Not so long ago in America-and to this day in many parts of the world-children received their education in small schoolhouses. In isolation, they would recite their times-tables, and they learned to diagram sentences in seclusion. It is still possible, in the most rural areas, to see an entire school, from kindergarten all the way through twelfth grade, housed in the same room. In other parts of the world, however, innovative educators, architects, and social scientists are coming together to forge a new order for schools-one that is integrated with, and accelerated by, the information age.
Movers and shakers in the education world increasingly believe that middle schools will be the proving ground for much of this cutting-edge theory. Of course, the earliest years of a person’s schooling still remain vitally important, but psychoanalysts identify the mental growth that occurs between the ages of eleven and thirteen as pivotal to the development of healthy, socially functional adults.
According to Freud, middle school is the time when children’s egos are just beginning to form. The ego is the part of the personality that develops as a response to external factors. It channels and tempers the innate, primitive facets of the personality (the id) and directs them toward achieving or maintaining the vision of one’s self he or she wants the world to see. The ego, which is embryonic during the early stages of education, bursts forth in the adolescent years as students develop a true sense of self. Middle schools, then, are the crucibles of the ego, and ensuring that students are nurtured and enriched at this stage is a critical step.
The middle schools of the future will be designed to expand the horizons, to offer many possible versions of “self” to pre-teens and teens. The options available would not be possible without modern technology. The connectivity of the information age means that there is literally no limit to the subjects a student can dive into or the interests they can develop. Modern classrooms are outfitted with wireless internet and tablets or laptops for students to connect to others across the globe and develop their interests by cross-pollinating with a world of learners.
But it’s not all about living online. The cutting-edge schoolhouse brings the outdoors to the students with abundant natural light and greenery inside the class. A generation ago, it was believed that windows would only distract students. Now, there is an increased awareness that nature can calm a pupil’s restlessness and be a classroom in itself. By integrating the outdoors and providing the same aesthetic benefits that adults enjoy, educators ensure that students won’t rush to get the learning experience over with as soon as possible. By nurturing students’ natural curiosity, and by connecting education with enjoyment, the middle schools of the future will set children up for a life of ongoing exploration and self-education.