Tilda Swinton started a high school with no grades, no tests & no desks


I have complicated thoughts on public education, especially here in America. My education was entirely public, but I matriculated before No Child Left Behind turned many public schools into factories for teachers teaching to the standardized test. I’m proud of my public education – I had great teachers K-12 and great professors at my small liberal-arts state college. But I know many people see the system as broken and (just my opinion) No Child Left Behind isn’t helping.

Why bring this up? Because The Guardian has an interesting profile of a school in Scotland, partially started by Tilda Swinton and some of her friends. The school is called Drumduan Upper School and Tilda’s kids go there. There are no grades, no tests, no desks and “no hierarchies.” Students call their teachers by their first names. Students go outside to sit in a circle and talk about politics and bees. Singing is encouraged whenever possible. And for what it’s worth, cell phones are not allowed. You can read the full piece here. Some assorted quotes from Tilda:

Tilda on the art-based school: “There’s no grading, no testing at all. My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it – happy and inspired.”

Tilda thinks kids need the freedom to be bored: Tilda refers to this as “each chain on each moving bicycle” in contrast to the widespread practice of teaching children as if they’re all on the same bike. “I didn’t have a particularly toxic education, but my chain was not on my bicycle. I managed to coast down a few hills and got off and walked the rest of the way. Whenever we have a bit of a distilling of what it is we want these years to be for these young people we end up saying the same thing, which is: ‘Know thyself, number one.’”

Her 17-year-old kids, Xavier and Honor: “I said to these two at the beginning of the school: ‘You’ve got three years – just try it all on for size.’ Honor’s school project is interpretative dance – she’s never done dance in her life. It’s going to be really interesting.”

[From The Guardian]

I pursed my lips and shook my head at several times during this piece. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with many of the sentiments – children should have the freedom to be bored, the time to simply think, “chillax” (as Tilda says) and reflect without the incessant buzz of technology. I’m also all for field trips and Socratic seminar-esque classrooms. But singing all the time? NO GRADES? No tests? Yes, kids should be encouraged to embrace the artistic side of life. But they should also know trigonometry and how to code. It feels like these kids will never get STEM jobs, which is a choice made for them by their parents who wanted their kids to get an artsy-fartsy “education.”


Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet.

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143 Responses to “Tilda Swinton started a high school with no grades, no tests & no desks”

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  1. Lilacflowers says:

    Her twins are 17?

  2. Erinn says:

    I stopped after the words “Canadian Canoe”.

    As a Canadian – what the hell is a Canadian Canoe? Does she mean like… the kind of canoe the First People were making? Or is this some kind of magical canoe that apologizes all the time, and says ‘eh’ a lot. Because I’ve legit never heard this term before.

    • Mlle says:

      As a Canadian who has lived in the UK for 5 years, this used to throw me! But in the UK sometimes the word canoe is applied to what we call a kayak. And “Canadian Canoe” is what we call a normal canoe!

    • Nev says:



      fellow Canadian here.

    • deezee says:

      Yeah probably because we just call it a canoe. 🙂

    • Tania says:

      LOL Canadian canoe!!! I swear, you learn something everyday, eh? Lol

      • Narek says:

        Maybe like Americans referring to “Canadian bacon” it’s something that as a Canadian I wouldn’t consider bacon.

      • Narek says:

        Maybe like Americans referring to “Canadian bacon” it’s slightly different from what we would consider bacon. Great bacon knows no borders.

      • Jen says:

        Canadian here as well! I end up calling Canadian Bacon “ham”. Weirdly, it isn’t even that easy to find in the stores.

    • Snazzy says:

      The world has funny expressions for all things Canadian. I live in Switzerland and a pot-luck dinner is called a “buffet Canadien”! When I first heard that as a fellow Canuck I was completely consfused … The same way I feel now when reading about that school 😝

      • xpreson says:

        Well, feel proud my Canadian friends!!! there seems to be a lot of things named after you.. you must be very cool!! 😉

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      We paddle our Canadian canoes whilst wearing Canadian tuxedos and watching the Canada geese.

  3. Zapp Brannigan says:

    How would a school like this prepare students for the real world where you are graded, tested and evaluated by your employers? Or is it only for children of rich people that will never have to worry about anything as distasteful as work, money and providing for yourself.

    • eva says:


    • MrsB says:

      This, exactly. I certainly don’t think the U.S. education system is ideal, but this is no better.

    • Esmom says:

      Yes. Kaiser was spot on when she said, “Yes, kids should be encouraged to embrace the artistic side of life. But they should also know trigonometry and how to code.”

      Like most things, it’s about balance. My kids are in public school in the US and while standardized testing is a pain in the ass, it’s really not that disruptive to the “real” learning that goes on every day. And without testing of some sort, there’s no way to identify the weak areas that need work, which I think is really important.

      • loud noises says:

        actually teachers can identify weak areas without the use of formal tests, and many good ones do this all the time. and there are plenty of arts-focussed schools out there, so is the criticism against her school in particular or all arts-focussed schools?

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Where does it say the school excludes math?

        Speaking for mysrlf, my math education took of when I participated in a workshop on polyhedras — we started with art prpjects, by blowing soap bubbles and examining, indentifying, and replicating the polyhedra structures that formed where soap bubbles connected. That was when I fell in love with geometry and threw myself into really learning math.

        Math is taught very poorly in US schools. The emphasis on tests favors rote memorization. Think about all the stuff you memorized for tests in high school– how much do you know now? Polyhedra habe never left me.

      • Birdix says:

        Miss Jupitero–I agree. I’ve been proofreading 8th grade math textbooks and what strikes me is how often kids are taught the steps of how to do something–like solving two linear equations–but not given any context for why they would need to do so. Same with linear and nonlinear functions–they can ID which is which on a graph, but no spark as to why. I’ve watched kids doing TERC math in their early years, and as relatively out there as it is (it’s certainly a leap of faith as they don’t learn standard algorithms until much later), I love how it gives them an understanding of and facility with numbers beyond learning the steps of how to solve the problem.

      • Esmom says:

        loud noises, I agree that good teachers can identify weaknesses (as well as strengths) among students. However, teachers in a public school setting just don’t have the same luxuries as those in good private schools, namely small class sizes.

        As for arts-focused schools, I don’t think anyone’s criticizing them. Those schools in our city still teach other disciplines along with the arts. Back to my original comment, I think balance is key.

      • puffinlunde says:

        Is this a school that adopts the Waldorf Steiner educational philosophy?

      • icerose says:

        there has been along tradition of Steiner Schools in the UK .I actually went to college with someone who had attended a Steiner school all he life an it did not seem to cause any problems at College

      • paranormalgirl says:

        Read the school’s website. http://www.drumduan.org

        It’s a Steiner Waldorf based school, for the most part.

      • Subconciously says:


        I can tell you that the importance of standardized testing is way overrated.

        A good teacher know how well pupils have understood something by several indicators like classroom participation, how well the homework has been done and last but not least by simply asking / listening to the pupils. Good teachers have a lot of experience and can compare class performance over several years. Like: in 1997 we had a really good set of pupils while in 2004 there were so many pupils who were weak at …

        Additionally: Standardized testing does not lead to improvements as in “the teacher then teaches what the pupils don’t know”. It is rather simple: the standardized tests are too insensitive and often rather senile. For example there was a standardized test in the USA in which the children had to sum up a story about a pineapple who proceeded to do things … it was just too stupid and confused the pupils.
        Standardized testing results in anxious teachers who try to anticipate what the next standardized test will be about and then they drill the pupils to that. That is not education but bulimic learning: stuff it in and then vomit it out during the exam and then it is done.

