School is the Opposite of Skateboarding

Skateboarding has been a long-time interest of mine. I’ve not been very successful at it. I’m pretty averse to pain in general. But I love watching skateboarders do their thing.

It occurred to me that most of the people I’ve met who are avid skaters don’t like school. They don’t always do poorly at it, but their demeanor doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the model student.

I started to wonder if schools could actually learn something from the way skateparks are designed. A skate park may actually be designed to fit how people learn much more than many schooling structures.

I Can Skate at My Own Pace

Except for an overbearing parent, I can’t remember ever seeing an adult try to push a skater past their own limits. You can’t kickflip today? Try it tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next month!… Right? Is school like that? Hardly ever.

It takes students different materials and experiences to learn things. The beauty about a skate park is that there’s not one adult just managing everyone’s learning. Skaters are free to learn on their own or lean on a friend for help or even watch videos to get tips.

Can you imagine if there was an adult out there trying to manage 30 skaters and everyone had to go through the exact same exercises? Pretty soon you would start to see that skate park go out of business I think.

A school could let students set their own goals and work toward them at their own pace. That would certainly cut down on a lot of “discipline” issues, right? How many times have you been in a class and your progress was stopped because someone didn’t want to do the assignment and was being disruptive? There would have to be some sacrifices. The classroom would probably be a little noisier and less organized but if we can help reduce the troublesome relationships between teachers and students I think it’s worth it.

I Can Choose Where to Skate

If you want to spend all your time on one kinked rail at a skate park, that’s fine. You’re allowed to do that so long as you’re not preventing other people from using that rail too. The skate park does not group people by age or skill level. If you need to work on the flat you might find yourself sharing the space with an advanced skater trying to perfect their nose manual while you’re just trying to figure out how to push yourself without falling over.

Imagine if you could spend all day in the music room or in the robotics lab at school. You could get really deep into your skills instead of just being shuffled around the school like ants in a maze.

There would have to be some changes to the way school is done though. How do you think the teacher role would change in this kind of school? 

How would the teacher role be different at a school that was more like a skate park?

I Can Choose to Just Watch

One thing that’s really unique about skate parks is that you are able to just watch others. Teachers often misunderstand the power of watching someone do something. There are many rules about copying and cheating but cheating and copying is something that is common in life. In fact, it’s encouraged to copy people who are successful!

Imagine if you could just watch your friends work all day. That could be relaxing for a while! There’s a good chance you’d pick up some interesting skills along the way and enjoy yourself too. And, you wouldn’t have an adult constantly nagging you about minding your business and doing your own work. I think it would be quite helpful. There’s a good chance that after watching others do their work you would decide to jump in and do something too!

I Can Judge My Own Progress

No one seems to like being judged, especially by people they care about. You may have some people at a skate park make fun of you for your skills and that wouldn’t be great but at least you can always just leave. Many young people at school deal with a nagging and critical teacher all the time and you can’t go anywhere! Adults often criticize young people for not being able to weigh their options and make informed decisions but then they rarely let you have practice making decisions. I’ve found that students are quite skillful at weighing their options when it comes to things they’re interested in. That could even be done with school!

Imagine if you had all the textbooks and answer sheets and you could just do school by yourself. If you got stuck on something then you would just find someone to help you or some videos. The thing most adults are afraid of is that you’ll just give up when it becomes challenging. I think it’s partially true. But how important is it to you if you would give up that easily? And, if it’s not very important to you then you’re probably not going to remember it anyway!

I think students should be allowed to evaluate themselves. You don’t even need grades. If you write a paper and you do your very best at it then that should be good enough for now. You can always edit it to improve it later or wait until there’s a reason to write another one. Many schools actually do this with their students and it works quite well. They’re called democratic or free schools. That’s the kind of school we’re working to open in our community.

I Decide When I’m Done

Except for cases where you have to go to work or your ride to the skate park is ready to go, you get to decide when you’re done skating.

At school, the teacher decides when it’s time to move on, not you. It hardly ever matters how interested you are either. The thing that bothers me is this does not mirror real life, especially once you’re in adulthood! You can literally play video games all day every day, as long as you don’t care to eat or live in any expensive way. You could go on long hikes or lay on the beach for hours at a time and so on…the point is, if you’re always being told when to stop and move to the next thing how will you ever find something that you’re really good at? It’s difficult to.

Maybe your algebra assignment is beyond your level right now. Why can’t you put it aside and wait until you’re ready for it? If algebra is really that important don’t you think you’ll eventually put the time into learning it?! Walking is one of the more important skills we learn in life. Babies see everyone walking around and they just keep falling over when they try. So, why don’t they give up?! Because they see the value in it.

The problem with a lot of school work is that you may never see the value in a lot of it…makes me wonder why teachers try so hard to get you to do it!

You’ll never work hard at something until you deeply desire to do it and being able to decide when to walk away is actually good for your desire.

You Would Actually Want to Go to School

I smile when I think about a school that’s like a skate park. I imagine students working on music, art, dance, businesses, construction, robotics…it sounds like a vibrant place to be.

Do you know anyone that would say, “I don’t want to go to that school.” I don’t! I think students would even be coming in on the weekends if they could to keep working on their projects. That would be amazing!

But You Have to Learn the Basics

Why aren’t schools designed this way then? Well, my short answer is that most adults feel that you need to learn the basics and the only way to learn the basics is to be taught.

I just happen to disagree. Here’s why.

  1. No one needs to learn anything. There are certain skills you should learn in order to pursue certain goals but if a child decided they were going to absolutely not learn anything then there is very little adults could do to teach it.
  2. Basics are everywhere. The very definition of the word makes me think it would be difficult to not learn the basics. That doesn’t mean that you’ll just learn things automatically. But, when the desire to learn something comes around you’ll find ways of learning things and you’ll generally learn them faster than if you weren’t ready for them.
  3. I’ve never taught my 5-year-old son how to count. But counting has come up in a lot of conversations. Currently, he can count past 100!

Skate Parks Aren’t Perfect

There could still be a lot of issues with this kind of school. We would have to make sure that students were not keeping each other from using stuff they wanted to use or harassing them in any way. I particularly like the way Sudbury Valley School actually helps manage behavior with their Judicial Committee. This means that no teasing and bullying get overlooked just because a teacher is busy. The students actually help each other address teasing and bullying.

Comment below; what would your ideal school have?

How would you be able to spend your time?

How would you describe your ideal teacher?

 

 

 

Philip Mott

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