An Experiment in Freedom for the Traditional Classroom

classroomFor the past nine months I have been teaching part time at a local private school. It is VERY part time (just a few hours a day) so I am still able to homeschool my own kids.

I was offered the job because of my experience with Leadership Education. The administrators wanted me to bring some of it to their 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. It really has been an ideal position. They gave me the standards they wanted me to cover and gave me total freedom in how I met them. But I’ve recently been having some challenges in the classroom.

In Social Studies we have been learning about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, so I thought – “Shakespeare” of course! We have read a couple of plays, they have written a few opinion papers, and they have done several other activities all relating to Shakespeare. Well, I thought the perfect culmination for this would be to put on a play. It turned out quite a bit less than perfect.

We went through the play in our classroom a couple of times and then started practicing in the church sanctuary, where we would be putting on the play. The first day in the church I caught some of the students breaking pens they had found in the pews and were trying to get the ink to come out. I thought I scared some sense into them after the talking to I gave them after that, but NO!

Several days later I had kids crawling under the pews, complaining about their parts (which they BEGGED me to give them), laying on the floor during their scene and coming to class not only not knowing their lines, but acting like they didn’t even know the basic plot. Unfortunately, it was almost total chaos. They couldn’t handle themselves in a large area and keep focused. With less than a week until our performance, I pulled the plug… and that is when the real lesson started.

Have you ever read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry? It is about a dystopian society where the citizens have given up all their freedom. When I cancelled the performance, I handed out these books and they got a little taste of what a loss of freedom would be like. My teaching style did a 180 is the space of 30 minutes.

When I teach in a traditional setting, I try to give as much freedom as possible. I give my students choices on topics and try to incorporate as many learning styles as I can. Last week, I didn’t.

It was really interesting to see how they acted during the week. We spent the week reading “The Giver” out-loud. They were not allowed to take the book home and they also were reprimanded if I caught them reading ahead. We did a few worksheets but these were closely supervised. While I usually allow them to work together, they weren’t even allowed to talk. It was obvious that quite a few of them were much more comfortable.

Today, I had them all meet me in the school conference room and we discussed my experiment and then related it to the book. I was a little afraid that they wouldn’t get what I had been trying to show them but they did. They knew that they had lost their freedom. Some of them found it calmer without it. But when I started relating it to the book and then relating it all to real life and the loss of freedoms found in society today, they got really into it. We had an absolutely fantastic discussion where we went deep and connected things that most of them hadn’t thought of before. I’m so proud of them!

When I was trying to figure out the last book we should read for the semester, it kept coming to me that it needed to be “The Giver.” It is a fantastic book but kind of a downer, so I was really reluctant to read it. But it kept coming to me that this was the book my class needed. I’m so glad I listened! By listening to that inner voice I was able to take a really bad situation and turn it into one that I think they will always remember. And they definitely left class today knowing that freedom isn’t free. They have to defend it and earn it. Otherwise they will lose it.

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