Age-mixing

Building community: Self-Directed Education

Many organizations use the word community as a buzzword, and particularly so in education. We believe this is in large part because educational institutions so often utilize practices and structures that are isolating at best and dehumanizing at worst, and buzzwords can often distract people from focusing on organizational or institutional shortcomings. At Abrome we are not on a mission to do schooling better; we are focused on building liberatory educational experiences and environments. And liberatory education requires community building.  

We are currently reading Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown with some other education visionaries from across the country. The book stretches readers to imagine and create a better future without being constrained by the dominant culture, "the way things have always been done," or a devotion to order. It challenges us to reconsider our human relations and central to that is our understanding of community.

We have written before about the corrosive effects of competition in educational settings, and about the toxic pyramid structure of society. adrienne maree brown encourages us to think beyond the socialization of independence (and a world where we compete against others) to move toward interdependence (a world where we collaborate and support one another). This requires community. 

At Abrome we are building community in a variety of ways. First and foremost we treat everyone in our mixed-age space as equals. Like democratic schools, we believe every Learner should have the ability to impact and shape our culture without limitation on the basis of age, experience, education, or other qualification. At Abrome the adults are not more important than the Learners, and we do not expect Learners to outsource their decision making to us. We instead utilize tools such as the Community Awareness Board to provide supports for Learners to co-create culture with us. 

It is only in relation to other bodies and many somebodies that anybody is somebody. Don’t get it into your cotton-picking mind that you are somebody in yourself.

~ Jimmy Boggs

Second, we work to expand our community beyond the walls of Abrome. This is why we invest our time in people and programs outside of Abrome through our participation in our local public library (e.g., free play, public talks, Smart Schooling Book Group), Raising Resisters, and the Education Transformation Alliance. By helping others learn about liberatory ideas, and to have a taste of Emancipated Learning, we can help create a more welcoming and tolerant world for autonomous young people. 

Third, we work to get Abrome Learners out into the broader community as often as possible. We do not believe that learning should ever be confined to the walls of a school, and that there are untold numbers of people eager to engage with our Learners if only given the opportunity to do so. So we take Learners into the community multiple times per week on offerings, and once every three weeks on dedicated field trip days. We are not constrained by any notion of seat time.

And fourth, we want to begin to bring people into Abrome to support our community of Learners. We know there are many people of all ages and experiences who would love to support children and adolescents in a Self-Directed Education setting. So this is a formal invite to all of those who have been following Abrome and wanting to get involved to reach out to us to learn more about how you can provide offerings (e.g., story telling, skill sharing, art, creative writing, science experiments, historical knowledge) and to serve as resources for young people who believe they can improve the human condition.

A response to The Atlantic's article on Finding Your Passion

"Passions aren’t 'found,' they’re developed." That's what Carol Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford argue in a recent Atlantic article by Olga Khazan.

We've been slow to repost this article because we wanted to make sure we responded to it appropriately. And here it is (stream of consciousness almost, so it will be to the point).

First, Dweck's (and others') research that primes a participant to be fixed or growth minded in the moment is not very compelling in terms of suggesting how those participants actually tackle real world challenges.

That aside, I believe that a level of intellectual inquiry, or curiosity about the world is far more informative and relevant than a so-called growth mindset orientation. And growth mindset orientation may be better understood by the term self-efficacy.

Second, and more importantly, what is it that puts people in Dweck's stated growth mindset versus that of the fixed mindset? She, unsurprisingly, centers much her argument, research, and thinking on what parents and schools can do to help promote a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset among young children and young people. But it is the school environment that pushes so many from a natural, inborn growth mindset orientation to that of a fixed one. This is because schools tell them that they are of a certain level of competency, intelligence, work ethic - and they know this because they are tested, graded, and ranked accordingly. So I agree with Dweck on avoiding sending the message to students that they are fixed mindset oriented, but in order to do so one would have to withdraw children from any age-segregated, standardized, testing based, grading based, ranking based school. And to do so for all children means removing them from 99.9% of all schools (democratic, free schools, and self-directed education centers are the exception), and that is just the starting point.

