The desks in school do not resemble any other kind of desk or workspace that we encounter in “real life”. These kinds of desks are also the least conducive to learning and working as a group. The way desks are set up in a school room, indicates very clearly that these children are not part of a group, but they are individuals who are expected to go along with what the rest of the group is doing, without actually interacting or thinking with them. It’s not allowed to cross the desk line and chat with your neighbor, work together (unless specifically OK’d by the teacher), or communicate in any way, including passing notes or texting. Once a child is sitting in that school desk, he is in is own isolated place, where the only looking out is directed and controlled.
When I see a picture of a school desk in a homeschool house, this is what I think of – a child who is sitting in his own world, ready to be directed and told what to do, surrounded by invisible walls.
Granted, not all homeschooling families treat a school desk as such. But if this isn’t how we are going to use a school desk, why get one at all? Why use our space so inefficiently?
The kinds of desks adults, and people who feel free, choose, are desks with drawers, space, plugs, and places to put up pictures. The desks we work at represent the kind of thinking we are doing. Working at our desk should feel like it’s setting us free, not like an invisible prison, no matter how comfortable or “normal” it seems.
My husband and I chose not to get our kids desks. They work on the floor, the various tables in the house, and on the couch. Their projects can be anywhere, and they are free to decide where.
My husband and I also work in these spaces, on our own projects. The space is available, free, open. But we also have our desks where we have our “stuff”. These desks are our sanctuary, and we choose sometimes to work there. (In fact, I’m working at my desk as we speak, after having worked on the couch for a half-hour or so.)
Modeling, as we know, is the most impressionable teacher. Our 9-year-old son, Cameron, proved this to us by deciding last week that he, too, needed his own space to do projects. In particular, he needed a space where he could leave his projects 1/2 done, and nobody would bother them. He decided he needed a desk.
Cameron still works on the floor, and on the general spaces. It’s his choice, and he knows it. There are limitations of what he can do in the shared space, and there are limitation of what he can do on his desk, but these are limitations set by practical experience: using water on his desk will ruin his books, leaving out a domino project on the living room table will end in dominoes everywhere at the hands of a curious 4-year-old sister.
When Cameron asked for a desk, I waffled, because I thought the idea of sitting at a desk and working was such a homeschool cliché, it almost hurt. Then I realized, that him having a desk like mine, is freeing, not confining. So, we ended up buying him the same exact desk I have, and put it in his room. It has lots of space, he sits at it when he wants, and it can be used for many different things – not just hunching over workbooks and taking notes.
In my opinion, school desks should be outlawed, and replaced by tables. I can see how teachers would want children to use desks so they don’t socialized during class and “mess around.” But using desks is a very primitive way of making sure kids are paying attention and interested in the task at hand. If that’s what it takes, then the problem is bigger than desks.
I realize that many schools do use tables instead of desks. I think that’s great, and these schools are a good example of one small way that they can give power to choose their own learning back to the kids. Let’s give our kids tables and open space, not a chair with a little piece of wood to write one. Give them space to learn, and they will learn bigger.