Several weeks ago, two PhD students came to visit Macomber Center. They were researching innovative practices in education and wanted to talk to me about our approach. Though I was happy to speak with them, I told them that there is nothing innovative going on here. These kids are doing what kids have always done; at least, that is, until the relatively recent invention of compulsory schooling. They are playing together, inventing games, exploring, and discovering new things. It is a beautiful and rare thing. But there is nothing new or innovative about it.
These days, there is a lot of excitement and interest in innovative educational programs. We hear a lot about how traditional school hampers motivation, curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking - all the traits that experts believe young people will need to thrive in an innovation-based economy. Some argue that the best way for kids to develop the essential "21st century skills" - collaboration, communication, and creative problem solving - is through free play and self-directed learning. There may be truth to all this. But the reason we set Macomber Center up the way we did, where kids choose how to spend their own time, was not merely to train them for a future economy; rather, we wanted to create a rich, inspiring community, free of coercion and manipulation, where kids thrive in the present. For all the talk of "reimagining education for the 21st century" and preparing kids for the "innovation era", the importance of a happy childhood always seems to be missing from the conversation.
If there is anything innovative in what we are doing it has to do with the homeschool resource center model itself. It is flexible and adaptable. It has allowed us to grow and evolve according to the needs of the community rather than being restricted by rigid adherence to an educational model. This process took time; we have grown steadily and gradually, adapting to the needs of the community. As a result, the environment that we have created here is more interesting, dynamic, and vibrant than anything any group of educators, no matter how innovative, could have designed. This is reflected in many of the staff’s blog posts from this year which chronicle the day to day life at the Center.
When people talk about an innovative educational program, they usually mean that it has a unique way of shaping the lives of the kids who pass through it. What is innovative about Macomber Center is that it is shaped by the unique individuals who make it up. This is not to say that the kids here are not shaped by their experience, they are. But it is not a one-way street. It is the kids as much as the adults who are creating the culture, and it is continually evolving to reflect the values, the interests, and the individual personalities that make it up.