A School of Sphericity

Many years ago I thought about starting a school that would emphasize “sphericity,” by which I meant the property of being well-rounded.

Armillary Sphere
(“Armillary Sphere,” by francisco.j.gonzalez, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

To me the concept of personal sphericity is summed up in one of my favorite Robert A. Heinlein quotes —

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— which seemed like the basis of a unique and interesting curriculum (so long as we didn’t push students so far as to experience the last item in the long list). My idea was to start a school that would equip every student not only with the “three Rs” but with practical skills, and would give them experience not only with those specific tasks listed but with related activities that they represent.

This idea came back to mind recently when a colleague wrote this blog post. She wrote about designers Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, who started Studio H in Bertie County, North Carolina, as a “‘design/build’ public school curriculum that sparks community development through real-world, built projects.” They taught “fundamentals of design, architecture and construction to high school students,” though after the first year they took the program to California because the local school district had cut funding for their salaries.

In that one project, then, we find several items from Heinlein’s list: not only the obvious “design a building” and “build a wall,” but “balance accounts” (in terms of budgeting for the project), “cooperate,” “analyze a new problem,” and likely several more. It seems like a wonderful educational experience to me, and I applaud Pilloton and Miller for pursuing the idea and wish them luck in the future.

I don’t know quite how to go about starting such an enterprise, but I think a school of sphericity would be marvelous, and its graduates would be well-poised to take on whatever challenges awaited them. What do you think?

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2 Responses to A School of Sphericity

  1. beaker4 says:

    I think this is an awesome idea and I try to live my life this way, but how do you convince a world that is enamored with specialization to accept this as a good idea? When I interview for a job, they don’t want to hear about the fact that I can split wood and know how to safely camp in the backcountry. They want to know about my specialty – my unique skills I can bring to a single type of work.

    I wonder if this was the issue with the folks that had to move their program from NC to CA. Was their funding cut because no one saw the practical use in their program? It seems like ever since the industrial revolution that it is not “necessary” for people to have all these skills and therefore they are not encouraged or taught – by schools or parents. And if things are not required for survival or work/school, most will not take the extra effort to learn them.

    These are valuable things that don’t seem to be valued.

    • You make an excellent point: hiring authorities don’t always seem to make the connection between the planning and problem-solving skills involved in non-work-related activities, yet those are often the places that people learn (or at least practice) skills they can apply to a host of future situations. I’m not sure how to crack that nut.