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1. Why me?
My personal approach:
I found the idea for this concept in my own Self - my identity as child, mother, wife / woman, teacher, manager, and a member of society.  None of these aspects of life can be disregarded, and I am convinced that all these roles combine to form a Whole, which is the purpose of all our doing and living. 
Surely my motherhood has left the strongest imprints; not only because I want to be a good mother to my three children, but also because I wanted to use a different approach from the one my own parents used for me, in raising my own children, at least in certain aspects of life.   I thus kept envisaging myself as 'child Ingeborg', one who, due to the archaic value system at the times, subjectively had too little liberties and choices, and I strove to "at least" offer my own children a better menu of options.  
Of course these choices merely existed within the limitations of  my own boundaries and possibilities.  My job as teacher brought about a similar situation.  As educator, I frequently succumbed to just serving the demands of a system that had to be kept operating, rather than attending to the needs and curiosities of my pupils.  So while teaching, I revisited being a 'compatible student', who basically just endures 'doing time' for good grades.  

After a ten year hiatus from teaching, during which I worked in free enterprise, I once again returned to work in a school setting.  From the experience I had gained from working in a whole different occupational field, I could now clearly see what children need in their education to allow them to fill their own niche, and to take a fulfilling role in an increasingly comprehensive and quickly changing society. 
I directed my efforts towards approaching children by encouraging their interests and curiosities to facilitate the development of their personalities.  I was, and am, convinced that, the strengthening of self esteem, personal flexibility, and the ability to acquire knowledge through and with the adoption of social skills are the most important attributes one should develop through learning. 
This however requires teaching means and -methods other than those offered in our current educational system; I introduced these means and methods to my pupils, and the children accepted them with enthusiasm and took them for granted.  The children's joy was my positive feedback for this unconventional work, and subsequently, the joy of their parents, who were frequently  infected by their offspring's motivation.  Unfortunately, this different way of doing things often triggered confusion with my colleagues, who found themselves befuddled by something they never encountered in teaching before.  Thus, my pupils, their parents and I were branded as being 'extraneous'.   What made me discontinue my practical application of this concept was my status, receiving the support of the students, parents, and the headmaster, but not having initiated a dialogue with the school board to 'officially' receive their blessing, and also partially the inability to negotiate the frequent confrontations with my professional surroundings.  

I had to undergo a process of personal maturation myself.  Now, after two years of 'vacation', if you will, during which I was fortunate enough to pursue many personal interests, I have found the strength to introduce the concept of a new elementary school.  The final impetus came from the encouragement of many individuals who always appreciated my courage.  These are individuals who escort me in life, and, like me, have an interest in their own personal, as well as collective development and improvement.  
Ultimately, we all strive to find a direction that makes living and working together more fulfilling; this becomes more conceivable as the welfare of our community called 'humanity' becomes the center of interest, rather than the 'individual'. 
I want to begin with the children.  They are my profession as elementary school teacher, and perhaps even my life's  mission.  For me, children are the most wonderful consequence of human existence, and a great enrichment of life.  They receive my attention and respect in all of my considerations.  I attempt to draw from my own experiences, ideas and visions, as much as from those of congenial others, because we are all one community.  Thus I hope to find a WHOLE, a mutuality, which will make it possible to apply this concept, and which will make it a success. 
My warmest thanks to my own wonderful children Maximilian, Isabelle and Nikolaus.  They have always given my life new meaningful purpose.      
2. What makes our current school system so removed from reality?
The underlying thoughts:
Our world is changing.  The worldwide connectivity boom (Fax, Internet, E-Mail, video conferencing, etc.) not only accelerates the transmission of data and knowledge, but creates a flood of information which has become completely unpredictable.  This change certainly affects science and the economy, but especially and foremost, our society.  Previously well justified and functional systems no longer measure up to these new demands; more often, linear development forecasts get bogged down in the more and more encountered insecure and imponderable.  This  results in a change of values, which in turn requires people to diversify their behavior patterns in almost all areas of life.  Thus the human image is changing to an individual who lives as a Whole, and no longer is he considered a kind of mechanical machine, like in earlier times.  
These new breaks in our previously valid patterns more than ever call for deliberation, an open discussion to question and redefine the systems of education and training.  A primary education based on mere intellectual-theoretical knowledge of facts leads itself ad absurdum (the half life of knowledge today is less than 3 years).  The exploding wealth of diverse information, after all, requires the development of skills a human being needs in various facets of life, to be in sync with the Zeitgeist.  The previous emphasis on the sheer ability to understand and to retain intellectual facts is thus replaced by a process of lifelong learning.  The new interest to learn comes from creating a net of relations between human beings with all their different characters and talents, so together they may tackle this flood of new information, new situations, and new knowledge.  Essentially, the changes in education and training first transform the foundations of human relations, values, and beliefs, and only then alter overall efficiency. 