        The only one who profits from standardized testing is those companies who produce the tests. There is plenty of information on these nearly corrupt testing companies who get fatter and fatter every year but there is no evidence the pupils get better teaching or learn more.

        It is rather the other way around: more pupils fail because standardized testing forces teachers to conduct a very bad style of teaching.

        To a very large degree the reading performance is dependant on your family’s socio-economic background. In other words: poor children fail because they are poor. Teaching has a limited impact in such cases and testing doesn’t improve anything.

        Kaiser is right that pupils need more chillax and more time to try out things. Basically in most countries the curricula were expanded and this and that was added without considering that pupils might need more time if they are expected to learn more. Btw. wouldn’t a critical article on this policy “No child left behind” be nice?

      • Tessy says:

        One of my friends home schooled her son. I kind of side eyed her when she said he spent most of his time on his flight simulator until she explained that it covered so much. He had to use math skills for the fuel calculations, all kinds of geography, weather etc. He turned out very well rounded and has no problem moving to whatever job he wants.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Please excuse all my typos above– I was responding from my phone!

      • Elisa the I. says:

        As written above this is a Waldorf / Rudolf Steiner School – which also exist in the States. 🙂
        Here in Austria Waldorf Schools are private schools with public status. The school fee is quite high, considering that public schools are free of charge. Some of my friends went to Waldorf School and they easily passed the special exams they had to take to qualify for uni.
        Have you heard of Montessori Schools? They are actually the most liberal, creatives ones. If I had kids and the money, I would totally send them there…

      • Esmom says:

        Subconsciously, you are generally preaching to the choir. I’m in no way pro-standardized testing, but I have accepted them as a necessary evil right now because as the parent of a child with special needs I have to pick my battles. The fact is any kid can opt out of the tests, which seems to be happening more and more.

        My point of view is that some kind of assessment doesn’t seem out of line, to double check that a student has actually learned the material being taught, vs no tests whatsoever. When my son does poorly on an algebra quiz or biology test, he has a more formal way of knowing where he needs to go back and do a little more work to really understand the concepts so that he doesn’t have to keep playing catch up because he missed something crucial. I don’t trust that he could assess that himself and make the necessary corrections on his own.

      • Sopha says:

        I do have concerns about those who actually want careers, I work at a University (though in Australia) and I don’t think we would accept a portfolio from a New Year 12 student into any competitive entry course, let alone a normal one. I would also like to know how this 1 student has fared at uni, are they still there? Could they handle it?

        Beyond School

        On graduation from Drumduan Upper School, usually at the age of 18 years, students may follow a number of paths:

        University and College
        We encourage students to take their time in deciding if university or college is the right next step for them. Too often, school leavers are pushed into applying for university simply because that is ‘what you do’ after school. We hope to support our graduating students to make the choices that are right for them. This may, of course, include applying for university.

        In most cases, universities have set requirements for state-exams as a requirement for entry. Although we do not offer exams at our school, we are committed to supporting our graduating students to achieve a place at university or college should they wish to do so. In some cases this may require direct contact with the relevant department or admissions office. The portfolios and references that the students generate during their time at Drumduan can support their application for a place. Already in the school’s first year of existence, we have had one Drumduan student being offered a place at university without any of the required exams

      • Subconciously says:

        @ Elisa the I.

        Yes, I know the Montessori and Steiner concepts. I am German.
        They work very well in the early years and for more artsy education.
        However do YOU know that Steiner (Waldorf schools) refused to have his educational theories put to a test? In fact they have never been scientifically verified nor falsified. Steiner’s theories are very influential but in no way academically tested nor approved unquestionably. Waldorf schools tend to vary greatly in the quality of education as there are no binding standards that you have in other education concepts. Some Waldorf pupils can’t read at age 12 while others are ready to go to university to pursue art at age 14. I visited a Waldorf school where the headmaster told me his pupils “learned” Russian by singing songs (without understanding the meaning) and by reciting poems without understanding the meaning. They learned neither grammar nor vocabulary and were given no explanation. And surpris surprise none of these pupils used Russian as their mandartory second language in their A-level course (Abitur / baccalaureat). Because in fact they merely learned sounds but not the language.
        And that is Steiner / Waldorf.

        Waldorf schools generally have pupils from well-off families and these pupils would do well at ANY school.

        Speaking generally: Waldorf schools which offer the standard certificates of education are usually a lot better than Waldorf schools without these options. It is quite simple: in order to teach the standard certificates you need teachers who have the “traditional” (university) education. And surprise surprise. These schools then turn out to be good.

    • Down and Out says:

      Yes! It seems like here the kids are given the choice of what they want to study and pursue. How many kids are going to actively pick rigorous & challenging academic fields if they can choose something more fun? As someone in the science field I got so sick of people telling me that not everyone has my natural talent or aptitude for STEM courses. That really diminished the hard work and dedication (and yes, years of tests and grades) it involves. Arts can be demanding as well, but I really believe that if you aren’t forced to work hard at things you don’t always enjoy, you never learn discipline and will struggle in the real world.

      • loud noises says:

        actually, lots of children choose “difficult” things, and they deem as fun too. it’s a misconception of our youth that all they want to do is play video games all day. they want that because we’ve destroyed education and taken any passion for learning out of it through the terrible education system.
        on top of that, even if someone has a passion for something, arts or science based, that doenst’ mean there will be aspects of it that you won’t enjoy that you have to persevere through to get to the parts you do enjoy. it’s not like, once you like something you like ALL of it.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        I wouldn’t assume the arts are easy, relaxing, or more “fun.” I danced in high school and it was pretty damned rigorous.

        And STEM is pretty damned fun and wonderful as well.

      • Down and Out says:

        ….and certainly many of those coping mechanisms for perseverance can be learned at a young age through discipline in education. And, again, being forced to do things you don’t enjoy. Unfortunately if given complete freedom at a young age with minimal repercussions, most would choose arts over science.

        (I like video games.)

      • lucy says:

        What is STEM?

      • Gen says:

        Who chooses? My kid! We do homeschooling where all subjects are covered, but he gets to pick to do extra projects in the subjects in which he’s most interested. Science and Coding are his favorites. He spends hours on his own learning code. And he also does science experiments, of his choosing, on his own time. He’s ten years old. He loves to challenge himself.

        Lucy, STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

      • Nona says:

        Lucy, not sure if anyone answered you: STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

      • Sparkly says:

        We unschool, which is basically allowing our children to choose what interests to pursue, and they definitely choose STEM subjects and even tests. When it’s not the teach-to-the-test, funding-depends-on-all-A’s mentality, kids can actually enjoy and request tests. My children are very interested in robotics, gaming, computer programming, and any type of ‘science experiment’ they can possibly get their hands on.

        This child-led &/or non-grading approach to education is inherently big artsy, liberal whackadoo approach. We still take education *very* seriously. We just think that for many kids, it works best with a different approach.