Third, what is it about her so-called growth mindset that allows people to explore a variety of interests in order for them to find a new one? In a school-based society that requires a teacher, expert, or authority figure to introduce an opportunity to someone already having a growth mindset for them to identify that new interest to chase down. But that's absurd on multiple levels. One, the diversity of opportunities far exceed what any curriculum could ever expose any student two. Two, the best way to be introduced to possible interest areas are in meaningful, real world ways. For example, do you think someone is going to get excited about Astronomy by being introduced to a video as part of a class, or do you think that they might become more excited by going to an observatory, meeting an astronomer, or having the opportunity to stare into the night sky through a telescope? Three, people tend to get excited when they see their peers exhibiting interests. What do we get at schools? The most interested students are interested in getting straight As and getting ahead. There is no time for genuine interests. What they need is lots of free time, access to a large variety of opportunities that are not limited by curriculum, and lots of multi-age (meaning not just their age) peers to interact with.

The article goes on to say that "with the right help, most people can get interested in almost anything. Before the age of 8, she said, kids will try anything. Between the ages of 8 and 12, they start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something." Then it says, "That’s when educators have to start to find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." This should be a red flag to everyone who reads the article! Why do kids start to compare themselves to each other ... in school? It's because of school! Educators don't have to "find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." What educators need to do is get out of the way and stop pushing them into certain subjects where they are going to be compared to one another!

The article ends asking the question of "how to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America?" Their answer was terrible. "If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult." As we've made clear many times, you can also avoid dropping your children into standardized, age-segregated, testing and ranking based environments.

Finally, I agree that "find your passion" or "find your genius" is terrible advice. No person is preordained with a particular passion or genius. It is only through our experiences and interactions with the world that we are able to determine the degree to which we may want to leverage our individual differences toward certain endeavors.

 

Tackling Bullying in Schools

Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about how to tackle bullying in schools. This presentation leaned heavily on the bullying series we provided earlier this 'academic' year. Those posts are listed below. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

School Children Need Summer Camp, But Should Not Go

Now that the school year is winding down, many parents and their children are shifting their focus to a wide variety of camps to fill up the summer calendar. Some parents simply need daycare for their children when school is out. Others want their children to be able to finally relax and have fun around same-aged peers after a painful academic year. Other parents see summer camp as an opportunity to give children experiences that the schools do not provide, such as outdoor experiences. Many parents are eyeing up sports camps to give their children an edge on the athletic field. A growing faction of parents want the camps to provide their children with skills they deem valuable for the future, such as coding camps. And many parents see camps as opportunities for academic enrichment and training. We want to lay out some points of consideration for parents as they think through their options.[1]

The benefits of summer camp

Summer camps can be fun.  Climbing mountains, building go-carts, playing basketball, and creating art or music are experiences that can bring pleasure to one’s life. Further, being placed in a new environment allows young people the opportunity to meet others and begin building new relationships.

Summer camps can be vital recharging opportunities for young people who are enrolled in high pressure, coercive schools. Students who are academic overachievers or come from families who put a lot of pressure on them to excel face high levels of stress that lead to long-term chronic health issues, decreased intellectual vitality, and mental health challenges. Students who are academic underachievers often see schools as centers of torture. Summer camps can allow them to temporarily make a clean break from school so they can attempt to heal.

Summer camps can provide a release for young people who feel trapped in school. Traditional schools are authoritarian, hierarchical environments with restrictive rules and guidelines that strip students of autonomy. Students who have a high sense of autonomy respond to schools as if they were prisons.

Summer camps broaden young people’s horizons. In new environments, freed from the many restrictions of school, young people are more likely to dive into new experiences and to enjoy them, particularly without the assessment and grading that is associated with schooling.

Summer camps help get young people moving. In school, young people are mostly confined to a desk during the day. Occasional recess, physical education class, or after school activities cannot undo a sedentary lifestyle. Scaling rock faces, canoeing down rivers, swimming laps, and kicking around soccer balls are great ways to get children to do what they do naturally—move.