The priorities are to set open a whole new spectrum of possibilities, a spectrum which mainly results in greater flexibility and creativity.  It becomes easier to accept the insecure and imponderable caused by the changes, and one is more readily able to discover alternative problem solving means.  However, if the offered education and training continues to strictly adhere to our old parameters of upbringing, the necessary bandwidth for diversity will turn up missing.  Flexibility and creativity can only come through individual personality development in the area of social interaction.  With these skills, one will then be able to acquire any knowledge needed at any point in time.  With the right tools as companions on this learning journey (computers and internet, etc.), the factual knowledge will be found independently. 

In this case the requirements to the individual not only keep in sync with their own improvement, but are closely connected with the process of change itself - the change of one self as well as a change of the system(s).  Sound self esteem is the 'magic ingredient'.  If learning is a process, and not a system, education will be heavily influenced by the individuals themselves, as well as the group to which they contribute.  The difference between success and failure is thus dependent on the qualities of one's social competence.  Really the (lifelong) learning process can only work as long as everyone maintains interaction through the contribution of some sort of skill in dealing with others.  Social competence represents the 'netting' of human qualities and skills, and is equally as important as the worldwide 'netting' of information.  It first occurs in intimate circles, but ultimately creates in a person the ability to connect to larger societies, such as different cultures (globalization).  Who is unable to represent oneself - and for this self esteem is crucial - is bound to misunderstand others and their expectations, react in an unintelligible way to their messages, or assume the wrong angle or position while trying to interact.  

To measure up to these demands, the inflexible educational system must be urgently changed.  The most pressing goal is to dissolve the rigid hierarchies, and convert them into a form of participation that becomes the basis for the desired and necessary interaction.  In school, this means dissolving rigid restrictions, such as age groups, classes and schedules.   The 'syllabus' includes process-goals divided into intellectual, social, musical-creative, and physical areas.  If necessary, these process-goals can be constantly adjusted and redefined as required by current events and the needs of life.  The teachers are process-guides for the students, and vice versa.  

To verify the realization of  process-goals, a standardized verbal evaluation (in the intellectual area), and an individual description (in all other areas) is used.  Primarily, the four grades (age groups) work together, but for special tasks, groups will be formed as needed, according to process progress.  The individual receives optimal levels of encouragement and support within the collective effort.  The basic motivation to create a win/win situation for everyone - and therefore for each individual - is maintained, and thus evolves the foundation for sound self esteem, which in turn mobilizes creativity and flexibility.  One who possesses these qualities will react to changes not with passiveness, fear, or denial, but instead adapt to the new situation, and become a productive contributor.  Then the children will exhibit the vivacity to develop their most wonderful god given qualities - to pursue their curiosities, the desire to discover the new, to experiment and invent, to investigate, to experience and to understand the world and life itself. 

3. The concept of the alternative elementary school:
Learning for children from six to ten through process-guiding.
The concept includes a general introduction, as well as: 

   3.1 intellectual 
   3.2 musical-creative 
   3.3 social and                                     
   3.3 physical 

areas (general concept overviews), and a conclusion with explanations. 

The 'mainstream' of education, which commences at elementary school age, must be constantly re-evaluated and re-organized.  All four areas are described in their primary tasks, but their application is a process, just like the students' learning itself.   Concurrently, the teachers become  
process-guides, who, through the constantly occurring change, participate in their own improvement process.  The dissolving of traditional time-, space-, and age structures (grades, periods, classrooms) on one hand promotes concentration, and on the other supports the natural learning rhythm and the 'sinking in' of learned material.  'Core-sessions' of acquisition alternate  
with musical-creative 'Fantasy-sessions', or physical education.  Although specific time is set aside for social education, it is mostly integrated with the other areas, and also partially shifted to extramural tasks.  

Although each child, dependent on their respective age, possesses approximately similar degrees of physical development, their degrees of intellectual, creative, or even social development may differ significantly.  Individual talents, whether genetically passed down, acquired from the social environment, or parentally encouraged, become important factors which can be supported and developed through process-guided learning.  What all children have in common, though, is their curiosity and the urge to discover and try the new.  This curiosity remains the basic motivation for wanting to learn, to discover, invent, understand, and to experience practical life and find a place in society. 