    • loud noises says:

      learning a hard work ethic and gaining a sense of how to learn doesn’t mean that you can’t function in the real world. it’s not like ther’es a window in learning how to be evaluated by your employer, and such things should be based on the work anyway, so as long as they do a good job, what’s the problem?

    • Miss Jupitero says:

      This is hardly the first school to dispense with grades. There is a long tradition for that. The theory is that students will develop into independent thinkers and style an education for themselves fitted to who they are.

      I knew people who went to such achools– Hampshire College for a long time rejected grading, for example. My own observation: kids who are already very independently minded and creative thrive in that environmemt, but a lot of kids needs a lot more structure. There is no one size fits all. I think the real question is what are kids getting from the excessive tests and evaluations they are subject to now. What are the actual results and is this what we want?

      • belle de jour says:

        “…kids who are already very independently minded and creative thrive in that environmemt, but a lot of kids needs a lot more structure. There is no one size fits all. I think the real question is what are kids getting from the excessive tests and evaluations they are subject to now.”

        Thank you, thank you. As one of ‘those’ kids who thrived without grades and mindless regurgitative tests and rigid structures based upon dubious empirical evidence and convenient conclusions and convention, I couldn’t agree with you more.

        Most formal and generally accessible education – as it is now, and especially in grade and high school – is based upon aiming at the middle. For several reasons, many people don’t like to say or see that, but it is nonetheless true. It is a travesty in itself that anything more adventurous is labeled or defined – both by perception, and by sheer ‘practicality’ – as ‘elitist’ or ‘privileged.’

      • Sixer says:

        Re: “aiming at the middle”.

        I saw the recent John Oliver piece on US standardised testing. It was pretty harsh, and also outlined the effect it has on teachers, whose jobs depend on results. It made me think of the situation here in the UK, where schools are put into league tables based on exam results. The main stat on which schools are judged is the percentage of pupils who get grade A-C in 5 subjects at GSCE (including English and Maths). Because EVERYTHING to do with a school’s reputation and funding depends on this stat, they fling every available resource at the kids who are just below the C grade level, to get them up to the C. This leaves bugger all for the gifted and bugger all for those who are failing woefully. So here, the very mechanism that’s supposed to improve results – the league tables – only really helps a very small subset of the pupils, and it only helps them in a very limited way, to boot.

      • belle de jour says:

        @ Sixer:

        It has been thus here for quite a while; the relatively recent NCLB debacle only exacerbated what was an existing problem with standardized testing, creative arts & music cuts, AP course level (advanced placement for uni credit) cuts, etc. Overcrowded classrooms also contribute to the middle being the sweet (safe) spot.

        In addition to teachers and schools following a CYA (cover your ass) policy above all others, any paltry emphasis there may have been on developing critical thinking & analytical skills has also fallen victim to ‘the test.’ There are real socio-economic-class issues here at play that people find upsetting to acknowledge and discuss – especially regarding the ‘point’ of education in the first place – as well as a rift between people who see ‘higher’ education as more vocational in both value and in nature, vs. those who see it as primarily something else. In general, US uni options are more expensive, and funding is structured differently… making it seem even more a ‘luxury’ and a long-time burden to many.

        It makes me heartsick. I don’t see the ‘middle’ in all of this as being very far from the lowest common denominator at all.

      • Sixer says:

        Absolutely to the socio-economic issues. I am quite capable of making up any deficiencies in critical and blue-sky thinking skills the state school system leaves the Sixlets with. But that’s only because I perceive the lack in the first place and have the cultural skills to impart them. And impart them without the Sixlets even realising that’s what I’m doing.

    • AntiSocialButterfly says:

      But, but science from caramelizing onions!!!11!!

      • icerose says:

        My brother in law has a masters in chemistry and loves to cook as well-it is amazing how much you can learn re chemistry processes through cooking if you have someone who understands how it all works

      • AntiSocialButterfly says:

        @ icerose-
        I hear you, and appreciate food chemistry (though a molecular gastronomist I am not!), but I am doubtful they are having in depth conversations about the mechanisms of the Maillard reaction while doing so. Probably more along the lines of, ” See how the sugar browns the onions? It’s a chemical reaction”.

      • TotallyBiased says:

        I’m a much better cook since completing my general ed chem/physics requirements at a STEM university–and one of the CLASSIC videos shown at school was Julia Child and her Soup of Life! You’d be surprised…salt and sugar are classic ingredients for introducing all sorts of energetic materials/fuel/reaction conversations.

      • TotallyBiased says:

        Sorry, it’s actually Julia Child and the Primordial Soup. It is actually posted in various places online (Google if you feel the need) but here’s a fun article from the Smithsonian with more detail:
        Also, speaking of no grades–UC Santa Cruz didn’t really issue grades until 2001!
        “Until 2001, UC Santa Cruz used a grading system known as the Narrative Evaluation System, which focused on narrative descriptions written by the professors that evaluated student performance and assessed the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Students had the option of either receiving a grade along with the evaluation or a “Pass/No Pass” designation.”
        I actually thought they had adopted a grading system in the ’90s, so it surprised me when I went to check that the gradeless policiy had lasted into this century. 😀

    • joy says:

      Exactly. While this all sounds good in hippy dippy theory, the reality is just not good.

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      Right on.

      Watch the kids sneak off to Kumon to learn math.

      Testing is a great learning method – no really, the research is in – but incessant, standardized, high-stakes testing without predictive or face validity? Pfff.

    • RandomChatter says:

      How would you even get accepted into a college without any transcripts. This is the “stoopidest” thing ever.

      • Elisa the I. says:

        As written above, the school is based on the Waldorf / Steiner School concept.
        There are several ways to qualify for uni:
        a) some Waldorf Schools offer an additional year (a bit like college?) after the standard 12 years – at the end of it you take the exams that qualify you for any university
        b) you switch to a regular high school (here in Austria this would be a “Gymnasium”) and you take the final year there
        c) you do the necessary exams at evening classes / night school (my friends who went to Waldorf School did this)

        I assume this is the standard for Waldorf Schools also in other countries? I think the important thing is also that the school gets public status…

        Here in Austria Waldorf Schools have been part of the schooling system for decades. Actually it is quite chic among my well-off friends to send the kids to Montessori Kindergarten or Waldorf School at the moment. 🙂

    • Solanaceae (Nighty) says:

      I’m a high school teacher and I work in a public school, with a traditional system (tests, grades, marks, etc)… And I have to say, this doesn’t work for every children. Here in Portugal there are some schools adopting this new system, in which sstudents don’t have a timetable, no ring bells,no tests, no marks.. Each child learns at its own pace or in groups, sometimes helped by older students or teachers. They actually learn everything, from foreign languages to maths, biology, chemistry, etc, At the end of each cycle of studies (primary school – 4 years, 2nd cycle- 2 years, 3rd cycle – 3 years and then secondary school – 3 years), students have to do national exams (up till 9th grade – which is 3rd cycle) Maths and Portuguese, in high school at all subjects – Philosophy, Maths, Literature, Foreign Languages, Biology, History, Geography, etc, depending on the course taken.

      One of the schools that has implemented this new system here in Portugal, is actually one of the best schools in the country. They changed their project – a typical public school a couple of decades ago to a system many consider insane.
      They used to have major problems in terms of indiscipline, dropping-out of school, extremely bad results in national exams. Nowadays, they’re in the top 50 schools, their students have amazing good results in national exams and they enter the best universities, their students love going to school, there are no drop-outs and they finish high school at 17 like any other kid. They are offered also a variety of professional courses.