Summer camps can allow young people to build relationships with those who are younger and older than them. At school, young people are often segregated by age, and the only people they get to interact with who are not their age are authority figures. Because summer camps are often comprised of young people from a variety of age groups, as well as camp counselors, summer camps are good environments for young people to more appropriately develop their social skills.

Summer camps can provide enrichment experiences that allow young people to develop in ways that they are not able to at school, or they can position them for future success in school by giving them a head start. Additionally, select summer camp experiences may provide some resume bullets or essay fodder for those who plan to apply to highly competitive colleges and universities.

The downsides of summer camp

Summer camps limit opportunities for self-discovery. Summertime is often an escape from school, where young people can take the time necessary to focus on themselves, and to process their life experiences. However, young people cannot do so if they are being placed in camps that eat away the summer.

Human beings benefit tremendously from unstructured free play. Unstructured free play increases creativity, permits young people to seek out new learning experiences, improves problem solving, and improves mental health. The optimal amount of unstructured free play is unlimited unstructured free play. Summer camps infringe upon the opportunity for unlimited free play, and many camps are so regimented and structured that free play is not an option.

Summer camps continue to segregate young people from society. Students spend all year holed away in a school where they do not have the opportunity to regularly interact with people three or four years older or younger than them, much less with the rest of society. By placing young people in summer camps during the summer, they are still prevented from taking their rightful place in society and having the opportunity to interact with people of all ages.

Summer camps are often captive experiences that the young person cannot opt out of, or does not have the freedom or ability to restructure. This can inhibit their sense of autonomy in school- or prison-like ways.

Summer camps only run during the summer. Acknowledging the potential benefits of summer camp, they have a very short shelf life, and then young people are sent back to school.

A better alternative

The listed benefits of summer camp outpace the listed downsides of summer camp. However, the downsides are substantially heavier than the benefits. That is why young people should not be sent away to summer camp as some sort of medicine to offset the schooling experience, or as a supplement to schooling.

A temporary reprieve from the oppressive experiences of schooling is not sufficient for healing, nor does it allow young people to lead remarkable lives. A one- or two-month summer experience does not erase what happens during the schoolyear, and thinking of summer as a way to reset young people is a form of punting on the necessity of taking action to promote the health and welfare of children.

Young people need more than just an escape from school, or “better” enrichment activities than school offers; young people need to live lives of autonomy and freedom. Only when young people are freed from the burden of being subjected to schooling for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their lives will they have the opportunity to engage in and benefit from unlimited free play. And only when they have the opportunity to engage in unlimited free play will they also have the time to be with themselves to process, and to come to an understanding of themselves.

There are no shortcuts to leading a remarkable life. Free play and down time are not extracurricular activities. Being free from assessment, grading, and judgment some of the time does not undo the harm from being assessed, graded, and judged the rest of the time. Young people do not learn how to take control of their lives because they go to a summer camp, they learn how to take control of their lives when they are given the responsibility of making the decisions that are relevant to their lives. And that needs to be an all the time responsibility.

Summer camps can be beneficial, and worthwhile. But only as something that young people choose to engage in as a part of a broader self-directed lifestyle. Summer camps should be seen as learning experiences. But life is filled with learning experiences when one is not constrained to coercive schooling environments.

1.     We chose not to attempt to create an exhaustive list of benefits or downsides of summer camp. 

Five Steps to End School Bullying: Change the Context (Essay 6 of 6)

