The philosophical theory behind the Open Source Learning Academy (OSLA) marks a distinct departure from the traditional model of learning that we have learned to loathe — a highs school model characterized by its common core curriculum, standardized testing, and cramped, boxed classrooms filled with the anguish of at least fifty or more suffering teenagers. Knowledge, extracted from mass produced, densely packed textbooks, are spoon-fed into receptacles that are the minds of pupils. However, this system does not function with the interests of the student in mind. The traditional curriculum does not encourage participation (and therefore, retention), nor does it foster a sense of community and a common fraternal bond between individuals. In a progressively interconnected world where ingenuity and social skills are indispensable values — a world where information is instantaneously accessible at the swipe of a finger and speed of communication transcends the barriers of physical reality — this curriculum begins to exude antiquity. The Scholastic Aptitude Test might as well have been a system used in the 1800’s.
“Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education. Schools that expect nothing more of their students than mastery of basic skills will not produce graduates who are ready for college or the modern workplace.”
-Diane Ravitch, ‘Death and Life of the Great American School System’, P.226
One of the indispensable catalysts to restructuring is focusing on more inclusive model of learning. Our conventional orientation towards scholastic result (specifically, number and letter grades) has achieved great results in excluding unconventional students: we discourage individuals of poor educational background, conflicting world views, and even of new cultures. However, these ‘black sheep’ qualities does not necessarily equate to an inability to achieve success. Instead, these qualities are arguably unique traits that can inspire innovation the world today, since acquiring the common core knowledge is no longer restricted to a classroom environment, but rather, can be completed on an individual basis through self education. Struggling to escape the Wikipedia ‘clickhole’ is no longer unproductive waste of time. In this regard, the Open Source Learning lab model succeeds in its presentation of academic excellence as a common goal for students. As such, the spatial qualities of such an educational institution (note institution vs. corporation) must present collaborative spaces that emphasize interconnectivity and foster human relationships. The learning environment themselves create the links that encourage students of unique character and age groups to come together: between the grade cohorts of 150 students, projects labs must be able to accommodate inter-year collaboration where older students with more educational experience can begin to guide younger students, celebrating learning through teaching and assisting. Though these labs must well defined in their purposes, they must also have versatile, user defined capabilities so that students can specialize in their unique abilities. For example, if a student of design is more successful at visual communication, she/he can choose to hone these graphic skills in the lab while knowing that he/she is supported by other member of the project group in the academic areas where she/he is less competent. In these spaces, transparency (both physical and theoretical) is crucial to encouraging a self understanding while creating appreciation in the work of others, allowing the education experience to attain the breath of the traditional common core curriculum while retaining the important depth of specialization. Similarly, social spaces can be shared between groups, cohorts, and cliques, mitigating differences that might arise from cultural or socio-economic backgrounds, thus creating a unified, collaborative school identity.