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Using memory techniques to design the perfect school

One of the things that’s very obvious is that the best schools are richly decorated by things relating to the kids themselves: photographs, paintings, project-work. Unlike the classroom on the right.

A second obvious thing is how much schools-building has been going on in the recent past. All over the place, new 20 million pound constructions have popped up. Most of these provide superior facilities- teachers are grateful for sturdier classrooms, shinier kitchens, greater quantities of glass and state-of-the-art interactive white-boards.

But it seems as if the architects could have thought more about what these schools are for-learning. Children, well known to be compulsive absorbers of information, crucially learn what they are interested in. Like all animals, they are interested in spaces. And, like all human animals, they are interested in what they have a role in, the things to which they can see themselves making a difference.

Architects should first ask, therefore, what spaces they are making children learn- how can they teach something extra with these spaces? And secondly: how do these spaces encourage children to see differences that they have made, things that they will therefore be interested in and so learn about?

The new schools I’ve seen make no attempt in their basic architecture to teach anything at all: they are collections of boxes, randomly organized, sometimes elegant in an abstract sort of way. What a shame this is, what a waste of thousands of hours of automatic learning!

I’d like to see schools’ spatial lay-out reflect the history of Western culture, and thereby implicitly teach it. A snake-like line of school buildings could begin at one end in Ancient times and run on, in temporally organized fashion, up to the computer science blocks of the present day. There would be roughly ten buildings inbetween- the more recent centuries being more densely represented. Key themes and figures from each epoch could provide the names for classrooms, which could also reflect some of the architecture, customs and furniture of the day.

Lessons, if they were even necessary, would be taken in the building representing the time from which their subject-matter stemmed. Science would be spread all over the line of buildings- for science is not just from the 20th century. So too would native and foreign literature, history, politics and geography be taught all over the place- with good reason.

Because in five years of schools, everyone learns every detail of the spatial organisation of the buildings, and because memories always attach to the spaces in which they were first formed, merely attending such a school would give one a wonderfully detailed sense of the history and structure of Western civilisation. And it wouldn’t need to be prescriptive, for one could take advantage of the second source of childrens’ interest -things they have a role in- to redouble the effect. Each year-group could, over the course of five years, reconsider, re-design and re-build one of the twelve epochs/buildings. This would be tremendously fun and inclusive, and would therefore stimulate deep consideration of the issues of the time.

Here are some more posts that you might enjoy:

What Celebrities can teach us about memory

Why is Chinese so incredibly easy to learn?

Never lose your keys again

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