Around a small round lunch table in K-2’s courtyard, surrounded by vivid colors and the chatter and giggles of children, my friends and I began a vigorous discussion about the nature of education. It was the result of the sharp contrast between the design approach that we’d just witnessed first hand during our tour of Riverside and the values of our own institution, Phillips Academy. We had read the DFC packet prior to our arrival, and had understood the concepts behind the pedagogy, but now we had no doubt in our minds, that the system in practice actually worked. The relationships between students and teachers were genuine collaborations, seventh graders would speak eye-to-eye with their teachers and the teachers would respond in a similar fashion, and moreover, the students themselves were convinced that their collaborative approach worked. They had seen it in their successful ice cream creation project, more than anywhere else, as the oldest among them repeatedly mentioned. Yet there were still unanswered questions in our mind, and new uncertainties had emerged through conversation. We brainstormed ideas of how we could integrate certain components of the Riverside education into an Andover education, a boarding school that accepts kids starting only in the ninth grade, has grade sizes of over three hundred students, and brings together students from a huge variety of socio-economic and geographic backgrounds. How would the DFC model presented by your Riverside students translate into a larger school community? Or even, how would the system work at a school that only contains grades 9-12? At a school such as PA, students cannot be exposed to the Riverside model throughout key stages of their formative years, and come from educational backgrounds that are radically different. How would these obstacles diminish the intended purpose of the model, or what could be done to compensate for these shortcomings in comparison to the Riverside school.
On the other end of the spectrum, we pondered what Riverside’s plans were for the future. Without a doubt, the DFC prototype has proven itself to be hugely popular and successful, by spreading to schools in thirty-five countries around the world, yet only twenty-five students are admitted every year. The system originated at the Riverside school, yet hundreds of kids apply in the hoped of attending, and are rejected. What are your plans, if any, for expanding the system? If there are no plans for expansion in Ahmedabad, I must ask, why not? Where do you identify restrictions within the school’s system, and where is there leeway for growth?
Finally, since the school is still relatively young and still in its development phase, it has yet to see the results of its education tested out in a real world context. I would be very interested to see which paths members of the first graduating class will take in the future. Coming from an environment such as Riverside, how will they adjust to a radically college experience? Will they retain their values, such as the belief that every child is a leader, and transform the spaces around them to emulate Riverside? Or would they struggle within a system that is built on the beliefs that competition is necessary? In our own discussions, we were never able to reach a conclusive answer to any of these questions, (and granted, there were many!) and we would love to hear what you think.