      Traditional school is obsolete, and it’s a system that is not functional for all students. With the massification of schooling, where kids from so many different backgrounds come from, one can not expect them to react, respond the same way, and to have the same interests.

      This debate reminds me of a picture where you have a monkey, an elephant, a bird and a crocodile, and the teacher tells them: Now that there’s school for everyone, let’s do a satandardized test. The one that climbs the tree faster and collects the bananas gets the best mark – perfect example of how our public school testing is so so wrong.

      One last thing, this year, I had students in the 9th grade who came from the Waldorf System of teaching. Boy, I have to tell you, some of them were so bright, so good at everything, and managed to have such good marks. You could discuss with them (9th graders -14 years old) any theme… Some of my students would give adults true lessons on human rights, feminism, slavery, it was fantastic to hear them discuss any of these themes. And they did great in normal tests…

      So, all I have to say is, we need to change our perspective on education… And trust me, I’m used to the tests, and the marks and so on, but I’d love to experience, as a teacher, new systems, bacause they actually work… better than the one we have…

      • Solanaceae (Nighty) says:

        Oh, one last thing, before I go to bed… As we say in Portuguese, nor 8 nor 80, school system has to become more flexible so that teachers can actually help students who have more difficulties, and it’s not through standardized tests, it’s to offer students different possibilities of learning. I’m not against tests nor marks (all in favour for those), but I do believe we’ve fallen into an exaggeration where a teacher has to teach a whole curriculum in a year, whether the students have learnt or not,(because at the end they’ll have national exams and everyone has to pass them), there’s no flexibility in adapting the curriculum to help students who have more dificulties in maths (for instance), or change the way you teach it, so that the students can actually get there… IThere should be tests, yes, but also more understanding of students hardhips while learning a subject. I’ll give you this example; in 9th grade English I had to teach 27 grammar items to my students, from word formation to passive voice, all tenses, conditionals,phrasal verbs, modal verbs, indirect speech..Even I was exhausted of so much grammar… If we want to improve learning, schools have to start to invest in different,more adaptable curricula…

  4. aang says:

    Who says they won’t learn to code? Sounds like the kind of school where anything could be learned. And what makes you think most kids are learning to code in public school? If coding isn’t on the state test, and it isn’t here in NY, it will only be offered as a side elective to be fit in if you don’t need extra help to master common core.

    • Esmom says:

      Fair point, although when she cites canoe construction and carmelizing onions as examples, it’s a bit of a leap to imagine the kids also being tech geniuses.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        I think she is describing project based learning, and those were her examples.

        I know a prof here at MIT who wrote a paper analyzing the chemistry behind making Turkish coffee. There was quite a lot to it. Why do onions carmelize? Well the kids would have to learn something about the natural sugars in onions and the chemical changes that happen when you cook something. I could see that as being the basis of a good science project. The key would of course be could they talk about WHY it works the way it does. All of which could turn into a larger project involving food and science.

        Btw, the youngest prof ever to get tenure at MIT is also an accomplished artist and received a MacArthur fellowship in origami– entirely home schooled while travelling the world with his father. Never got a grade until he went to college. All that and he is one of the sweetest most emotionally intelligent people I have ever met.

      • Sixer says:

        Cross-curricular learning is quite popular at elementary school level here in the UK, certainly in state schools.

        Sixlet Minor did an entire half term on The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Aside from the obvious literary value, they did material properties and constellations (science), built a robot (design tech), created an animation (computing), discussed the use of silhouettes and produced silhouette drawings (art), discussed conflict and the possibility of world peace (PSHE) and I’m sure there’s more I’ve forgotten. I think the only thing they did separately in those six weeks was Maths and PE.

        None of that happens in secondary school, however. Too much over-specified curriculum to cover. And I think it’s a shame the schools don’t have that freedom to work out something similar, albeit more structured and curriculum-oriented than Tilda’s school.

      • Esmom says:

        Project based learning is great, and it happens in public schools as well. I still think assessments are helpful, probably more so for some kids than others. My son is on the autism spectrum and he monitors his grades pretty closely to keep himself on track. He needs some pretty rigid structure in place to stay focused.

        I don’t disagree with what someone else said, that much of education today aims at the middle. That’s unfortunate and there’s is room for improvement, for sure, but it doesn’t mean kids in public schools today aren’t getting valuable educational experiences.

      • Sarah123 says:

        Ha! My “tech genius” kid finds STEM exciting and has a natural inclination for coding. We homeschool because he also has some special needs and was having panic attacks going into school every day. Every. Day. Now we use projects to support learning. He helps cook, he whittles (whittles! not Canadian canoes, but …), he makes art, he codes computers. Art and science, cooking and physics, they’re all inter-related if you drop the categories and follow curiosity.

        I’ve never gotten grades at any place of employment – from entry-level to professional positions after grad school. I think what Swinton’s doing has the potential to be great and we don’t have enough info in the article to assume otherwise.

    • AntiSocialButterfly says:

      FWIW, my public middle schoolers in a small midwestern city learned the basics of coding in seventh grade, and had many tech-ed choices (including courses which implemented coding) for their electives in seventh and (more) in eighth grade.

    • RandomChatter says:

      Well, they sure as hell ain’t gonna learn coding without math.

  5. Cran says:

    I would go back to high school if I could go to Tilda Swintons school.

  6. swack says:

    Don’t get me started on NCLB. I taught for thirty years in public education and it is the worse thing that has ever happened. NCLB was put into place by people who have never been in a classroom or have no link to education other than having been in schools themselves. I’m glad I’m retired now because of it. Within the last few years that I was teaching it was implied to us that if the school did not meet the percentage passing that was expected then our jobs were on the line.

    • lucy says:

      What is NCLB?

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      It was dreadful where we lived — all three classes in 3rd grade required to go in lockstep through the curriculum, with teachers projecting ready-made transparencies (that they did not develop) on the wall. 90 children asked to keep quiet and “learn” in darkened classrooms. What could possibly go wrong? #thanksbush

  7. littlemissnaughty says:

    Why is it always one or the other extreme? I live and went through my education – including an MA – in Germany. There were high points and low points, horrible lazy teachers and outstanding ones, and the systems needs a serious overhaul, just like I would think the US public school system does (we have no standardized testing as far as I know, it’s been a while). For God’s sake, my history classes never went past 1918 which is a disaster for a German school imo. I digress. I think for most kids, structure and learning to deal with sucky people – including teachers – and a flawed system is not the worst. It kind of prepares you for the sucky people who are still to come and for the unfair treatment you will undoubtedly receive at some point in your life. Can we find a middle ground?

    • morc says:

      Please, your history lessons never went past 1918? I Germany? I call bull. Your school would have been in serious trouble for that.

    • Linn says:

      I find that hard to believe and if really true it’s definitely a huge exception. You never talked about anything that happend after the first word war? The second word war? The Berlin Wall? Reunification etc.?
      And if you didn’t talk about in in history lessons, did you talk about it in political education?

      I don’t think there was any topic we discussed more in school than the time after 1918.

      • jwoolman says:

        In my US school, our history books were quite out of date also. By decades. So I can believe it.

