So, before I launch into a detailed description of my ideal school (which is more like an ideal school system, because it involves four schools -- yeah, this may take a while . . . ), I want to give you an idea of some of the basic principles behind my plan here -- the Ideals behind my Ideal School System:
1) Individualized learning. People learn differently. Yet, in schools, we continue to teach every kid the same way -- at the same pace, in the same style. Students need to be taught in the method and at the speed that fits how God made them. AND . . . not only do they need to be taught IN their individual learning styles, they need to be taught ABOUT their individual learning style -- so that when they are in a less-accommodating educational environment someday, they can adapt.
2) Real world environments. Students will (we hope) be learning for the rest of their lives, but almost never in the kind of environment a traditional school imposes. We should make "school" as much like the real world as possible -- or better yet, do our educating in the actual, bona fide, real world.
3) Knowledge vs. skills Schools have traditionally divided up all the material to be learned in a myriad of "subjects", and had different methods and techniques for each subject. In my mind, the stuff we want our kids to learn falls into two categories: skills and knowledge. There are basically five major "skills": reading (inputting information -- this would include listening), reasoning (the processing of that information once it's inputted), writing (output of information in a new format), mathematical reasoning (because reasoning about numbers is different than reasoning about words and ideas), and "research" (not quite the correct word, but I like the alliteration! -- this is knowing how to find the information you need).
All else is knowledge -- the information to be input and processed. And while we tend to divide knowledge into categories like history, science, geography, etc., there is a tremendous amount of overlap and we should acknowledge that as we teach. The real division is between knowledge and skills -- and they should be dealt with differently. Certainly, the skills are applied to knowledge. But if, for example, we try to teach a 7-year-old about dinosaurs (knowledge) mainly by means of reading a textbook (a skill -- and one they may or may not have developed very well by the age of 7), and then assess their level of knowledge based on how well they read . . . that's an epic fail.
I'll also add here that we need to emphasize skills more than knowledge. We will NEVER be able to teach anyone all the information they will need to have in life -- and if we could, they would forget it before they need it. More important to teach them the skills of where to find information they need and what to do with it when they find it.
4) Classical education model. One of the happy things I discovered in homeschooling is the classical model of education. ("Classical" meaning from the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans.) It's not perfect, but it's an imminently useful way to look at kids and their educational needs. Learning is divided into three stages: the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. Personally, I think of these in terms of the input/processing/output analogy I used when talking aobut skills earlier. Let me try to give a quick overview of the concept.
In the Grammar stage (remember when elementary schools were called "grammar schools"?), we focus on students learning the "grammar" of a subject -- that is, the information. For example, when studying ancient Rome, grammar level kids would learn about togas, aqueducts, Julius Caesar, emperors, Roman mythology, etc.
In the Logic stage, students start seeing patterns, relationships, connections . . . what caused the Roman Republic to morph into an Empire? How is Roman mythology connected to Greek mythology? How was the rest of the world affected by the Roman empire?
In the Rhetoric stage, students start applying what they've learned and reasoned out to their lives -- and learning how to effectively communicate their unique perspective on these things. A Rhetoric level student would be examining what lessons from the Roman Empire can be applied in our current political climate and seeking out ways to use those lessons to make a real difference.
Again, a very brief overview, but hopefully as I continue, you'll see how it makes sense with how I want to teach.
5) Student ownership of their education. One of the things colleges have noticed about homeschoolers is that they tend to be more independent learners. They feel responsible for their own education. They use their professors as a resources for their learning, but don't rely completely on them to pour learning into their heads. This is why they succeed in school . . . and in life. We need to encourage this more.
I may be missing something here . . . if so, I'll hit it later. Now, on to my remake of elementary school . . .