Bullying is not the only problem with schooling, but it is one that literally brings violence into children’s lives, and in worst case scenarios it ends lives. In this essay series we laid out five actionable steps that schools need to take to end school bullying. First, schools must incorporate age-mixing as a means to reduce hierarchy and competition, and increase empathy.[1] Age-mixing in three or four year batches is helpful but not sufficient. For maximum benefit, schools should consider age-mixing from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and perhaps even more broadly than that. Second, schools must eliminate competition, starting with grades.[2] Grades do not aid in the learning process, but they can shut it down, and they almost always create an unhealthy rank ordering of students. This ordering ultimately leads to various forms of bullying. Third, schools must give students full agency over their learning.[3] Allowing students to pick from some electives or to determine the sequence in which they learn something is not sufficient. The adults must be willing to step aside so that students feel as though they are in control of their lives, which lessens the likelihood that they will try to control the lives of others. Fourth, schools must respect their students.[4] This requires that schools commit to the principles of anti-oppression, trust students to take full control over their learning, and avoid manipulating student behavior through punishments and rewards. And fifth, schools must promote empathy in their communities.[5] They can promote empathy by embracing diversity, modeling empathetic behavior, and tearing down hierarchy within the schooling community.

In this series we have pointed out how these five steps promote superior learning and academic achievement, as well. That schools continue to reject the five steps to end bullying, when those steps would also improve the quality of education, raises some serious questions about the motives of the various stakeholders in the traditional schooling industry, both public and private. What could possibly be so important to traditional school administrators, school boards, politicians, accreditation agencies, and content providers that they would refuse to advocate for and take the steps necessary to build intellectually vibrant environments free of bullying? Part of the answer can be found in the realization that the bullying in schools does not come only from other students, it comes from the adults, as well.[6] Such bullying can range from a vice principal berating a student for violating a rule to a teacher embarrassing a student for not knowing the answer to a question, and in some of the more backward schools in America, to corporal punishment or the threat of criminal charges against students. 

So what is a parent to do when their children are trapped in schools where the adults bully the students and where peer bullying is promoted directly or indirectly through the practices and structures of schooling? Politicians, bureaucrats, and school administrators can talk about school reforms that will help reduce bullying over time, but parents do not have the luxury of waiting for years when their children are being subjected to environments of bullying in the here and now. Fortunately, parents can do for their children overnight in one simple step what tens of thousands of schools refuse to do by way of the steps we laid out. Parents can change the context.

If the waiters at your favorite restaurant made fun of the way you ate your food every time you went there for dinner, you would stop going to that restaurant. If you found out your trainer was telling everyone at the local gym what your weight is and how you are too lazy to get it down, you would stop using that trainer. If your neighbor’s dog attacked you every time you went over to their house, you would stop going to their house. We know that if something is hurting us that we should remove it from our lives.[7] We change the context. Yet when our children are being bullied at school, the idea of removing our children from school is unfortunately considered by too many to be an unnecessary overreaction that does more harm than good. Instead, society tells us to teach children how to cope with the bullying, to work with the school staff to find ways to limit the incidence of bullying, and to lobby the school board to address the problem of school bullying.  

Life is far too short and far too precious to leave children to suffer in schools, especially when we know that pulling them out of school will eliminate real harm from their lives. Change the context. Identify a local alternative school that has incorporated the five steps we have laid out. Change the context. If you don’t live near such a school, move. Change the context. If you cannot afford to attend an alternative school, downsize your life so that you can, or homeschool or unschool. Change the context. In doing so you will allow your children to recognize their personal worth, to feel in control their own lives, and to lead healthier and happier lives. As a bonus, your relationship with your children will improve considerably. They will recognize that you are on their side, proactively working to help them enjoy life. Change the context.

 

(1)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/10/3/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-age-mixing-essay-1-of-6  

(2)  http://www.abrome.com/blog/end-bullying-collaboration-not-competition  

(3)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/11/25/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-agency-essay-3-of-6   

(4)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/11/29/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-culture-and-philosophy-essay-4-of-6

(5)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/12/19/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-empathy-essay-5-of-6

(6)   Unfortunately, the media and education schools largely restrict their focus on bullying to that committed by students, not by educators. However, the bullying that comes from adults, the ones young people are told to trust, can be far more pernicious. This has parallels to how the media and education schools often focus on students and their families to explain away academic shortcomings, instead of turning the focus on the adults who run the system. Here is a report from Australia that provides examples of how adults often bully children in schools:  https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/emotional-abuse-hidden-form-maltreatment#sch.