    • littlemissnaughty says:

      You really think I’d make that sh*t up? There was a curriculum teachers could choose topics from every term and I had 4 history teachers throughout high school. And we didn’t even have history class every year. Went through the French Revolution twice btw. So I really don’t care if you believe me because that wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened during my 13 years in school. Catholics and Protestants were split up into two groups just for theology/religion (whatever that’s called in other countries). I complained that I wanted to switch to the Catholics because my teacher was lazy and crazy as f*ck. She introduced us to Buddhism by watching Little Buddha with us. And that was it. Was I allowed to switch? No. Because according to the principal, there was no reason. She was a respected *cough*old*cough* teacher and knew what she was doing. REALLY?

      Listen, I had some great teachers throughout school but I went to a high school that used to be a “humanistisches Gymnasium” which basically means the way of teaching etc. was very much steeped in the humanities and that particular tradition of learning. Never really used my 7 years of Latin again. Many teachers were close to retiring and did so while I was still there (I graduated in 2003). They didn’t care what the person before them had done so yeah, I can walk through churches etc. and read everything in Latin but I had to study 20th century history by myself.

      @morc: Schools didn’t get in trouble until a few years ago when the concept of helicopter parents arrived. Teachers in my time all had tenure. Nothing ever happened to anyone.

      • morc says:

        People make a lot off stuff up, sorry.
        As someone who was in 4 different schools in Germany, History was never not about WWII.
        The schoolboard/ministry would have been on the ass of a school that didn’t cover WWII with the quickness.
        I really don’t know how your school got away with that.

      • belle de jour says:

        Salve! Quid novi, feles? (Sorry, couldn’t help a shout out… and a little defense of learning Latin – if not of Caesar’s seemingly interminable trek through Gaul.)

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        @morc: Who could even make that up? But if you went through 4 German schools (when, btw?) you should know that 1) education is a state matter here so we had and still have tons of different school forms, curricula, etc. etc. and 2) school boards don’t really exist here and the ministry doesn’t give a f*ck (or didn’t anyway) what a single school does. There’s a curriculum. They more or less stick to it. If enough students graduate with good grades, nobody cares (or cared). Nobody even questioned the teachers at the Gymnasiums, it’s not like they could be fired or demoted. What do you do with someone who’s job is secure? Questioning teachers wasn’t really a thing so when I dared to question that one teacher who was lazier than me on a Sunday morning, it was a big deal. My mother was teacher herself and when we left that office she said “Well, just endure it. There’s nothing we can do.” And that was NEVER her attitude.

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      Never went past 1918 – by design?

      In the US, modern history classes never quite made it to Vietnam.

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        I think I was just stuck with teachers who loved revolutions. French, German, Russian … the French Revolution especially.

  8. Trillian says:

    Um no. And no to people with no background in teaching founding “schools”. It sounds like a fun concept for elementary school, but high school science should be a bit more than building canoes. What college would they go to with this kind of education?

    • puffinlunde says:

      I think this is a school based on the Waldorf Steiner educational philosophy – there are a few of them around Europe

  9. dr mantis toboggan says:

    I enjoyed the structure that grading and testing provides. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time than sitting around in a circle singing about our feelings

    • pinetree13 says:

      lol no kidding! will sure be a culture shock when they work for their first corporation…oh wait they’re all going to rake it in as independent artists

  10. Sixer says:

    This is the one she set up because her kids’ Steiner school was only a middle school, right? In that case, people argue over whether the science portion is any good or not, but they definitely don’t teach coding, or IT at all. You can read about the program here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education

    We have a few state-funded schools based on the Steiner system here in the UK, too. They’ve been set up under the Free School system, which are a bit like your Charter Schools.

    Personally, I despise both educational extremes – “teaching to the test” and “we don’t have teachers; we have learning enablers” – equally. Half the time, as a parent, your job is showing your kid how to succeed within the system but to have a hearty critical view of it at the same time.

    • aang says:

      I don’t think all Waldorf schools are unstructured and grade free. The one my duaghter attended for a while as an elementary student had classrooms with desks and the work was graded in the form of progress reports given to the parents. Much attention was paid to the arts but lots of science was included, especially biology in the form of nature study and gardening etc. We left because of the rigid adherence to Steiner’s pedagogy that left us feeling judged if we allowed our daughter to watch TV, play with plastic toys or join a sports team before she reached the age deemed appropriate by the system. It felt a little cult like.

      • Franca says:

        I know a couple of kids who went to a Waldorf elementary school and when they got to a proper high school they were severely behing and couldn’t cope with the programme.

      • Esmom says:

        Franca, same experience with our neighbors. They ended up catching up in high school and going on to decent universities. Not without a lot of stress, though.

      • vauvert says:

        We considered Waldorf and ultimately rejected it exactly due to the reasons you outlined, aang. We went with a school that was Montessori for grades 1-4 then moved into a “conventional” approach with grades etc.
        we loved Montessori, found it a fabulous approach and our son was in both a kinder and primary school that followed this methodology. The Waldorf has so e great principles but the local accredited facility put me off with the complete disregard for technology and the cultish attitude – I like a community mentality but they were really obsessive about it.

    • Lori says:

      My kids went to a Waldorf school (my oldest for 4 years) and we are still recovering. We have 2 kids who learn very differently and neither of them benefitted overall (although my son could knit the crap out of a recorder case). By grade 4 my son still couldn’t read but they said his inner light would soon self-ignite and the spark of learning would show itself. We finally left after they determined that my 6 yr old would not be permitted to enter grade one because her tummy was still rounded, her drawings of trees showed no base at the roots and she wasn’t skipping at an appropriate level. I am not making this up. No tests, no textbooks, no principal/vice principal, no computers, no thank you.

      • Who ARE these people? says:


        My kid wasn’t considered suitable for Montessori, which not only saved us big bucks but allowed her to learn to easily add, subtract, multiply and divide. Got all loved up with flash cards — the horror!

  11. Rhiley says:

    Tilda can provide this kind of education for her children because they will always have mommy’s money to fall back on. If they choose, they will be free to float around the world because Tilda thinks it is important that she uses her money to allow her children to do such things. And that is fine. I know plenty of children whose parents are wealthy so they have had the luxury of going to very expensive liberal arts schools, design their own majors, do more than one study abroad, intern for several years, take mission trips to Haiti, Africa, New Orleans, and then go to very expensive graduate schools. Their parents feel that it is important to invest in their children this way so the children are free to do a little of this and a little of that without having to really commit too anything too long term. My dad, however, pooped his drawers when I decided to be an English Major at a moderately priced state school.

  12. Franca says:

    I went to a public school here ( private schools and universities are very looked down upon) and I’m extremely satisfied with the education I got. I went to a gymansium, which is a preparatory school for university. And out of 90 people in my generation, 89 got into college. When I think about it, I don’t know anyone under 65 who doesn’t have a high school diploma.

    Is standard ducation perfect for everyone? No. But improve that, don’t make stupid shit like this up which doesn’t benefit anyone.

  13. Lbliss says:

    I thoughorly enjoyed reading about my cultures history being delibertly wrong in my text book. That’s always enjoyable.

    So I like this massively progressive idea. Some people aren’t cut out for the same type of education as the masses.

