Fortified Learning

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Zanchy in Mike Davis

   by Vardan Kazanchyan

Humans are social beings with an innate desire to learn and think creatively.  Research shows that we possess many methods for acquiring, sharing, and displaying knowledge.  So why is it that our creativity decreases during junior high? Some theorists believe it is because students, primarily those in public schools, are bored because of an outdated and mundane curriculum.  They suggest that creativity only reemerges when students explore their own interests through what they call “self-guided learning.”

Public schools in the United States use a panopticon curriculum that fails on many levels, including the concept of measuring one’s intelligence through multiple choice testing.  According to Alfie Kohn, a critic of education, we have more multiple choice tests in public schools than ever before in our history.  Many other curriculums, and more importantly countries, don’t even use standardized, or multiple-choice, testing as a measure of one’s intelligence.  However in the United States, public schools use it as a basis for student placements.

Howard Gardner states that not only do human beings have many different ways to learn and process information, but that these are independent of each other.  This leads to multiple “intelligences” as opposed to a general intelligence factor among abilities.  Schools, in general, do not pay attention to different intelligences and challenging students in ways that would be intriguing and personal to their own methods of working, thinking, or motivating; standardized testing also fails to account for these things.

Mike Davis, in his book City of Quartz, describes a population that has become obsessed with surveillance and security; our schools are designed around this same principal.  “This obsession with physical security systems, and, collaterally, with the architectural policing of social boundaries, has become a zeitgeist of urban restructuring, a master narrative in the emerging built environment of the 1990s.” (Davis 223)  Not only do public schools curriculums disregard multiple intelligences, they also compartmentalize subjects, classrooms, and students – another key factor that attributes to disinterest in schools.  Students are assigned a schedule that is meant to keep track of their whereabouts throughout the day.  They are required to be in class, even if it is of no interest to them.  Classrooms are designed as a multiplying entity that is placed and organized within the school.  Classes take place inside the classroom and are designed so that they are generally indoors with very little access to natural light and scenery.  Students are placed in an uninspiring location and expected to learn.

Fielding - Light, Learning and Color

The deficiencies in education are not only through the curriculums but through the architecture as well.  Not many schools are designed with a focus on the natural and built environment.  School leaders are more conscientious about controlling every aspect of the school rather than allowing education to prevail through the natural interest that every human being possesses.  Again, human beings have an innate desire to learn, and learning is a process that can happen at any given time in any place.  Instead of worrying about policing students, public education should focus on hiring architects to design inspired and creative spaces and schools.  Davis argues that “in Los Angeles, once-upon-a-time a demi-paradise of free beaches, luxurious parks, and ’cruising strips’, genuinely democratic space is all but extinct.”  (Davis 227) These same principals apply in education in that every classroom, every room that has the potential to house education, is controlled by some kind of authority.  Students are spared the freedom to learn within their own interests, on their own time.  The standardized curriculums used in public schools do not believe in the potential of the student, but rather of the potential of fear.  Fear is a tool used in the same sense as the panopticon, in that it is an idea that is incorporated into the minds of students and teachers alike.  Teachers feel that if they don’t teach what they are supposed to, that they will be fired.  Students feel that if they don’t take the tests seriously, they risk their futures in a good college.  But who decided that kids should be dictated at in order to learn?  Today, many new private schools make use of curriculums that were designed first with the student in mind, and teachers that are capable of changing the day’s lessons according to what they observe or feel is appropriate.

Referring back to the notion of learning occurring anywhere and at any given time, it is important for schools, in at least the high school level, to be able to provide students with the ability to explore sites that fall outside of the classroom or even the school.  Schools should focus less on an outdated curriculum and try harder to encourage students to follow their own interests and excel in areas of study they actually have interest in.  In addition, architects designing new schools should expand on the notion of the classroom, and provide spaces that connect with the environment on a physical level with obvious moves that reveal the intent of the architecture.

Richard Neutra - Corona Elementary School

Richard Neutra’s Corona Elementary School is a school that was designed to try and abolish the stronghold of boring, authoritarian environments of public schools by providing an outdoor classroom that was made available through an oversized sliding door.  This simple move gives kids the ability to learn outside the classroom in a natural environment with sunlight and foliage, something most California schools fail to provide.

At Merrylee Primary School, in Glasgow, a landscape architect has designed an “Urban Jungle” so that children can learn to respect nature within school grounds.  So why is it that the notion of any form of landscaping in public schools is quickly ‘resolved’ with an uninhabited quad with no real relationship to site or context?  The design of schools has been so dumbed down to boxes that it has become a norm that is unacceptable.

Good use of architecture, with close relation to curriculum, preferably an updated system, is a crucial factor in education.  Schools in the United States have become so obsessed with safeguarding and surveying students that they have completely severed us from our own interests and our creative abilities to excel in areas of interest.  Classrooms are designed to block out sunlight so that the luminance can be controlled artificially.  Classroom designs follow methods that were produced for factory environments and not for modern day’s “thinking” society.  We are teaching our youth to be much more critical of the world around them, yet we place them in repetitive, uninspired spaces diminishing their perceptive abilities because we overlook the space of the classroom as a learning tool.  We possess many methods for acquiring, sharing, and displaying knowledge, and taking advantage of our environments is what we should focus on, not meeting deadlines or taking tests.  Efficient educational practices should focus on catering to the multiple means of learning people possess in order for kids to excel in school.  The strict enforcement of a standardized curriculum, by public education leaders, creates disinterest and low morale, and generally only works on a portion of the students..  Finally, cost-saving design, or lack of good architecture, and an obsession with security attributes to an education system in which the learning environments are devoid of inspiration and individuality, and only concerned with the policing of students.

Works Cited:

Cohen, Bronwen. “Space to develop: How architecture can play a vital role in young children’s lives.” CELE Exchange 2010/6 2010: 1-7.

Davis, Mike. “Fortress L.A.” City of Quartz. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 223-260.

Doris C. C. K. Kowaltowski, Giovana Bianchi, Vale´ria Teixeira de Paiva. “Methods that may stimulate creativity and their use in architectural design education.” 13 November 2009: 1-24.

Kohl, Herbert. “The Educational Panopticon.” 8 January 2009. Teachers College Record. 2011 <;.

Kohn, Alfie. Standardized Testing and Its Victims. 27 9 2000. <;.

Randall Fielding, AIA. “Learning, Lighting and Color.” 2006. Design Share. 2011 <>.


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