Over the past 10 years, I have read dozens of articles about adventure playgrounds, learning laboratories, and the need for more individual freedom in education. Adventure playgrounds are outdoor spaces where kids can play that have non-traditional equipment such as cardboard boxes, pallets, and tires. Supporters believe they draw students outdoors together which supports physical health and develops social skills. Learning laboratories are places where children and adults work together on practical skills such as woodwork, robotics, programming, and research. Proponents argue that children need to be engaged in world problems and actionable skills so they are prepared for their future. Many people believe that the current education system is not adequately preparing youth for collaboration and problem solving, the “soft skills.” Further, naysayers of high rising college costs argue that the cost is not worth it and many degrees students receive to not adequately prepare them for the labor needs of society. Indeed, many people would do better to work on “hard skills” such as learning the skills of car mechanics, plumbers, welders, and more. Learning laboratories support these skills. Finally, there is a recent outcry for a revitalization of an education system which is based on a model over a century old. Indeed, teachers say that students are being left behind in a game which requires teachers to “teach to the test.” Educators say they do not have adequate resources or arrangements to give students what they need. Many schools have responded by offering an individualized curriculum sequencing model which allows students to progress individual by tackling one skill at a time in a logical progression at an individual pace. Recent technology such as high quality video education and adaptive educational games allow students to learn content from highly reputable sources. Individual curriculum is new, but studies are beginning to show a significant improvement in outcomes from personalized learning. See Personalized Learning.
Additional struggles in education include the achievement gap between youth of different income levels and ethnicity. While some charter schools and school districts have attempted to remedy this problem, the gap remains wide. Additionally, boys are falling behind girls in education outcomes. This trend is evident from pre-school through the university level. Particularly, black boys from single-parent households are at high levels of risk for falling behind. They are dis-proportionally diagnosed with ADHD and learning delays. Not surprisingly considering these symptoms, black men are incarcerated or out of the work force at rates well above the average population.
I believe there is an opportunity to provide a program in the community to support long-term educational goals. If successful, this program would lead to productivity gains and long-term economic benefits as well.
What would the program look like? It would be the best of what we know students need. They need physical and mental stimulation, from the likes of adventure playgrounds. They need both hard and soft skills, from learning laboratories. And they need individualized learning. So I present Freedom Learning.
Freedom Learning is an educational model that believes an adaptable environment, diversity of resources, high-quality staff, and individual freedom can support high quality learning outcomes. It gives students the ability to play in a way which promotes physical well-being and social skills. Children can change the environment around them to stimulate their imagination. Consequentially, they will learn and grow. Freedom Learning provides relevant learning materials in technical fields as well as academic fields. Students can explore designing, engineering, plumbing, woodworking, robotics, and more. With the aid of skilled teachers to guide them, students can learn in the fields than intrigue them. And these fields can change over time.
While I believe Freedom Learning can eventually take the place of a traditional school day, at this point it is only an idea. That is why I believe it should start out as a trial. What is there to lose? The trial could be an after school program, a weekend club, or a summer program. Further, I believe the recent collapse of American mall health presents an intriguing opportunity to find large spaces for low-cost rents to support a large implementation of this idea.
America is fast falling behind in world-wide educational outcomes. We need to adjust out model if we want to continue to be a world leader in education. Maybe Freedom Learning can help be a part of the solution.