  14. Micki says:

    So how will these children find a job after school? On what basis will they be compared to the competition?
    I think there was such sort of experiment in US during the 60s’s. I’ve read it in one of James Dobson’s books. If I remember correctly it was some Sunny Hill School with open rooms, no curriculum, no grades, no formal teaching.
    At the end there was high suicide wave as the children felt lost in the “real” world.

    • Artemis says:

      How are we finding jobs now? Young people can have 3 degrees and still work at Starbuck like, the system we have now is failing. Why write off something that hasn’t even gotten the chance to fail?

      • Micki says:

        I had to look for the reference but it’s a short paragraph in The New Dare to Discipline by James Dobson.
        He mentiones a state school in Seatle where a similar system was tried in 1970. Or you can check A.S. Neil and his Summerhill online.
        This idea is nothing new and HAS been tried more than once. I think that if the results were worth mentioning more schools would have switched to it.
        That’s one of the reasons I am so dismisive.

        As for 3 degrees and a Starbuck job I am curious to hear your opinion on this:http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-06-07/professor-speaks-out-how-coddled-hyper-sensitive-undergrads-are-ruining-college-lear

        I’ve read a couple of articles on the Topic like:

        As an European I can rely only on my Us friends words and they (foreigners on their own) say there is an inflation in education concerning what exactly and how much the students get for their money.

      • Artemis says:

        Thank you for the articles. I will read them later on.

        I’m European too (living in the UK) so I haven’t read much academic US research. However, my lecturer did mention the Summerhill school (couldn’t remember it anymore) and said that the results were similar to that of conventional education as we all assumed the pupils would not adapt to the ‘real world’. Some people fail and some people succeed.

      • Micki says:

        Artemis, I agree with the statement “some people fail and some people succeed”
        I however have my problems with the generalisation (not from you) ” children WANT to leant things, they WANT to experiment. It is like saying “children love playing football” Some do and some don’t .The positive side of the conventional education is that you’re “forced” to all-round education. I think that children, who are not “burning” to learn will be lost in some permissive school, where the stress might be on their strenghts ignoring their weaknesses.
        Of course the education resistant children will fail in the conventional school too.
        I don’t want to condemn the alternative schools altogether but I know a couple of Waldorf kids and generalising on their behaviour I don’t think they can cope well with everyday stress. And nowadays everything is being evaluated – from your presentation at work to your hobby YouTube videos. So being a part of big happy school with no grades can be helpful only to a point.

    • Miss Jupitero says:

      Where are you getting this high suicide rate? Is there a real study out there?

      I have a BA from an Ivy League school, and two advance degrees. Never at any time in my career has anyone asked to see my grades. Of course it depends on what field your in, but in the vast majority of cases, employers care about what you can do. Once you graduate, few people give a damn about the transcript or your scores.

      I think a lot of these alternative programs emphasize self starting, independence, and overall entrepreneurial skills. I worry about the STEM offerings a bit, but in this respect these kids might very well have the edge.

      • Micki says:

        Sorry Miss Jupitero, I looked for a reference but can’t provide one. It is not a study but an article in Newsweek in the 70’s mentioned in one of my books .

        I don’t know how the system functions in US. Here in Gremany there is an initiative of setting ratings of the universities. I’ve read different rankings: once depending on the major, once an overall score.
        Of course the employers care what you can do but it your case it’s a general assuption that an Ivy League graduate can do it. If you came from the local uni in Forks the scrutiny will be different. In this case your grades will weight differently.

      • belle de jour says:

        I have had a similar background and experience, Miss Jupitero – and I couldn’t agree more with your thoughtful comments & observations.

        It spoke volumes to me that the honors program within my undergrad uni staunchly refused to award grades under the usual abc rubric; instead, every student received a detailed written evaluation from each teacher and tutor at semester end… which eventually included a dissertation-level paper defense, as well as curricula oral + written exams administered by outside scholars.

        My point is that where the uni had most to lose in terms of representative grad performance and their own reputation, they unequivocally chose to do away with grades. And I do realize this was a rarefied environment full of highly-motivated self-learners and dedicated professors; yet I wish with all my heart it was more common and more possible for far more students.

        But I staunchly believe that change in the system begins early on in the structure, and I enthusiastically support pioneers who are willing to reject a broken ‘middle’ model to seriously and earnestly try something else.

  15. loud noises says:

    just because you don’t have grades or tests doesn’t mean that you can’t learn trig or any science. you can ensure science-based subject learning is going on without the use of tests and the passing out of grades. the idea that you can only learn based on grading or testing is based on a flawed and commodified concept of education. many educators would love to eschew grading and testing, and on top of that there’s plenty of research out there that problematizes the over-focus on grades and test.

    summerhill here in the UK is probably the most famous of alternative education (although their whole educational philosophy is problematic on different levels) and many of the students do well in that, and yes they have jobs too. they might not have “traditional” jobs although having spoken to some of the students, i know that a few of them do pursue university.

    the problem here isn’t that there’s no testing or grading – it’s that people with little understanding of what education is, and the issues surrounding education, just go ahead and start up schools.

  16. Elfie says:

    School needs to prepare children for what they want to do in the world they live in. This is probably fine if they go straight into a trade where they can be trained up on the job (presuming they can cope with having to achieve certain standards and pass required tests) but if they want to be a professional how are they going to get into university? How would they cope with the mandatory coursework and exams? What about the workplace? Kids are only as strong, resilient and adaptable as you raise them to be (with a few exceptions either way), precious snowflakes tend not to cope very well with the real world.

  17. Ann says:

    They have a rich, famous parent. Her kids will get cushy jobs because of their Mom regardless of how smart or poorly educated they are.

  18. StormsMama says:

    The Sudbury School in the U.S. (Started near Sudbury MA but now also in other states and I think in the UK too) has this approach.

    Additionally there’s a growing movement of hack-schooling – see this Ted talk:

    these methods are not for everyone but it’s absurd to dismiss them altogether based on a few quotes from Swinton.

  19. MeloMelo says:

    I think it depends on the kids too, I learn better when I try things for myself, when I’m using my hands. So this school could be beneficial. We dont know if they teach Maths or Linguistics.
    I do think they need some sort of grading, just to make students are really learning.

  20. Jessica says:

    I went to a school a bit like this. I learnt trigonometry and yes even coding (this was back when most regular schools had maybe 5-10 computers for the entire school). It was just that instead of sitting in a classroom writing notes, we had to use our own initiative to find out what we needed to know, and then put things into practice.

    I’d gone to a regular school before, and I’d never really gotten any type of math, despite getting straight A’s. I would get the first few easy answers then from there figure out the patterns and make very accurate guesses, but I didn’t really know what I was doing or why the answers were what they were. At my new school they had me building things, designing things, solving real life problems etc. Putting math into practice made it real, and I actually started to understand how it all worked. Decades later it’s all stuck with me, while a lot of friends have forgotten so much they can’t even do their elementary children’s math homework. Same thing with physics, biology etc. When we learnt languages, we chose our own and had to seek out multiple fluent speakers to talk to. By the end of my schooling I spoke fluent Russian, and I had met some amazing people and heard some incredible stories.

