On One Room Schoolhouse

Written By: Quodlibetica Constellation 18 2.1.12

By Alyson Coward, Patricia Healy, Anthony Warnick

The One Room Schoolhouse project is a learning experience unlike any other, partly because it’s on a frozen lake. ORSH will reside for four weeks alongside the shanties of other artists in this year’s Art Shanty Projects currently taking place on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minnesota. The project’s existence in this in-between space, a defined non-location governed only by the Water Patrol, affords its participants a fresh and alternative approach to education and one’s own place in it. It’s a kind of Wild West of the tundra.

The One Room Schoolhouse project was created by five Minneapolis artists, Anthony Warnick, Patricia Healy, Katinka Galanos, Alyson Coward, and Derek Ernster, who share an interest in exploring the possibilities of experimental educational systems. Building on the traditions of the rural one-room schoolhouses during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we reclaim this mode of all-inclusive, non-hierarchical learning.We require that our guest lecturers also enroll as students, an action which acknowledges that at the same time one teaches, one also learns. In this liminal space, all teachers are students, and all students are teachers.

The ORSH student body is contingent in choosing the school’s workshop and discussion topics and leaders and then participating in said classes. We are a school truly by and for its students, a model that we currently see employed by Evergreen University, among several others. Our daily structure involves two classes in the morning, usually one Lesson and one Workshop, and another of each after the lunch break. The lunch is a communal soup, warmed on the small woodstove and served at one o’clock with bread, as was the custom in the one room schoolhouses of old. The 10’ x 12’ wooden structure is walled with orientated strand board (OSB) and laid with a hardwood flooring. Elements are sparse yet central to learning: one 4’ x 8’ blackboard, three movable benches, a central wood-burning stove, a turntable, a library along one wall, and the school bell tower at the building’s peak. Five windows peek out upon the ice, while the flag with the school crest flies just outside the registrar’s window.

The registrar is always active and available, residing just inside the door during all open hours, aiding the Public-at-Large in enrollment at any time, during or in between classes. ORSH has two tracks operating simultaneously and has activities every open day: A Student Body, and Public at Large.

Student Body: Anyone can enroll as a student, with pre-registration beginning on December 15, 2011 and an ongoing open registration for the duration of the project on the ice. The information gathered during all registration fosters and informs the curriculum on a daily basis.

Students receive an I.D. card, and, once matriculated, they have access to all Discussions and Workshops, voting and nomination rights in choosing said Leaders and Workshop Topics, as well as privilege to form mini-symposia. Suggested Workshops or Discussion Leaders can be local or non-local; we ask all who are nominated by the student body, and facilitate them as scheduling allows. Leaders include Eric Gorvin and Eric Carranza, Music Appreciation; Nathan Freeman, Intro to Self-Defense; Andy Sturdevant, Hand Lettering I and II; Morgan Adamson, discussion about the End of the Gold Standard.

The Lessons are usually 30-minutes long and more rudimentary in nature. They have included Euclid’s Geometry, the Art of Correspondence, Introduction to Quiet Being, History of the Letterpress, Coffee-Cupping, Sock-Darning, Basic Electricity, Ice Fishing, Cow Roping, and the Lindy Hop.

Public at Large: Any person on the Ice can join any of our Public Activities or Workshops at any time, although a few classes are reserved for Students Only. Here is a sampling of one day:

Inside the One Room Schoolhouse, the wood stove has been started, the morning’s routine of kettles for coffee and all ensuing dishes have been placed on it. Large, unnecessary objects that had been stored within the schoolhouse for the night move outside, the flag raises, the schedule’s posted, a schoolmaster for the day has been proclaimed, words of wisdom have been issued, and the school day rings in as closely as can be managed to 10:30, marking with volume and certitude the morning’s beginning.

Our first lesson of the day was led by Patty and Ella McMeans. This lesson is based on a book by Ella [12,], which is called Facts I Found which is made entirely from facts that she finds (lots are from National Geographic) and are quite interesting and pique many discussions among the students. For example, there are no roads that lead to Alaska’s capital, Juneau. How odd!

