Does your school have a social design?
Is your school designed to affect the students so that they acquire
- Social responsibility
- Ability to connect well across the ages and with adults
- Excellence - where the definition of excellence is high but you can find status in what interests you
- Bullying is non existent
- The staff and the pupils really care for each other
These things don't happen by accident. They don't happen because you would like them to happen. They happen as a result of a conscious social design.
A pipe dream? No a reality and you can find out all about how to do this by looking at my old School - Harrow. Here is a link to their page - if you are interested and have time please look at the film on Settling into Harrow - where all I will talk about now is shown to you.
Social Hubs - Houses
Harrow has about 800 boys ranging from 13- 18 years old. The heart of the Social Design is that the boys are not all lumped into the larger mix but each spends his entire 5 years in a "House" with about 70 - 80 boys. He is bonded primarily to this social unit.
Harrow has just built its first new house in ages - the point was not to expand the size of the school but to ensure that this unit size of 70 - 80 could be maintained.
Your key identity at Harrow is rooted in this group. You share your meals - you sleep - you play competitive sport - act in plays and give concerts - you have distinctive colours - you meet as old boys - all in this context. You do mix with the rest of the 800 boys but your house is your tribe. In a body 80 that lives like this for 5 years - YOU CANNOT HIDE. You have to find your place.
So what is it about 80? 80 is of course one of the core building blocks (89 actually) of the Fibonacci series that governs most of how nature designs and also how humans do best in social units.
80 is the size of the Century in the Roman Legion. 80 is a unit size that has been tested for millennia as ideal larger tribe. The smaller tribe is 34. The core team is 8 and the absolute maximum where there can be any social cohesion is 144. The Dunbar number is usually accepted as 150 for simplicity's sake.
All real social design employs these numbers. For like gravity or light - nature is not arbitrary and math underpins all natural laws.
Source Christopher Allen
So does your school or organization know anything about this or practice any of it? If you are in the army you do - all armies organize like this still. They do so because this works. It works to help people perform at their best.
If Harrow was just 800 boys then none of what I am talking about could happen. Many high schools have at least 800 pupils. Many have more than 1,500. With no Social Design that puts the kids into a tribe - tribes will form on their own as they do in prison where not to be in a tribe is to be "prey". Where most tribes are the dark side of tribes.
Where the staff become warders.
Social Design within the House
The house system has a very deliberate design inside the house too. This is not about a building or about a label - there is a social design inside the walls.
Each house has a dedicated staff of adults and older boys whose job it is to make the place work and to set the environment where the boys have the best chance of doing well.
The House Master lives in the house and has a much lighter teaching load. They are chosen from the group of teachers who have put in about 10 -15 years as a teacher. They tend to be in their late 30's to early 40's. They have a 10 - 15 year term of office. They look after the "whole boy".
Matron who also lives in the house is in effect the uber mom. She looks after the boy boy.
There is a live in House Tutor, a teacher, whose job is academic coaching and mentoring. There are also 8 live out tutors who are attached to the house and about 10 boys. 10 boys is close enough for the team ideal of 8.
Think about all the work related issues that confront kids - and then imagine what it is like to have this kind of resource. All of this is OUTSIDE the classroom.
There are also the school chaplains who also act as the parish priest to the community.
The day to day running of the house is done not by any of the adult staff member but by the older boys.
All new boys are given a "shepherd" an older boy from the year ahead whose job is to help them find their way. Each new boy is also assigned to the care of a 6th former as well.
So at the heart of the school is not the class room but the society and each boy finds his own place. Where the boys experience and also create a safe and trusting trusted space.
Does your school have such a space?
The Social Design of the School
Nor is the larger school just the 800 boys going to classes. The larger school has a well thought our social design as well.
All boys eat in the central dining room - each house sits in its own area but this is where the entire school can meet socially - the larger social bonds happen around sharing food - THE core social bonding process.
The average class size is 12. This is in the realm of conversation that has an upper limit of close to 20. It means that many clases are about 8 which is the ideal human social design for conversation. When groups are over 23 conversation is impossible. There are two many possible connections.
Yes smaller classes are better. But reducing a class size from 34 to 26 achieves nothing. The Zone is 13 or less with 8 being best. Not a matter of opinion just as the laws of gravity are not a matter for debate either.
The day to day discipline of the school is largely the job of the senior boys - School Monitors - about 1 -2 from each House. Teachers rarely have to be involved in discipline.
Teachers of course teach but that is a small part of what they do at Harrow. Harrow has something for all boys. It can be sport, acting, music, art, IT it can be anything and is. There is always a teacher who is engaged in the activity. What happens of course is that if your passion is the stage, as mine was, then Jeremy Lemmon, who ran that part of Harrow when I was there becomes one of your best friends.
Such a shift in relationship has a huge effect in class. You are being taught by people that you know as well as any friend. You know all of them not just the man in class. They can and do expect more from you as a result. They don't have to use power.
A consequence is also that all the ages mix at Harrow. Older boys run things and teachers are coaches. It is normal for a 15 year old to argue fiercely with a 50 year old teacher about say politics or art just as it is almost impossible for that 15 year old to act out in that teacher's class. 18 year old boys - young men really look after the younger boys - much of the sports coaching, house plays etc are run by the older boys - again creating a relationship not based on power but on mutual interests.
Status and Agression
In most schools status is where most of the conflict arises - in the getting of it or in not having it. Teens are also naturally agressive and boys can default to violence and the use of power. I won't talk today about how vile girls can be!
Here the House system shows its strength. Boys are difficult. They are by nature competitive. At Harrow this need to compete is channeled by the House - there are competitions for everything and most are inter house based. Boys true agressive nature can be harnessed in a healthy way.
You have to have money to go to Harrow. But even in that league there is money and then there is MONEY.
The uniform - though odd looking - has a purpose here too. All the boys look the same. There is no allowance for personal status show at school. The only status you can show is status that you have earned at the school itself - there are many items of clothing - hats, scarves, ties, jackets etc that show what you have achieved.
Think for a moment about your time at high school - how important was status and how was it earned?
So how can the lessons of a place like Harrow be implemented in a regular high school?
In my next post on Bussing, I will offer up a suggestion.