Sunday, May 25, 2008

Schools Can Make A Difference

The NY Times had a column a couple of weeks ago that looked at the state of school environments in the US and in other countries. The problem is what the author calls cubicle culture.
School design, particularly public school design, is often lumped in with the design of other institutional structures like jails, civic centers and hospitals, to detrimental effect. My high school, for example, had the dubious distinction of having been designed by the architect responsible for San Quentin. (The convicts got the better building.) Schools fulfill a practical function, to be sure, but shouldn’t they be designed to inspire?
This problem is also described in a couple of documentary films that have come out recently, including Radiant City: A Documentary About Suburban Sprawl, and Where Do the Children Play (we're considering both films for this year's American Conservation Film Festival).

But there are some good examples of schools out there that get kids connected with the outdoors, to their great benefit. We met with a group of fourth graders on Friday from one such school in Virginia. We asked them a series of questions about what they do after school and what they though nature did for them, and the answers were surprisingly hopeful. These kids talked to us about roaming the fields and woods around their homes, and only 10% of the group even mentioned video games. Many saw nature as an important place in their lives.

This movement really can make a difference.