I hated school! There, I said it. My husband is a professor and several of my family members are elementary and high school teachers. Teaching is a profession that I highly admire; our educators' endless dedication, passion and motivation are amazing and inspiring. But our schools themselves are a different story altogether.
Whenever my nephews complain about their schools, it all comes back to me. I remember sitting at my desk in the fourth grade, thinking how uncomfortable my chair was and how boring it was to be lectured to when I had already raced through my homework for the day. It felt like torture and I got through it by consoling myself with the thought that I only had eight more years left.
I went to an elementary and a middle school, which by academic standards ranked pretty high for public schools in the U.S. I grew up in a picture perfect family in a bucolic suburb. My parents couldn't have been more supportive. Even so, for most of my years in school I was a perfect mess, scared and quiet, frustrated and bored, crying in the bathroom all the time.
So why is school so traumatic for so many kids, even when the basics like safety are covered? Not too long ago Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally renowned expert on creativity, gave a TED Talk about how Schools Kill Creativity. The video went viral with more than 10 million views. So apparently I'm not the only one who's been thinking about this subject.
In his articles and bestselling books, my husband and professor Richard Florida has said that our education system is fundamentally broken, that it's a relic of our industrial era. He has compared schools to prisons, huge bureaucratic structures that we're locked into for a good part of our lives.
I decided to ask my nephews what would make school a better experience. Their responses included: beans bags and sofas instead of desks and chairs, being able to use technology in the classroom, pets, plants, and even holding the class outside on warm weather days. They wished school would be less regimented -- that they could sit where they want and have the freedom to come and go as they please and to pick the kinds of projects they want to do and who to do them with.
Developing a school that not only makes students feel welcome and safe but encourages students to unleash their creative potential is a huge and important challenge. There is no silver bullet for transforming school buildings into an environment that inspires and ignites the creative flame, but an imaginative design can go a long way.
In a recent Huffington Post column, Peter Smirniotopoulos wrote that the right approach to education reform "is not to assume that we already have the answer; that the current system is fine but just needs to be tweaked. The right approach is to start over."
With my colleague Steven Pedigo at the Creative Class Group, I scoured the world to find schools that truly celebrate and inculcate creativity -- whether through their design and architecture, art or music programs, or new ways of thinking. We decided to stick to public schools since most private schools charge high enough tuitions to create complete utopias if they wish.
Cross Roads in Santa Monica, for example, teaches conflict resolution so children can learn to settle their issues intelligently and without escalation. Though many public schools would like to emulate that sort of program, they don't have the resources to undertake one on that kind of scale.
Even so, there are public schools that are doing things to enhance the learning experience that put even the most privileged private schools to shame. The following slide show features some of the most impressive.