Handmade Education: Creating Students, Not Products

By Andrea Cook

There is a lot of selling that goes on in the world; so many ways to try and persuade someone to buy something or do something. But sometimes, you don’t really need to “sell” a thing, sometimes you can just let it be what it is and it sells itself.

I spent a joyful day at Brockwood Park speaking to four prospective students who are here for the week looking at the school. I’m a prospective staff member myself, here for the week as well, so we are all in a similar position.

We participated in an English class together. It was vastly different from how I remember school. It was creative and fun. We got to go outside! I learned a lot in such an enjoyable way.

I decided to ask the students how they felt about the experience, and what they have discovered about Brockwood so far.

The first prospective student I interviewed was Harold:

“Going from 35 students per class to seven, all interacting with each other in two-way conversations is very different to what I’m used to. I’m used to just sitting, listening to what the teacher has to say. We don’t do any creative writing in my school, and it’s something I don’t do on my own, so it was challenging. We were asked to go out into the vast nature here to do some observational writing, which is writing down what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. This is something I never think about when writing, because in my school our writing is very structured and planned. Once I got through the effort of analysing my environment and thinking about it, it was inspiring. Because I’m in a school system where I don’t get to use my imagination a lot, being asked to write something from scratch was a first. After doing this I realised how much I have lost in terms of this. I feel like there is a lot of judgment in my school; what you wear, what you own. I don’t find that here, which I find very freeing. I think the lack of pressure in this way really helps me to be able to learn, and to be more open minded, because when I’m afraid of being judged and criticised, it stops me from trying things out. I love the peaceful environment and being in the countryside. It’s very relaxing. I really like my room in the Pavilions. The school provides lots of opportunities to try new things out as well.”

Next I spoke to Alanis:

“I found the creative writing class really surprising. I’ve never done an interactive class like that. It was interesting because everyone had very different ideas. For my English class we have never been outside the classroom and had that much freedom to do the writing. It’s always been very specific about what you have to write about. I think Brockwood is how school should be. It’s still very serious in education but not run in a way that’s unnecessary. You’re allowed freedom. You’re allowed to express yourself. I find some of the rules in my school very harsh. It’s ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ The rules here are just about respecting one another and trying to make it a good experience for everybody. That’s not even a rule, to me that’s just normal, respecting people. I feel that at my school the students are there to make the school look good. It’s not necessarily about what’s best for the students there. At my school everybody’s lessons are the same in structure, not taking into account the different levels of understanding, or ways in which people learn. It’s like the difference between a production line and something that’s handmade. Here you don’t have to interpret the work in the same way, you’re encouraged to explore more, rather than saying exactly what everyone else says. Handmade is different and takes more time.”

Suriya had this to say:

“I found the class relaxing and there was no pressure. The smaller class was really good. There was a lot of space compared to what I’m used to. There are two thousand students in my school in France. It gets a bit squished. I like the friendly people and teachers here. People respect each other and respect the rules. Teachers are not controlling that much. You have rules, but much more freedom. They put a lot of trust in you. For people who want to work, they don’t need extra controlling; they can find out for themselves and control themselves. The only pressure comes from you. “

And finally I spoke to Egor:

“I found our class very creative. I really liked how we used the grounds as part of the lesson as well, so you don’t sit inside for two hours. I liked the freedom and trust given to us; that we would do the work in spite of the fact the teacher allows you out into the grounds. I like the feeling of being treated like somebody who wants to learn. I really enjoy going for walks in nature here, and the sports facilities. I like the fact that there is more free time in which to follow your own interests instead of just having one lesson after another. I think more schools could be like this; it may not be for everyone, but I really like it.”

Wow! I went away from these conversations feeling really uplifted and enlightened. Some memories floated up to the surface that night about my own school days. One of these was being sent out into the corridor for trying to interact with my teacher. It really struck me.

I have truly found this to be a school like no other. I am amazed by all of the opportunities that the students have to try so many different things. The organic garden is a sight to behold! There are so many nooks and crannies for people to sit in and be still. The birds provide beautiful music and so does the spontaneous music provided by students at different times throughout the day. I keep hearing students singing in the corridor, and when I went into the art class, the nicest music was calming the open space where students worked. Some would call all of this common sense, so why is it not just the norm? I really do think there is so much to be said for this 'handmade' education.