Today The Circle School releases a study of its graduates, casting the school in a very favorable light. Our graduates go to college at high rates: 84% of those who were here for 4 years of high school, and 91% of our “lifers.” Nationwide the rate among same-age peers is 60%. Our graduates also earn more Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees than their peers. And 21% are currently pursuing degrees that aren’t even counted in this study.
In the world of education this is great success,
so why do I have such mixed feelings? More about that in a moment.
Clearly The Circle School has excelled in these customary measures of success. How does this happen, in a school with no compulsory curriculum, classes, tests, grades, or homework? How does this happen with students from across the socioeconomic spectrum?
Here’s how I understand it. When adults are not forceful or frantic about pressing academic studies on children, when school instead
immerses kids in self-direction, community, and democracy, at least two relevant patterns tend to emerge. First, children and teens develop their agency and self-responsibility, leaning into life like welcome adventure, a birthright not to be passively deferred until someone pushes them into it. Second, the social value and natural appeal of traditional academic pursuits tend to emerge and flourish, untainted by the bad taste of coercion. Building a satisfying life becomes everyday practice, and college is often on the path.
So why are my feelings about this “success” so mixed? I love that some Circle School graduates — many, actually — are scholars pursuing their dreams through college studies. And I’m pleased for The Circle School to deepen its acceptance and credibility in the world of traditional education.
But in bragging about this aspect of The Circle School’s excellence, I don’t want to endorse the narrow, inadequate, unhelpful obsession of public policymakers with curriculum, academic studies, testing, and grades. Academics and college are important facets of life, but they are not what The Circle School most values. As the study says, The Circle School’s primary aims are about children’s personal fulfillment and engagement in society. “We would rather be judged by our graduates’ self-actualization, life satisfaction, achievement in self-chosen domains, and productive engagement in culture, community, society, and technology.”
I want every child to have ample opportunity for the happiness of a satisfying life filled with meaning and purpose. I don’t want children to postpone pursuit of that sort of deep happiness until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I’m pleased now to show that kids can live their lives as kids, today, every day, practicing life at school, and still grow up to go to college.
NOTE: You can download the full report (15 pages) here: Circle School Graduates in 2015: College Attendance, Academic Degrees, and Occupations.