Carl got me obsessed with his object of obsession – Elon Musk’s Ad Astra. It’s contagious this disease of wanting to create an ideal school for your kids but what if you don’t have the resources of somebody who sends people to outer space, builds solar power roof tiles and the sexiest electric cars? You refine your dream in your spare time hoping for a synchronicity that will bring people the magnitude of Alibaba’s Jack Ma to your doorsteps.
Yes, I could totally pitch this idea of an alternative school to Jack Ma and jointly study how it could be scaled up in China. Right now, it doesn’t seem scale-able, expandable because it’s like a micro-school. This is the conceptual schedule:
9:00 – 10:00 am – study tutorial (one teacher for every 5 students)
10:00 – 11:00 am – free play and personal project time
11:00 – 12:00 nn – study tutorial
12:00 – 1:00 pm lunch
1:00 – 1:45 pm – optional classes to choose from or study tutorial
1:45 – 2:30 pm – free play and personal project time
2:30 – 3:15 pm – optional classes to choose from or study tutorial
3:15 – 3:30 pm – group meeting (one teacher for every 5 students)
The teacher to student ratio is low – one teacher for every five students so that would make this endeavor costly and probably more expensive than the typical private school. If you have near-unlimited resources like Elon Musk, you can experiment and push the ratio as low as you want but what if you’re dreaming of a system that is accessible to anyone regardless of income or nationality?
The model I’ve come across that has a highly personalized, one-on-one tutorial style mixed with loads of free time is the North Star Self-Directed Learning Center for Teens. I could ask Ken Danford how the concept could be applied to the elementary level where learning the rudimentary skills of reading, writing and math would still play an important part. Grade schoolers can study reading, writing and math through topics and books that personally interest each child. High schoolers could break out of the box more having acquired the basics. It would be a school with no grade levels, no grades (in terms of A, B, C, 100%), no tests but it could help prepare for tests voluntarily chosen by the students themselves such as those in preparation for college.
The limitations of this model is the cost. Factor in you’d want resources and facilities such as library, garden, playground, laboratory, workshop, space for arts and sports and it would be wonderful located by both beach and mountain or even right in the city but in an unused lot with lots of trees, then the cost can be astronomical. Might as well send your child to a good International School or a progressive private school since they’ve got economic viability down pat. If you want something more affordable, there’s always homeschooling.
But Ad Astra calls.
Maybe we could run it first as a two-week camp for homeschoolers?
Maybe we could study how micro-schools operate?
Maybe homeschooling parents can take turns as volunteer teachers?
The Agile Learning Center which started in New York and adapted in other states and countries might be an interesting model to pitch especially to a visionary techie like Jack Ma. It would be good to see a version of this in China or the Philippines. It would also be interesting to study how democratic schools were scaled up in Israel, entering the public sphere and acquiring government funding.
In Cavite, Philippines, there’s the Gopala Learning Haven for homeschoolers and learners of all ages in a farm setting. Maybe they could try mixing academics and play.
In Dagang Youtian, Tianjin, China, two mothers, Susan and Rita dream of appropriating land for children to grow vegetables and transform it into a children’s playground like what this man in China did for his daughter. He sold his house in the city, rented 110 acres of wasteland and built a fairy tale home with garden. Susan and Rita are eyeing a piece of land that can be used by their kids and other people’s children as a way to reconnect with nature during the weekends.
The photos here don’t have anything to do with this blog entry’s topic but I missed posting these pictures. Anyway, a place like this could be a good site for that kind of imaginary school. This area is near the Great Wall in Tianjin but then most people in that town would be sending their kids to traditional school. The location would play a key role in that there is a concentrated number of families who share similar ideas or have overlapping visions. Or it could be a pop-up school that is not location-dependent — like the Hero’s Journey Camp but re-conceptualized with more academic bent and content.
Possibilities, always possibilities.
Ad Astra, by the way, is Latin for “To the stars.”