    Probably the best part was being able to do things when I wanted to. If I wasn’t in the mood for say, writing, I just moved on and came back to it later. I was never bored at school, I didn’t waste any time, and because I did things when I wanted to, learning never felt like a chore and everything stuck. A lot of people seem to think this sets students up poorly for real life, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. I’m great at prioritising and I get everything I need to done, with no procrastinating. If I don’t want to do one thing right now, I immediately start something else, and come back around to the first task when I feel I will do it properly. I see a lot of my co-workers starting tasks they clearly don’t want to do, and spending hours slowly forcing themselves to do something that would have taken 20 minutes if they’ve waited til they were in the right headspace. Meanwhile, in the time it’s taken them to do that one thing, I’ve done 10 things including the task I didn’t feel like doing earlier in the day.

    I’ve done just fine in the ‘real world’. If anything my unusual education has been a bonus. I thrived at university while so many other students floundered upon realizing no one was going to hold their hand and guide them through every assignment. I rose quickly in the workplace, mostly because I was very comfortable stepping outside my comfort zone. A lot of people can’t handle being asked to something if all the information they need isn’t just handed to them. It’s such a small thing, but if you can take the initiative and just do things without prompting and instructions, you’ll stand out in a surprising number of places. It was a small school so I’m still in some sort of contact with almost every other student in my year, and everyone’s done well for themselves. There’s a well-known artist and a well-known novelist, a chemical engineer and a structural engineer, two doctors, a lot of lawyers, a few architects…I’m one of the least successful of the bunch and I’m doing ok.

    • StormsMama says:


    • MeloMelo says:

      I feel like this kind of school would of help me so much more at understanding things. I was a straight A student, but I barely remember anything I was thaught. And like you said, it has been difficult to do things without someone telling me what exactly I have to do.

      Did they still have some sort of grading?

    • kay says:

      thank you for sharing that 🙂
      nice to hear from someone who actually experienced this, instead of a bunch of baseless opinion.

    • Miss Jupitero says:


      The working theory is that kids are naturally curious and inclined to learn. They *will* learn if you give them the tools, support, and environment.

      I think all these noted hostile teenagers who just want to play video games are made by an educational system and culture that enforces passivity and powerlessness. “She has talent; I don’t. ” Kids learn that kind of thinking.

      And look at the results! Our culture is deplorable ignorant about math and sciemce, despite all these grades and evaluations. It is stunning how many American adults really have no idea what science is, and believe in things like astrology and creationism– in spite of their high school degrees. A huge percentage of Americans *never read another book* after they graduate. Where is the intellectual independence? Youd be amazed at how many people will insist only a select few have such “gifts.” We have to change our thinking.

      • Lilacflowers says:

        Our culture is also deplorably ignorant about geography, history, languages, and cultures outside our own. The current emphasis is teaching for a job but nobody is acknowledging that this is really vocational training and not an education. Well-rounded thinkers, who have the ideas that actually create jobs for others rarely develop from limited vocational training

      • Sixer says:

        Well said, both of you.

        I’ll always think the didactic method has a place, but I certainly don’t think it’s the only place, and I certainly agree that the more standardised the education system gets, the more limited are the students it turns out.

    • EN says:

      > so many other students floundered upon realizing no one was going to hold their hand and guide them through every assignment

      I noticed that in the US .My kids coming home complaining that the teacher didn’t teach them this or that, And it is a completely foreign concept to me, I tell them go and research or read the text books ,

      I grew up in Russia and there is nobody holding your hand there, it is a sink or swim kind of environment. And taking initiative and doing what needs to be done served me well.

      But kids here start wailing that it is teacher’s fault, “it is not fair”. Well, life is not fair, the sooner they learn it the better,

    • fruitloops says:

      Just to reference your doing things when you wanted to do them – I’m not sure that that’s not more about your personality than the type of school you went to. I went to regular school and since when I remember I did exams that way, first solving what I knew, quickly skimming through what I didn’t know and then returning to the most difficult parts of the exam later. Half the people I knew did things that way. And at work it’s the same, and since as an engineer my work is about projects that have fixed dates to be finished, no one asks us how we do the project, just to get it finished in time, most of my colleagues (and I) do things at our own arrangement, however one sees it fit for him/herself. Nobody spends time doing a task for hours just because he doesn’t feel like doing it, we don’t actually have the luxury of time for that.
      Anyhow, about the success of my classmates, 90 percent of my high school class (numbering around 30 kids) is now successful with college diploma (not that only college is important to be successful), and that’s not because the regular schools are better, but because my high school was one of the best ones in the country and only the best students wanted to go there (in my country you enroll high school almost like college, based on grades from elementary school, there are trade schools, gymnasiums…).
      So my conclusion would be that it really depends a lot on a person, not that much on school.
      And btw, I love the idea of encouraging kids to take initiative to explore, find their way of getting education, I do wish we had more of that approach in our school, especially in college.

  21. Flower says:

    I had a great uncle who was the headmaster of a large high school and a maths genius, his take on education was that “schools should not teach you things, but simply how to learn”.

    • I Choose Me says:

      “schools should not teach you things, but simply how to learn”. I agree with this so much. What a fantastic quote.

  22. LadyL says:

    I bet that’s with all of the “no’s” doesn’t apply to tuition.

  23. RobN says:

    We had a similar thing at my public high school. It had a separate building and was called School Within A School. Lots of learning through projects and no set classes. (Yeah, I grew up in California.)

    People who went there really loved it, but when I see their posts on Facebook, not a single one of them can spell and their grammar is terrible.

    I think it probably works best for rich kids who are going to end up in the arts and it just doesn’t matter if they know how to use a semi-colon.

  24. Cassie says:

    I can’t see poor kids or kids from immigrant families of certain countries going to these liberal schools.
    These schools in England are populated by high middle class and above, I guess in United States and anywhere else is more or less the same demographics.
    Can you imagine a Chinese American kid from Flushing NY going to a liberal school? No way. I’ve seen this kind of discussion in other places most people think Chinese immigrants raise their children to be robots, that is what liberal parents believe because arts and humanities are what really matter in life because they are fun.

  25. Jonesy says:

    So, in other words, she opened a daycare?

  26. lucy2 says:

    This reminds me of when Maeby Bluth got a crocodile in spelling…

    Project based learning could probably be great, especially for kids who struggle to understand concepts in a regular classroom environment, but I do hope it’s balanced out with some more traditional school subjects, so the students aren’t at a disadvantage later in life.

  27. EN says:

    I don’t know why everyone keeps reinventing education. Germans already invented a perfect system several centuries ago and most elite schools follow it.

    The basics are – kids have to learn 2-3 foreign languages starting elementary school, play at least one musical instrument, have at least one art hobby and learn history, literature, chemistry, physics , geography and math.
    There should be classes such as dance , manners and comportment.
    There should be creativity lessons and competitions. No competition at all is bad.

    The problem is no public system can run a school like that because it requires qualified teachers, involved parents and small class sizes.

    I was shocked that the US, for all its money has 20-30-40 kids per class. The class size is the single most important factor in education.
    Another surprise is that the US schools have not even a basic understanding on how to develop creativity in kids. There are no puzzles or riddles in the elementary school assignments.

    Tilda’s kids will never have to work regular jobs, so I think the artsy education is fine for them. But it is only sufficient for trust fund kids. Everybody else needs to learn sciences and math.

    • jwoolman says:

      Exactly. Class size is ridiculous in most U.S. schools. A more individual approach is needed, and today computers can really help if used properly. A less rigid classroom is a good idea but we have to pay a lot of good teachers well to keep them. The budget problem in the U.S. is a major obstacle to even the obvious change to a much smaller class size.

