In and out of school dreams last night. What set them all off was an opening dream in which I was attending an English faculty meeting, the old guard and the new guard arguing about the English curriculum for the following year. New guard wanted it to be much more open-ended, allowing all the teachers to teach anything they thought appropriate within language and literature areas. Old guard pooh-poohed that, saying we still needed to teach the various literatures at appropriate times and language skills like reading and writing and speaking just as they’d always been taught. For some reason, I was transferring to another school and didn’t really care one way or the other. So I sided with the new guard.
And then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I lay there thinking about new directions not only for English but for an entire high school curriculum. What about a school without any formal structure except what the teachers and students gave it? No grade levels, just students operating at whatever speed and skill levels they had. Teachers designing units according to the students’ needs, like having a class build stage scrims to see what effects they could create, designing entire sets for plays by famous playwrights or for their own plays, like teaching a unit about the Civil War in Spanish or French or German, making everyone (students and teachers) use nothing but that language to make points. And teams of teachers getting together to teach units that cross over from one educational field to another, like a unit combining math and biology and ancient history, or one combining psychology and philosophy and classical music. The combinations could be endless and endlessly provocative. Grades would be eliminated. Graduation would be determined by a student conferring with a group of teachers to see if that student were ready and prepared to leave school. There would be computers and tablets and televisions all over the place for research and learning. Teachers could use students as teacher aides to help others not up to speed. What an exciting place that could be, a place where both teachers and students looked forward to going there and were reluctant to leave. I think I’d like to have taught in such a place.
With these thoughts spinning around in my late-night brain, I finally went back to sleep, only to have another school dream, but one of the dreaded kind, where I had a classroom full of students who couldn’t focus on anything but themselves, who paid no attention to anyone but themselves, whose only desire was to hear the dismissal bell ring. Oh, how I hate that dream. All my desires to return to teaching—to share my knowledge and experience with my young, enthusiastic charges—is muted when I remember what those ugly classes were like. Maybe in my next life I’ll be involved in an open-ended school such as the one I imagined between dreams. I’d like that.