Sunday, December 13, 2009

Schools Need Movement and Life

Back in the 1950s we made many mistakes in thinking about what kind of schools would be best for learning. We thought that removing distractions would help students focus on the serious business of learning. We took out distractions like windows, varied light levels, ambient sounds, movement, tactile surfaces, and anything else that might bring life into the classrooms.

As a result, students find our classrooms so non-distracting that they are excellent places for them to fall asleep. The opposite of aesthetic isn't ugly, it's "anaesthetic" - that which puts us to sleep.

When they aren't sleeping, students add some excitement to the boring environments by cheering on each other in fights and throwing food in the cafeteria. Anything to bring some life into these pathetically boring places. Even the clatter of dishes on the floor in a cafeteria brings laughter and applause because it is something to stimulate the senses.

Where can we bring some stimulation of the senses back into our built environments? Where can we feel the breezes in our hair, the warmth of sun on our skin, the roughness of wood and grass in our hands, the feel of varied surfaces under our feet, the soothing sounds of birds, water and wind, and the smells of plants, earth and air?

Can we design environments where we would actually enjoy spending our days rather than watching the clock ready to escape to the world outside where we can feel alive again?

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