      But at the same time, assuming kids can set the curriculum themselves flies in the face of human experience. An occasional child can figure out how to tie their shoes by themselves, but most of us need to be taught. We don’t toss kids into the middle of a lake and let them figure out on their own how to swim. Adults should be happily passing along what they know to the younger generation. There are many ways to do this, but expecting the kids to just guide themselves seems lazy. Certain kids will thrive anyway no matter what you do or don’t do because they’re self-starters by nature. But what about the rest?

      And at some point, you really do have to first learn a lot of “stuff” before you can even begin to make sense of an area of knowledge. If you let kids skip over the “stuff” because they think it’s boring, you’re closing doors on them before they even know what’s on the other side. If you want to play basketball, first you need to practice a lot of moves so you can focus on the game rather than on how to handle the ball. Same with playing a musical instrument. The brain needs a lot of practice for other things, too.

      A major risk of the kind of approach described in the interview is that many kids will avoid anything that isn’t easy enough for them. They often will say “it’s boring” when they mean “it’s hard and I’m afraid I can’t do it and would rather not try at all”. The advantage of a more structured curriculum is that you have to do things that are not easy for you, that don’t immediately grab your interest. This is important for a developing brain. Kids need serious exposure to many different things and encouragement to do the difficult things or at least try. It’s thought that during adolescence in particular, the brain gets into a use it or lose it mode. We certainly see this in languages – adults lose the easy ability to learn other languages pretty rapidly, but it seems as though that can be changed if other languages are learned when they are younger.

      Grades are highly overrated and pretty pointless outside the immediate context of a specific class and a specific teacher. But take away the grade pressure and then testing can be a useful evaluation tool for both students and teachers. The problem really isn’t testing. There are good ideas available in many different approaches, although I think I would have gone nuts at the school in question… Not a touchy feely type! I didn’t like school, but read a lot outside of it (including science and math). I would have been splendidly happy with the kind of homeschooling available today, utilizing computers and teachers in video contact with individual students. I doubt that would have worked for my brother, although small classes might have helped him quite a bit.

  28. kri says:

    I love Tilda, and we all know she is very different. That’s why I love her. But as for this school-nope. I truly believe that kids need structure, exams, grades etc. They need to be tech savvy, think critically, and be able to articulate. I will say that her idea of a school sounds like an arts camp. and it could be great as a supplement to a traditional education.

  29. kanyekardashian says:

    There’s a very effective school like this on Vashon Island in Washington State called Homestead. Teachers are called mentors, and kids learn about feelings and respect for nature and animals and their fellow humans, in addition to the usual subjects. Nothing wrong with that. I know PhD’s who’ve never bothered to learn any of those things.

  30. EmmyGrant says:

    My daughter spent 5th and 6th grade at a charter school that was trying to do this. Unfortunately, it set her back a year in math before we came to our senses and realized it wasn’t working. The problem was that the founder of the school (who had a passion for this teaching philosophy, which she called “project based learning”) was trained in social studies and English, so it was only awesome for those subjects. Math was taught by a particularly uninvested teacher, and to make things worse, the curriculum was all online and she would just basically sit there while the students worked on their MacBooks. It was a terrible experience, but I can imagine it being much different if all the teachers were properly trained and passionate about the philosophy.

    My daughter caught up by taking summer school, and now she is a year ahead in math and ready for college level math as a rising senior in a traditional public high school.

  31. Bunny Love says:

    I was sent to a liberal private school and thrived socially and creatively up to a point. At the time there was not parental participation at the level now and with my own children.My parents and everyone elses would very rarely engage in all the mommy and me assignments that is the norm now. You left that basically to the school aside from values and standards expected in our homes.There was structure but the emphasis at school was on small classes with more attention and more liberal arts rather than a strict curriculum with the three Rs. The problem was that although many thrived because it provided a foundation for critical thinking, others who had to work beyond family money suffered in a job market and higher education that required the basics of math and science. I also believe that some children require more structure to learn both the basics and the reality of the bigger world where stream of consciousness living is woefully inadequate..

  32. J.Mo says:

    This reminds me of the documentary on the Paskowitz family who weren’t formally schooled. Unfortunately, the oldest grew up to have a fascination with medicine and realized he would have loved a chance at becoming a doctor.

  33. Nephelim says:

    Sounds a very utopic education
    this is a real school? It is permited by the law?

  34. Nicole says:

    Grading and testing are counterproductive. Teachers teach to tests and students learn to get grades.

    • EN says:

      At the top college I attended in my home country we never were taught to the test, We were taught everything a professor wanted us to learn and then on the exam if we answered all questions correctly from what we were taught that would get us a “B”. To get an “A” we had to answer a question to something we weren’t taught but the solution could be derived from the material we were taught. Only those who were able to independently apply the material and take it to the next level were given an “A”.

      But I can never see such a system working in the US because students would complain. Though I think at MIT and Stanford they do practice the same approach from time to time.
      In the US I attended Indiana University and there we were only tested on what we were taught.

  35. LaurieH says:

    A high school with no grades no tests and no desks? Didn’t that used to be called detention?

  36. Shannondipity says:

    When I decided to homeschool my (then) first-grader – *not* a decision I made lightly – I hopefully ended up somewhere in the middle. He’s on an online ‘cyber academy’, they provide the curriculum, tons of supplies and teacher support, and it’s fully accredited. So he’s getting what he needs, but he also has the individual attention he was not really getting in traditional school. If he wants to sing, he can sing – after he’s done his lessons for the day lol. But he can take breaks, we can tweak things, do side projects, we love the flexibility and I love that there’s still some structure.

  37. Katie says:

    As a former teacher, I have mixed feelings about this, very strong mixed feelings. While I fully understand that standardized testing backlash, having lived that hell for 8 years, I do not agree with this idea that we have to throw out all of traditional education to improve it. There are elements of traditional education that are highly important to a child’s development. Expecting them to sit quietly in desks for 8 hours with no breaks to be kids is excessive. However, expecting them to learn to sit quietly, focus, follow a schedule and a set of expectations makes them functional people. No, not every job will demand that, but allowing them to be just kids all the time with no boundaries is not equipping them for life. Art, music, physical education are extremely important as well. However, they can not supplant academic education. There must be a balance of all of these things. Public education and even private education struggle with it. Students and teachers don’t need a bunch of politicians and now celebrities continuing to proclaim that they know how to solve our failings. They don’t. They have no idea how hard it is to have a classroom full of 25-35 students that are coming from 25-35 different home backgrounds – some children have had all of the advantages while others have had none. Some children come knowing how to read; some children have never seen a book in their homes. Some children come to school well fed and feeling secure in their homes; some children haven’t eaten and have no idea where they will live or how they will survive. Any education reforms in the area of standardized testing and classroom best practices has to begin to take these in to account. Furthermore, there can only be true reform when the people making the “rules” understand that teachers and administrators know best. We are in the trenches. We know what works and what is completely ridiculous. Accountability can not rest solely on the shoulders of teachers. Parents and students must also bear some of that.
    Tilda Swinton can try her dream school but she’s going to find that any extreme will not survive.

  38. angela says:

    And people shake their heads at homeschooling? I’d rather homeschool my kids then have them sitting around singing about caramelized onions.