[Discuss-sudbury-model] On the design of institutions (WAS: sudbury/summerhill)

From: Darren Stanley <rds1_at_ualberta.ca>
Date: Sat Mar 1 09:27:00 2003

> > > 6: As time goes by, the public schools become less and less
> > > relevent. Until they are abandoned and converted into
> > > something more appropriate than schools to the architectural
> > > style (note that most architects who design schools also
> > > design prisons -- just a thought).
> >~ David

> It isn't that prisons and schools are morally equal. (Is it?) but that
> are certain physical attributes to institutional buildings. Whether the
> institution is a prison or a school or a social security office
> building...they tend to look the same, because the physical needs of an
> institution are similar, no matter the institution.
> peace, Heidi

There becomes a point when the thread of a topic doesn't seem to match the
subject heading...and, so, I've changed it because I realized that I was
missing out on some interesting thoughts.

The design of certain institutional buildings have been designed very
specifically with particular physical attributes in mind over the years.
With this thought, I am reminded of the "panopticon" - an institutional
design where everything could be seen from some given vantage point. I hope
that the etymology is lost on the readers here. (I love etymologies.)

And, so, such buidlings would have long hallways and places from which to
stand so that all the actions of its inhabitants could be seen without
seeing or knowing that they were being seen. Think: prisons. An
ampitheatre has a similar arrangement, but not quite so limited/limiting.

Now intellectually and acdemically I have been making some important shifts.
I'm in the last throes of the PhD in education. This is a bit of a paradox
since I'm a bit anti-institutional/anti-schooling. Nevertheless. My "work"
is a with a health organization where I focus on the design of health
organizations - across all levels of scale from the organization of cells,
to organs, organisms, social systems, ecological systems, and so on. What
does this have to do with the aforementioned topic of building design?

In such buildings, as with other structures, periodic and predictable
structures are not particularly health structures - certainly not on the
physiological level. Health hearts, for example, do not have stable,
predictable beats and rhythms. Health hearts display immense variability.
In fact, they display what is called "fractal variability". Healthy immune
systyems display fractal variability versus the periodicity of an unhealthy
one - this is why people get colds. Insulin levels in he human body display
this phenomenon, so people with diabetes have more predictable measures of
insulin diffusion versus the fractal time-seiries in health human beings.

So...in the physical spaces, places and times when children spend their
lives in traditional schools, they are repeated hit with experiences where
there is such diminished levels of variability that on many levels an
unhealthy life (physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual) is most likely
to emerge. Put differently, the possibility for a playful diversity of
experience (this is how I think of learning - across all levels of
organization and not just learning in the sense of "consciously figuring our
something") becomes deeply dampened in command-and-control systems. Not
much can be really learned that is useful. Adaptability becomes reduced
because there is a greater sense of not knowing what to do in uncertain
circucmstances. Interactions are decreased (the older kids don't play with
me) and some interactions are strengthened (one goes to class with people of
one's own age, for example). Whereas a varability of interaction brings
forth possibility, greater learning, adaptability, healthier relations and
so on.

That is, organizations like SVS work well because they are healthy.


Received on Sat Mar 01 2003 - 09:26:45 EST

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