SWW reflections

Hello Dr. Stearns & Class,

After a long and eye-opening day, I have had time to collect my thoughts on School Without Walls. I entered the school with high expectations, which appeared to be attained at the start of the trip. Dan said all the thoughts and beliefs about education that I too carry (e.g. NCLB impeding on the growth and development of students rather than helping and working), which was inspiring for me. Having the school completely focused on the needs and desires of the students, along with student input – even in the hiring of new staff – was new and fascinating to me. Ground-breaking and interactive, SWW seemed to be the ideal school for young adults.

Referring to teachers by their first names and no announcements so students do not feel below the faculty and staff, watched over like “Big Brother,” and so to eliminate class disruptions, exemplify a few of SWW’s practices that impressed me.

With the exception of a couple additional aspects that I enjoyed, I noticed myself agreeing with the concept and purpose of the school rather than the activities and performance of the school. The classroom that I sat in on was highly disorganized, with the teacher having little control over her class’ behavior. I understand and respect the flexibility of the classroom setting at SWW, but by leaving the classroom multiple times without warning, the students were left with nobody to turn to for help when questions came up while doing a group activity. The teacher offered little to no input on the work that the students produced, and did not provide examples of her own for the students when the assignment was first given. I would like to believe that I happened to be placed in an unfortunate classroom, but I was and remain dissuaded from wanting to work in a SWW.

My opinions were affirmed during the observations made in the final classroom that several of us sat in: a young female English teacher, whose name I have forgotten. On a positive note, I approve of and would like to use the technique of having one’s students assist in creating a quiz, test, essay assignment, etc. The workshop enabled the students to review the reading they had done. I did not approve of the language use between the students and teachers. Casual, comfortable language is acceptable, in my opinion, but the use of words, such as “scumbag,” “bitchy,” and “f*ck” (a student used this word when speaking to a classmate, but directly in front of the teacher), are unnecessary. This sends a message to the students that the use of profanity is allowed in public settings. The students will have a rude awakening when they enter the workforce or use such language in a library or museum, for instance. I was shocked, to say the least.

I see that this blog is becoming quite lengthy, so I will end here. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to go on this trip. Thank you, Dr. Stearns. It was enlightening and there are many ideas and practices that I do agree with. Unfortunately, the observations did not evoke the same feelings.




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7 responses to “SWW reflections

  1. traverse02

    My experience observing the classrooms was much different from yours, Jessica. I viewed the class on Leadership as taught by Patrick and U.S. History ReMix as taught by Gil.

    In Leadership, the students worked diligently even though the noise level was high. They fooled around, but they remained focused on their task, which was to explore the roles of leadership in the novel A Lesson Before Dying. It was a hands on activity; the class was split into groups that each chose a different character to examine. Their goal was to develop a poster that addressed questions brought up by Patrick. Ultimately, the work of each group was to be compiled into one classroom piece later on in the week.

    I was surprised at first when I heard students swearing with Patrick, but he handled it well by not making a big deal about it. People swear all the time in the workforce. I don’t think there is any reason to punish a student for swearing. Patrick simply told them not to talk like that, and the students listened, although there was the occasional slip. But hey, shit happens.

    As the class drew to a close, the students did start to act up, but they’re the ones in charge at the SWW. Patrick explained to me that each class nominates officers (president, vice, secretary, etc.) who direct the classroom. They choose goals and give themselves certain criteria for behavior. This is true for every class in the school. I think it allows for independence on a scale that would seem unlikely in highschool. Like you said, there is no Big Brother watching over or nuns with rulers poised to attack.

    The casual attitude in Gil’s class was also refreshing. I found it interesting how it began with general conversation about how everyone was doing. The students seemed to relax and afterwards gave Gil all of their attention. This might also have to do with Gil’s commanding presence, but they were attentive and everyone participated in open discussion, even we observers. Again, there was swearing, but that never became the focus of anything. Gil would simply say “Come on, don’t be like that,” and they would apologize and pick a different word to use.

    I found no problem with the use of profanity. In fact, profanity can be very powerful in a variety of ways when used correctly. Granted, you wouldn’t want to go into a job interview saying “I’m the F***ing Sh*t, hire my ass.” But I think any intelligent person understands that. And these kids are intelligent. As for its use in public settings, people swear all the time.

    I can see where things could get out of hand, but it’s the same for any classroom. I’d be interested in seeing whether or not the classrooms you observed are always like that. Overall, I don’t think we should let a few bad apple spoil the bunch. The SWW is definitely on to something.