(7)   We are not suggesting that standing up to bullies or trying to influence change in systems is not a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, the course we are suggesting in this essay will force schools to address bullying.

Five Steps to End School Bullying: Collaboration, Not Competition (Essay 2 of 6)

We previously pointed out that the first step to ending school bullying was to end age segregation.[1] The second step is to eliminate competition and grades.

The most overt (and odious) function of schooling is a sorting function. Edward Thorndike, the father of modern educational psychology, pushed for standardized classes, homework, and tests in schools in order to rank students. He figured that ‘smart’ students would thrive under these conditions, and that less intelligent students would falter.[2] He did not see students faltering as a shortcoming of the system, he saw it as a desired outcome. He would ask you, why waste resources on students who were unlikely to benefit from the time and money invested in them? 

What Thorndike did not know, and what we know today, is that learning is not linear. Learning happens in spurts, and cannot be set to a developmental timeline. Some of the most intellectually curious learners seem to be going nowhere for long periods of time, while those who appear to most quickly learn subject material often get lost in the long run. Yet our schools still judge students as Thorndike wanted them to be judged over a century ago—by the speed at which they can master predefined tasks.

Schools judge and sort students by grading them. In the overwhelming majority of traditional schools, students are given a letter grade (or worse, a numeric grade) for each class that they take. This helps administrators and teachers quickly determine whether the students are dumb, average, or smart by subject area (although they often use the euphemisms basic, proficient, and advanced). While the adults may appreciate being able to measure and rank students, young people tend to absorb these grades into their self-worth. And because schools would be unable to rank students if they gave all of them perfects scores, most students are going to accept that they are less than intelligent. This may come in the form of “I am not good at math,” “I am a bad writer,” or “I don’t like science.” And unsurprisingly, when students come to embrace the belief that they are not good at certain subjects, or that they are dumb, they often give up on the learning process.

While grading is detrimental to the self-confidence of most students, and undermines the learning process, it also tends to negatively alter the behavior of parents. Parents generally understand that the prospects of their children getting into top colleges out of traditional high schools requires that their children rank at the top of their class. In order to rank at the top of the class, it is not sufficient to master the content of the classes they take, or to love learning. Instead, they must get the highest grades in all subjects. When the ultimate measure of academic success becomes whether or not one gets higher grades than all of his peers, there is no room for anything less than winning. Winning isn’t everything in the eyes of these parents, it’s the only thing.

With a hyperfocus on being number one, cheating becomes one way to rise in the hierarchy above one’s peers.[3][4] Other students become relegated to nothing more than competition, and this idea is reinforced by teachers who are quick to accuse collaborators of cheating.

Additionally, the focus on outperforming peers then bleeds into other activities that colleges care about when considering traditional schooled applicants, namely sports and clubs. Participation and engagement alone does not allow one to rise above. Instead, students recognize that they must be the Captain of the football or volleyball team, the President of the debate or robotics club, the Editor of the student newspaper, and the President of the student council. And while cheating becomes the way to squeeze out those extra points to get the top grades, a Machiavellian approach to stepping on classmates and teammates often becomes the way to rise to the top of extracurricular activities.

In the schooling environment where everyone wants to be number one, bullying becomes ingrained in the fabric of the culture of the school. If they cannot be at the top of the class academically, at least they can assert their position socially. Where hierarchy is everything, many students resort to bullying as a way to secure their spot at the top of the class, or at least above select others (the bullied). And because so few can be at the top of the class academically or socially, there is significant pressure for schoolgoing children to engage in bullying, or to lend support to bullies.[5] Even the popular kids, the ones us adults so often assume to be doing the best, often engage in bullying. And disturbingly, the students who are the most popular with the teachers and administrators are often given the longest leash to engage in the most aggressive forms of bullying.[6]

