December 30, 2007

Good Design, Wrong Agenda

Continuing the discussion on "The Third School," Dr. P shared some thoughts about the places children learn.

"My sister is an architect, and we have had an ongoing discussion for the last six or seven years about learning spaces. Our central thesis is that most learning spaces are not necessarily poorly designed, they seem to be designed in order to promote or advocate an industrial form of teaching. So, in fact, they are designed well -- they are just supporting the wrong agenda.

"Point One

"Classrooms from K thru College are designed to support the role of the teacher as the disseminator of knowledge and information. Everything, including the chairs, is designed to focus student attention in a linear fashion, like a laser beam to the place in the room where the authority operates.

"Some teachers (especially kindergarten teachers) instinctually try to subvert this, but it's hard because our tools (chalk board, white board, multi media cart) all demand linear focus and attention. This creates spaces of resistance in a classroom and spaces of orthodoxy (i.e. the front row and the back row). The desirability (or
detestability) of these spaces reinforces certain kinds of behavior.

"The circle or organic arrangement of the classroom isn't promoted in architecture or furniture design.

"Point Two

"Desk and chair design doesn't promote working in pairs or teams. This is more true of the upper grades and higher education. I'll focus on higher education, because that's what I am most familiar with. The standard desk in a college has room for little more than a letter sized spiral bound note book. It is nearly impossible to have both a
book and and a note pad open and available for use.

"Point Three

"Sitting in a chair is the default position. Innumerable studies have shown that chair sitting is really hard on the body and doesn't promote engaged thinking.

"In any case, it's interesting how the space is a teacher, and it often times works against the students. 'Hey teacher, leave those kids alone.'"