Schools Are Not Boxes

A friend recently (and innocently) sent me this quote: “School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside.”

I read it, I read it again, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Because it is so wrong and so troubling.

Here’s why:

  • Schools should not be only buildings. Schools are places where we learn. This can happen anywhere and anytime. If we focus more on the learning and less on the physical structure in which it takes place, school and learning look very different.
  • Tomorrow isn’t wrapped up neatly inside any walls. It’s happening right now and our students are likely unprepared for it. Tomorrow isn’t waiting. It’s here.
  • Learning cannot be static. It must be responsive to the real needs of today’s students, which are to live and thrive in a world that looks nothing like the world that created schools-as-boxes.

To be fair, we could (and should) conceive of schools as labs that develop tomorrow. We could implement the ideas of school I’ve linked above and we’d have buildings or spaces where young people create the future while being part of it. That’s where we should be heading, but usually we’re not. That’s what I found so troubling about that quote. It uses the buzzwords. It creates a pretty little picture. But learning is organic, messy, complicated. Learning is constant, multimodal, self-directed. We don’t need to fit it into four walls.

My classes right now are learning about social norms and conformity, which we’ll use as a way of introducing the topic of genocide in preparation for spending a week in Cambodia in November. And I know that I’m not alone among my colleagues, here and elsewhere, in trying to make real learning happen. But it’s frustrating to constantly explain the need for authentic, relevant, meaningful learning. As adults, we find ways to understand things when we realize we don’t. Our students are no different when we give them the chance.

So let’s rewrite, “School is a building which has four walls with tomorrow inside.”

I propose: “Schools, spaces where learning happens, are all around us. Learning, which cultivates growth and development, never ends.”


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