In order to eliminate the bullying effects of competition in school, schools need to eliminate competition. Unfortunately, most schools cannot fathom a world without competition, because competition is the bedrock of the academic experience, and it is what is expected from parents, administrators, and bureaucrats. The simplest and most meaningful step toward eliminating competition is eliminating grades. Some schools give lip service to the value of reducing the pressure of grading, and a smaller subset of schools will ‘refuse to rank’ students to address the harmful effects of competition, yet they continue to grade students.[7] Schools can eliminate academic ranking by eliminating grading.[8]

The next step schools should take to eliminate competition is to embrace age-mixing, as articulated in the first essay in this series on bullying. When students are surrounded by other people appreciably older or younger than them, the urge to compete lessens dramatically. There is little reason for a ten-year-old to attempt to show that they are superior to a six-year-old, or a 14-year-old. Simply put, society does not expect six-, ten-, and 14-year-olds to compete with each other. Hopefully, someday, society will no longer expect ten-year-olds to compete with ten-year-olds, either.

Once schools eliminate grading and age segregation, they will be able to truly embrace collaboration in lieu of competition.[9] In a collaborative environment, the emphasis is not on how much more one knows than another, it is on what students can accomplish together. In such an environment, every member of the community is valued for what they can contribute to the experiences of others, and the need to jockey for position relative to one another disappears.

The collaborative environment we propose does not take away opportunities for leadership roles. Those leadership opportunities will be able to grow out of demonstrated interest and intentional action in the pursuit of one’s goals. Without the focus on beating one’s peers, there is less of a stigma in joining someone else’s project (becoming a follower). And in an environment with age diversity, it is natural for younger people to join in the efforts of older people without feeling as though one is not measuring up to the leader.   

When we eliminate competition, we eliminate the existence of losers. In an environment where no one becomes a loser, the need for bullying evaporates.

(1)   http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/10/3/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-age-mixing-essay-1-of-6

(2)   https://www.amazon.com/End-Average-Succeed-Values-Sameness/dp/0062358367

(3)   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/education/studies-show-more-students-cheat-even-high-achievers.html

(4)   http://www.glass-castle.com/clients/www-nocheating-org/adcouncil/research/cheatingfactsheet.html

(5)   https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christina_Salmivalli/publication/12829538_Participant_role_approach_to_school_bullying_implications_for_interventions/links/54ec20030cf2ff89649f1ed3.pdf

(6)   https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201005/school-bullying-tragic-cost-undemocratic-schools

(7)   College admission committees are not thrown off by schools that ‘refuse to rank’ their students. The committees get a profile of each high school, and back their way into figuring out how each applicant compares to their peers. Further, if multiple students from a given school are applying, it becomes readily apparent where in the rank order the various applicants fall. This reality can often exacerbate the stress that comes from grades, as students work frantically to improve their unknown position against peers.

(8)   It is important to note that in addition to promoting a bullying culture, as previously mentioned, grading is harmful to students from a learning perspective. Even if schools were uninterested in addressing the issue of bullying, it would make sense for them to eliminate grading. An argument against eliminating grading would be that grading is necessary to assess what the students are learning. However, the reality is that assessments do not require testing or grades.

Non-graded assessments, in general, still undermine learning. Students benefit the most when they are able to deeply engage in learning without external pressure. If students know they are being evaluated, even if there are no consequences to the results of the evaluations, they are more likely to lose interest in the activity. This point is described well by Alfie Kohn in an essay on grading: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/grading/.  

(9)   While many argue that just a little competition peppered into a collaborative environment is better than full collaboration or no collaboration, the truth is that any amount of competition gets in the way of collaboration. Once again, Alfie Kohn covers this well in an essay on competition in collaborative classrooms: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/competition-ever-appropriate-cooperative-classroom/.  

Five Steps to End School Bullying: Age-Mixing (Essay 1 of 6)

A 2013 CDC Study found that 19.6% of youths had been bullied on school property in the previous 12 months, and 14.8% had been electronically bullied.[1] In a 2011 National Crime Victimization Survey, close to 1.2 million students reported that someone was hurtful to them at school once a week or more. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and bully victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And while many parents focus on the violent bullying that is more often associated with boys, bullied girls are at an even higher risk of suicide.