Moondog, student/teacher/dog/best friend, taught us class this morning for an hour. Katy Vonk and Eric Frye provided the narration. We learned to observe, to be attentive, to greet others boldly, to be sweet, playful, and provocative, but not in your face.

Noon is soon to follow.

Those coming in are greeted with the 411: “Hello! We are a One Room Schoolhouse and we just learned some meaningful things from observing a dog, and that red M&M’s were not produced from 1976-1987. No, the soup is not quite ready yet.” And if curiosity so catches them, they usually follow with some questions of their own, remarks, or, by chance the answers to the chalkboard full of student questions kept up near the front of the room (for example, “How does electricity work?”). In this way, the public-at-large can also participate by providing us with answers they hold within, on-the-fly like, and soon the schoolmaster will translate that information to the questioning students, even if they are absent.

The Lesson continues, and as one o’clock approaches, minutes run quickly. One o’clock bell bids lunchtime; students and teachers pack into the warm schoolhouse while hot soup is served up with bread. It is two on the clock: hectic yet graceful, the crowd almost subsides.

An afternoon bell chimes for a discussion of depth and impromptu asides while the casual learner fast approaches. Occasionally, students and teachers find themselves lost in curiosity with a book pulled from the small collection which constitutes the library.

Naughty Shanty apparently stole something from us but we don’t know what it is!

Open registration runs throughout the day. A quick-like form is filled out by the applicant, a student ID, once blank, is penciled in with a hand-drawn portrait, a type written name, and the date of issue.

The day has not yet been thoroughly broken even when three o’clock checks in. The One Room Schoolhouse bell chimes in for lessons. Coming up, Music Appreciation I, taught with records spinning on the old turntable by two knowledgable student/teachers, who move us through James Brown, Theolonious Monk, and Sergio Mendes. We just learned how to follow a bossa nova time signature.

Fort Shanty is making coffee and we will provide the water.

The public-at-large meanders around as their day moves towards unwinding, and by four o’clock a steady trickle comes ambling in for some thoughtful conversation after the day’s events. Patty, today’s schoolmaster, closed out the weekend at 4:30 today. We have enrolled 25 new students ergo teachers ergo students this weekend and we look forward to next weekend, especially History of the Letterpress, with Jeff and M.C. and also our first Field Trip!. A mystery physicist wrote an extreme equation! heat in – heat out + any extras (radiation, god, etc.).

The one room schoolhouse model is a lost model of education, though a sparse few do still operate. Contemporary education has moved towards models where students are considerably more and more passive in choosing an interdisciplinary course and participating in the transference of knowledge. The teacher is the provider of a service, and that service is to bestow knowledge on the sitting students.

This hierarchical model is problematic as it takes the onus of learning off the students themselves; they have become solely receivers. The idea of collaboration in the classroom is not new, but it has been pushed to the outside to make room for other factors deemed more important. The one room schoolhouse affirms the equal intelligence of all. However, the present dominant models of education separate students according to what is determined to be their aptitude.

Models like one room schoolhouses have sprouted and flourished, such as Experimental College in the Twin Cities, formerly Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Montessori environments, as well as “free” schools in general. The learning of critical thinking is not done simply in any one class, but it happens between classes and in making connections between classes. The students that attended the one room schoolhouses and its cohorts were given agency to teach themselves and others, and to learn how to learn.

With the current hierarchical system failing us, we hope unsatisfied students of learning will turn to exploring for themselves, as the five artists behind ORSH have done, new ways to attack the problem from the side, free from fear of failure.

The One Room Schoolhouse project exists for four weeks on a frozen lake; then it becomes a part of a larger conversation that continues, a gauntlet that can be picked up by anyone at any time, replicated or re-framed. Learn Free or Die or We’ll Find a Way or Make One As the student, the teacher, the learner, the schoolmaster, the server, the custodian, the foreman, the typist, the librarian, we are a school truly by and for its students.

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