Educational environments have been stuck for far too long. For decades, we have settled for beige concrete boxes. Little natural sunlight and fresh air. Desks arranged in rows because it makes for the most efficient cleaning, rather than asking what makes for the most productive learning environment. Our libraries are boxes with walls lined with shelf after shelf of books, but the space often doesn’t encourage talking about them. We have heavy wooden tables that can’t be moved easily. Because the space is so immobile, we encourage sitting and passivity. This sort of environment keeps activity to a minimum, even if the adults don’t express it.
Our Learning Spaces Matter
All of this had to do with money. And with convenience. Why pay architects to create an innovative, amazing new school environment when they could just duplicate and adjust the blueprint they created for the last five schools you built? Yet we are building schools for different neighborhoods and different populations. We ignore different foci for schools have different needs, different types of spaces that can support what they do.
Innovation? In a learning space? Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be on the radar for many – “I went to school with rows of desks and I turned out just fine”. Even those who think it might be a good idea just shrug their shoulders – “That would be amazing, but we just can’t do that” “There’s no way we could find the money to renovate all our schools” “How would we get our custodians on board?” “There’d be too much chaos and no learning”.
But there is a better way. Educators know that there is a better way. And we need to fight for it.
How We Can Change Things
It’s not too late. For now, we can work with what we have. We can DIY, take down shelves, change out furniture, add color, open windows, bring in plants. All of these things help. These things don’t have to be expensive. Even the small changes can make a huge difference for our students.
But we also need to think beyond this. We need to look for the future. We need to advocate for more funding, for better buildings in the future. And honestly, we probably need to tear down some poorly built and designed schools and replace them with something better. And maybe we need to rethink the way that we do school. No, we definitely need to rethink that. Get back to smaller communities. Allow for connections. Prevent our students from feeling like they’re just an anonymous individual in a sea of a thousand students.
Everything connects. Space connects with design connects with pedagogy connects with physical and mental health connects with growth as a human being.
Because our learning spaces are more than just classrooms and libraries and schools. They are the place where our future is created. We form minds here. The next generation learns what they need to keep society going forward. Will we fix the problems with a new coat of paint and a more comfortable chair? No, but we have to start somewhere.