When we launched Abrome, we believed that our model of emancipated learning would most strongly appeal to families that wanted their children to gain entry into the world’s top colleges and universities, without having to sacrifice their health and happiness.[2] However, it quickly became apparent that school bullying was the primary driver for the plurality of families that looked into Abrome. This subset of families wanted to end the misery associated with schooling. They were desperate for an alternative to schooling.

Bullying does not have to be a rite of passage for young people. There are a variety of factors that drive bullying, and educators and parents are able to influence, mitigate, and alter those factors to limit or eliminate bullying. This is the first of six essays that will lay out how we can end school bullying.

The first step to eliminate school bullying is to eliminate age segregation in schools. Unfortunately, by their very nature, schools segregate children from society. From the ages of 5 to 18, the expectation is that children disappear from society for the bulk of the day so that they can be schooled. While the motivations behind segregating children from society to school them were a mixture of noble and nefarious, the practical reality of segregation was an unnatural extension of childhood; an infantilization of young people.[3] While educators and parents cannot easily change the way young people are segregated from society, they can substantially change the segregation that exists within schools.

There has been ample research that shows that age-mixed classrooms produce substantial academic benefits to students.[4] However, less publicized is the benefit of age-mixing as an antidote to bullying. Age-mixing is powerful for what it brings into a classroom, and what it leaves out.

By mixing older children with younger children there is an injection of empathy into the classroom. Older children are drawn to serve as mentors and protectors of younger children, and they quickly hone in on the well-being of the younger children. This empathy also brings a level of calm into a classroom, no matter how visually and audibly chaotic it may seem. As Peter Gray points out, “the presence of little kids has a pacifying effect on big kids. Even when they’re not interacting.”

What age-mixing leaves out of the classroom is the social pressure to assert dominance over peers. Without younger and older children in a classroom, there is a natural tendency for young people to introduce new forms of hierarchy. This often results in unhealthy and abusive relationships among peers wherein family wealth, familial connections, athleticism, attractiveness, and brute force (among other factors) becomes the basis for social hierarchy. And the way these hierarchies are often validated is through mechanisms of bullying, which quickly and clearly highlight who is at the bottom of the hierarchy.   

It is worth noting, however, that age-mixed classrooms are not sufficient to stop bullying. First, there are other factors that will be addressed in the following essays. Second, age-mixing in two to four year bands is not nearly as beneficial as age-mixing between very young children and older adolescents. Because children mature emotionally, mentally, and physically at different rates, multi-year groupings of children may at times mimic what single-year groupings look and act like. A wider range of age-mixing is necessary to fully extract the empathy and concern that older children will have for younger children. Schools in our society are generally bound by the 5- to 18-year-old age range, and that should be considered the minimum range of age-mixing for a school. Ideally, our children would be able to interact with people outside of the 5- to 18-year-old range, on a daily basis, with the opportunity to regularly interact with infants and retirees, alike.[5] 

Age-mixing is a necessary step to effectively end school bullying. The greater the range of age-mixing, the better. 

1.   This study covered only high school students. The incidence of bullying is higher among middle school students.

2.   Anecdotally, we have observed that the families most focused on elite college placement seem to be believe that sacrificing the happiness and health of their children is a necessary trade-off for admission success.

3.   For example, one of the drivers behind compulsory schooling laws was an effort to protect children from child labor, which I would argue was a noble effort. Unfortunately, a nearly universal driver behind compulsory schooling was the attempt to condition or indoctrinate young people to become good citizens and loyal servants of the church or state.

4.   One of the most appealing features of the growing micro-school movement is its eagerness to embrace mix-aged classrooms. For micro-schools, this is often a necessity as they do not have the scale to have break out students by year group.

5.   In fact, despite the large anti-bullying industry that has popped up to help insulate schools from the liability associated with their bully-infested environments, the only intervention that has had a substantial impact on bullying is one that brings babies into the classroom.