of curiosity and wonder than by marveling at the stars, exploring the rocks, or contemplating the interconnections of our ecosystem?

Daniel Goleman, author of books on emotional and social intelligence, has shown that social skills and emotional skills are more important for future success and happiness than IQ. Social and emotional skills are the curriculum of camps. We intentionally teach how to be a friend, teamwork techniques, integrity, respect, perseverance, resilience and many more character traits and skills for successfully navigating the world.

Peg Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the American Camp Association recently wrote in Camping Magazine “There is a great deal of debate right now around education reform. I submit that the answer to the problem, currently framed around reforming the traditional school system, is not to confine children to classrooms for year-round school. I believe the answer lies in much more natural, developmental settings that promote experiential learning, improve social skills and physical fitness, teach kids to take calculated risks in a safe environment, and expand the creative mind allowing for the possibility of innovation.”

I agree with Peg Smith, Daniel Goleman, and Richard Louv.

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