   3.1 Intellectual area: 

Which are the basic skills children learn in elementary school?  On one hand, the classic cultural techniques, such as writing, reading, and basic math, on the other, fundamental knowledge that allows them to discover and understand their world, such as biology, geography, history, etc.  As mentioned before, children begin school with certain suppositions.  In order not to suffocate their interest and curiosity, and to offer them a playful and simple intercourse with the innovative, knowledge acquisition is arranged via the computer.  Through the use of instructional programs especially geared for access by children, students can satisfy their exploring spirits by clicking through the respective subject areas.   They will solve tasks in a playful manner through their curiosity and thirst to discover.   If a student is at first unable to complete a task, the program will offer additional help, keeping frustration to a minimum.  In any event, the pupils will solve tasks either independently, or through the help of the group and integrated older students, which can be asked for help anytime.  

In 'Core-sessions', tasks are solved in small groups (max. 6); individual learning- and exercise sessions are also arranged.  After some time, the groups are rearranged (some reach the process-goal sooner) in the various subjects.  The pupils can then begin to tackle new goals in accord with their own abilities and at their own pace, provided the process-goal has been achieved and acknowledged by the process-guide. 

This way even writing and reading are learned via computer programs.  This eliminates the burden of simultaneously learning content as well as the physical process of writing itself (how do I write legibly and spell correctly), which is a problem for many children.  My concept instead plans a reorientation: writing will be practiced on the computer, while learning hand writing skills is transferred into the musical-creative area, where it can be rehearsed with the appropriate muse and artistry.  The same goes for reading, which is not only learned on the computer.  

Reading, as in experiencing stories, legends, fairy tales, and myths, is a totally different perception process than the mere reading and comprehension of facts.  The appropriate program can even offer texts in different languages, for the many children who speak a different mother tongue, which means that meaningful content will be available for students that have little or no 
understanding of the English language (or whichever language may be the primary teaching medium).  Since the programs will offer exercises until the student can solve the task independently, learning will ultimately be made easier due to constant rehearsal.  Children of other cultures have the chance to experience their own language's typeface, and, through word (at home) and writing (on the computer) become fully fluent. 

Anything intangible, which can not be grasped on the computer, i.e. the development of the senses, interactive exchanges and experiencing nature and other people, belongs to the other three areas, although these can even fit into the intellectual area (playful interaction with illustrative materials).  

   3.2 Musical-creative area: 

Art is creation, in the physical realm as well as the spiritual.  An important basic quality, which we adults already find difficult to embrace, is learned: to participate in everything we encounter in the outside world, to engage ourselves, and to attempt to create and design it ourselves.  These artistic activities have a special position in our lives, because we often just automatically perform physical acts (put on shoes, turn lights on/off, sit down in the subway, etc.).  In creativity, however, it becomes necessary to utilize a full bandwidth of senses and abilities. 

When engaged in artistic exercise, one encounters a somewhat unfamiliar situation where there are no activities based on routine.  Full concentration is certainly necessary, but it spans a broad index.  The immersing oneself in the material (colors, wood, clay, rhythmic motion, sounds, poetry) presents a problem we can not solve if we do not dis-solve ourselves into the matter.   
This process of immersion often triggers a scale of emotions: expectation, disappointment, anger, resignation, reflection, surprise, new hope, new effort, and intense joy about the creative project.  

This participation stays not only on a spiritual plane, but advances deep into the physical.  One character trait of children is their strong connection of the spiritual and physical.  Giving children the opportunity to express emotions through artistic endeavors means fulfilling one of their most essential needs.  Through these endeavors, they learn how to approach and challenge a problem with all their soul and each fiber in their body, a problem which appears significant not because the solution provides a certain material benefit, but simply because it is (humanly) interesting.  The foundation is built to cultivate and develop interest. 

This is where the circle of the four areas closes.  Essentially the children are offered a broad spectrum of artistic immersion, which they can utilize as an equalizer to the intellectual work on the computer.  Themes and subjects (music, theater, painting, etc.) are adjusted and offered according to individual progress, and 'taught' overlapping ages (even hand writing).  

   3.3 Social area: 

'Social learning', like already indicated, is incorporated in the respective other areas, since it can not be considered an isolated part.  Social togetherness is constantly regenerated, and requires teamwork and conflict- and problem solving throughout the daily events.  Furthermore, the frame of social togetherness is expanded to include the family and environment. 