  2. sofiapenna

    (I think it was Raeph who posted this first response to Jessica???)
    I think Jessica and I, who sat in on classes together in the morning and afternoon, really felt uncomfortable by the language we encountered because it became disrespectful. Sometimes there can be a difference between swearing about something (like a situation) and then swearing at someone, directly. I think that even in the workplace, it becomes uncomfortable when someone swears at you. This is exactly what we were concerned about in SWW. Does this help clarify what we experienced? -Sofia

  3. sunyprof

    I’m very glad you’re having this conversation. KES

  4. traverse02


    That does clarify the situation. Nothing like that happened in the classes I observed. I definitely see how something like that would be very uncomfortable. There is a major difference between swearing at people and swearing with people. I would hope the teacher would be more active like Gil and call them out on it by telling them its wrong. However, I did see the kind of passivity you describe with Patrick. He remained in the background.

    Still, I don’t think we are able to grasp the possibility of how extreme this SWW might be. It represents the complete opposite of anything we know, or at least that I know coming from 12 years in a catholic school. The children really are determining their own path in all aspects here (save the PSATs and As I Lay Dying, etc.)and if they swear they swear. Some of these teachers might be thinking, if kids swear, then they swear, its who they are and who am I to tell them what to be? This could be right, this could be wrong, but it’s possible a teacher at the SWW is thinking of his or her pedagogy under the light of this extreme.

    However, I agree. I would not tolerate getting sworn at. It is disrespectful. Certain lines have to be drawn. But given the inherent extremism in something like the SWW, I’m interested in looking in between what we know and what they know and finding some sort of balance, because the SWW is a very good concept. What works in theory doesn’t necessarily work in the real world. Take for instance Communism. I’ll go as far to say that it was a good idea, but it just didn’t work. However, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

    If we are to revolutionize our teaching, our world, SWW might be able to guide us in the right direction. I’m not saying it works now, but we can most definitely learn from it and quest into what might work.

    But I digress. Thanks for specifying what happened in your class. I hadn’t even thought about that.

    Until the Russians take over,

    I remain


  5. jexter1

    Please don’t get me wrong, I felt this experience was helpful and necessary for broadening my horizons in the education field. The concept and ideals of SWW are admirable, as well as what I believe all schools should aspire to be. I never considered myself a conservative teacher, and still do not, but SWW was slightly too liberal and free-style for my liking. Personally, I would not choose to apply at SWW for a career.

    For someone that likes and can manage a classroom with such a “loose” setting, kudos to to him/her. I noticed that the population I encountered would most likely be labeled as outcasts in an average city public school, so SWW is the perfect place for such kids. It is highly accepting, diverse and unconventional. This is important for young adolescents that are having trouble finding their own identities and places in society (please forgive the cliche).

    Perhaps I should revisit SWW and sit in a couple other classes to form a better, well-rounded opinion.


  6. jillian24

    Hey All.

    Jessica I definately felt I should sit in on a few other classes. My first class was a guest speaker (the STD slideshow) and, I feel, not an accurate depiction of the typical classroom environment. I did enjoy the Critical Literacy class that Mariana taught in the afternoon. Despite their focus on a very formal text, students were engaged. Still, I wanted to see some unconventional teaching.

    I also had concerns over the lack of structure. For example, students wandering in and out of rooms. What was Matt doing?? My view on profanity is that teachers shouldn’t. If the school policy allows it, then there isn’t a punishment, but there can still be role modeling, especially when student’s seem to respect their teachers.

    Yet, to focus on the positives…. I enjoyed seeing students of different ages working together. At least in my high school, there was quite a division between grades based on how much time one spent in class with the same people. We saw Mariana give a little extra assistance to her one freshman in order to build some of the skills she expected her seniors to know.

    I also appreciated the food and drink in classrooms. We weren’t even allowed water bottles, so if you had a drink it was a sports drink bought at school and consumed between classes. I know there are statistics to prove that teens need to drink water in order for their brains to work properly and that eating three meals a day is insufficient, especially during puberty. (I will admit that healthier choices would have been nice. I wonder how many students eat fast food everyday.)

    Finally, I like the concept of advisors. Even in schools that don’t create this structure, an advisor system would be beneficial. Behavior issues and academic difficulties are caught by this adult becuase they meet with the student every week.

    I’d like to go back and see what strategies I could gain from individual teachers.


  7. allison

    To pick up on something Jessica said, I was also impressed by the atmosphere of acceptance at SWW. I noticed that the students were dressed differently from most other high school students. Some clearly had some alternative interests judging from the rock bands on their t-shirts and the books I saw floating around. At the same time, I would like to ask you all if they are really that different from every other high school student. It seems that some of the conversations that I over heard were quite typical. Example: One boy says that others can come find him “during… what’s it called… personal time? Personal Neeeeds Time! Thats it…” A girl corrects him. “Food Time,” she says, “call it ‘food time.'” Yes, these kids are in an alternative setting and might have some surface differences, but are they really that separate from other high school students?

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