Essential School

What Is An Essential School? There are a number of different educational reform movements that have emerged in the USA over the years, among them a philosophy known as Essential Schools.

The Essential Schools approach to improving educational systems was originally put forth in the early 1980s by some professors based at Brown University, especially one Theodore Sizer. This reform movement is generally considered to build off ideas that can be found in the work of John Dewey and Paolo Freire. At the same time, it's meant to lay down some specific suggestions for the actual development of schools, rather than being a continuing discussion about theory. The early coalition that worked out the principles of Essential Schools were clear that they did not want to make anything absolute, however - a one-size-fits-all approach was the opposite of the solution they were going for. Therefore, the guidelines are given as core principles to be kept in mind, rather than the architecture for an ideal institution.

Probably the ideas that the Essential Schools movement emphasized most were that students needed to be taught how to use their own minds rather than how to increase the amount of data they memorized, and that teaching should generally focus on depth of understanding, rather than breadth of familiarity. In other words, the Essential Schools movement considered it preferable for a student to become especially interested in and good at a particular area of study, rather than attempting to maintain a certain level of ability across all required subjects.

According to this theory, once certain basics have been covered, a student will invest more in studying something in which they show real interest, and retain a greater portion of what they learn if they follow through on the topic instead of just touching on it superficially. The notion of using one's mind rather than gathering information is considered important because then the student is in no hurry to complete a course of study - learning is a continuous process which the student can direct. These angles of approach are still used in alternative educational institutions today.

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