An essential social process-goal is to raise the children's awareness of being a part of this community (be it school, family, society/state), in which every individual is dependent on the other, and where sharing yields the greatest rewards.  The tasks pupils accomplish in their environment are assisting and independently providing services to the community they live in.  These services can be related to people and/or animals and/or the environment, and are attended to outside 'regular' school hours.  They are a fixed ingredient to the learning process itself, and thus included in the process-goals.  A portion of this social attention is conducted in groups, and devoted to 'marginal elements' of society ('antisocials', HIV positives, etc.).  Through active compassion, help is offered where it is needed and wanted.  Various projects should be designed for each group, and include the participation of the students' parents.  

The parents always play the biggest supporting role in the social learning process, be it their contribution as a person, through their knowledge and experience, or through the provision of useful materials and contacts.  In any event, the school community of students/teachers/parents is an important element that, through constant adjustment to the process's needs, becomes a productive function of mutual exchange.  Considerations even go as far as suggesting that a truly successful achievement of all components is only possible when all concerned in the community contribute their part, and thus also receive a portion of the final credit. 

   3.4 Physical education: 

Because every human is a Whole, consisting of body, mind, and soul, training of the physical body must receive equal priority.  Joyous play and bodily motion balances all sitting and intellectual activities.  Children attend to a social longing for significant creative engagement with their hunger for movement. Therefore attention should be given to the joy of bodily movement as opposed to the training of 'high performance' athletes.  The basis and starting point for this physical education is to participate in a game with each other, dance to music, or even experience the tranquility of a flowing sequence of motions in a far eastern discipline.  Certainly  
gymnastics, which provides feedback about the state of one's body's flexibility and ability to move, are also part of this repertoire.  Outdoor activities are also proposed, where, away from confined interior spaces, the children can enjoy games in fresh air and 'freedom'.  Basically, students select their form of physical activity, as long as they do not disturb the community through rough behavior (danger of injury).  

Everyone may test their physical limits, and will be encouraged in their efforts to learn any particular discipline.  Here too, like in the musical-creative area, lie possibilities to experience various emotions (e.g. fear), and learn how to cope with them.  In this, the group shall be of support, but must never exert pressure.  The children may again experience the existence of different character, but without judgment - such as whether dancing is perhaps less of a sport than Tai Chi.  Because the social component - as desired by the children themselves - has its place in this area, there are no competitive games or contests.  The emphasis is on well-being and physical activity, which comprise the foremost element. 

I have the following comments regarding the process: 

The children select their process-guides, not opposite.  It may take some time for new beginners to find their rhythm, but since advanced learners are already in the community, they can receive help.  Every child will establish when a change of subjects is needed, and when this change is to take place.  Since the process-guides are located in various rooms, the changing children are always in a safe environment.  

'Core-sessions' for different activities are posted on the weekend for the following two weeks.  This is how the children will know when they may attend a preferred activity.  Learning will start with an 'arrival period' in the morning (between 8 and 9 a.m.), and provides for a common lunch break between 1 and 2 p.m.  1-2 hours of learning follow in the afternoon, at 4 p.m. the school day is over. 

The children keep a learning journal, which they may design to their liking, where they record their desired activities, achieved process-goals and social services done outside school.  Other assignments to be attended at home are sent over the Internet to everyone's email address, or taken home via CD-ROM.  Children without a computer at home have the opportunity to finish their assignments in school or with the help of their peers (enter a social service credit for the helper).  

Nature experiences, environmental services, and care of marginal social groups is undertaken afternoons in groups (probably three afternoons per week).  As responsibility increases, the children may select one or more afternoons themselves.  They also may chose what they want to do, and with whom.  If possible, the parents should be involved.  Twice a month, activities, 
problems, and achievements will be presented to a school community forum.  The forum will feature a bulletin board for information, problems, assistance and questions, which can also be announced via Internet address.  

Furthermore, two Saturdays per month are off, the others only provide programs until noon.  Since many parents are having difficulties to keep children sensibly occupied during long holidays, a holiday program should be designed together, containing various community aspects (also the opportunity to take over certain services, help out on a farm, etc.).  Perhaps it is possible to arrange for an exchange program with a neighboring country on the Internet, which would open up a whole new array of prospects.  Under close scrutiny, this new elementary school constellation offers opportunities to develop unexpected possibilities, not ruling out anything or anyone.  

As usual - and this has often happened to me - the children themselves can probably contribute more useful ideas  than even we adults are able to, with their unspoiled, fresh approach and healthy curiosity.  With certainty, the learning process therefore remains a two way street, and I am really looking forward to it! 

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