By Summer Toler
If school has taught me one valuable lesson it is the first law of thermodynamics- that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. In other words, there is nothing we can do that does not have an affect on some other person or thing in the universe; everything is interconnected. To be human is to be a part of a team. If we want to ensure a livable future, we must be willing to work cooperatively with one another in our shared earth space. The most efficient way that I can see to do this is to create an educational system in which children learn cooperative skills and creative problem solving.
The traditional school system, however, is one based on business values. It is no surprise that public education made its way into the western world during the same time as the industrial revolution- a time when demand for an expansive, educated workforce was at an all-time high. It should also come as no surprise, then, that traditional schools are organized in such a way that the ones doing the work- the students and teachers- have very little to say or do with what is being learned; Much like those working for large corporations have little to do or say with the products and services they are providing. Unfortunately, this business mindset creates a very competitive, individualistic learning structure, which students become accustomed to and integrate into their daily lives – a slippery slope in a world whose very existence depends on our ability to work together.
If we want to ensure a livable future, we must be willing to work cooperatively with one another in our shared earth space.
Thankfully, there is an alternative educational structure emerging in the United States which applies this very principle of community. Cooperative schools are community run and organized. Parents, teachers and students work together to choose a curriculum that is fulfilling for everyone involved. It’s organizational structure reflects an attitude of equality rather than competition.
Cooperative schools are community run and organized. Parents, teachers and students work together to choose a curriculum that is fulfilling for everyone involved.
This system of learning has been found to effective in students of all ages; with cooperative school popping up for everyone, from those just starting out in preschools to those pursuing graduate degrees. In a study conducted by Tawfik Saleh, it was found that students performed significantly better when using cooperative, rather than individualistic learning strategies in a general chemistry course. This sort of learning environment teaches students that true success is dependent upon the effort and contribution of the whole group and provides individuals with a strong sense of accountability. If what we aim for are contributing members of society, we must teach students to work together to solve problems creatively. If we can affect this small change, we can then see this effort ripple out so that future generations understand that by working together, they can not only create the classroom they want to learn in, but the world they want to live in; A world which considers the value of each of its members.
For more information on the ins and outs of cooperative schools, check out this chapter of “New Circles of Learning.”