The Flexible Scheduling Committee at Lick-Wilmerding High School
was a make-do effort. More correctly, I was a member of the second
Flexible Scheduling Committee.
What is flexible scheduling?
Most high schools at the time, maybe most still, are scheduled with periods throughout the day, forty, forty-five minutes, or thereabouts, at a time. Maybe some students are lucky enough to have ‘spares,’ or free periods to do homework, go to the library, or hang with friends, etc. This, obviously, is inflexible scheduling.
In the air at the time--1967--was great ferment in educational theory (and in everything else). The great experiment of A. S. Neill at Summerhill in England was
coming to general knowledge. John Holt, of How Children Learn and How Children Fail was conducting his experiments in teaching in the Oakland
ghetto across the San Francisco Bay.
The legacy of Mario Savio, and the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkley, from 1964, were fresh in the memory of all at Lick. The flowering of consciousness recounted in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test were happenning contemporaneously. (I had to read the book, many years later, to discover all that had happened.) The Whole Earth Catalog was in production, although I didn’t know it at the time. But I digress, a bit.
Inflexible scheduling assumes, basically, that students are unable to learn. They must be ‘spoonfed’ small bits of predetermined knowledge, quality tested periodically, and at the end of the process, certified for being sound. As Savio said, knowledge is the stuff, the degree or diploma is the label, teachers are the cannier, school is the cannery---and we are the cans!
This is made manifest, of course, in the inflexible schedule we all know and hate.
Flexible scheduling takes the opposite approach--completely opposite. It assumes true learning to be an active process, best accomplished in great steps, not little chunks. And accomplished by the student on his or her own!
So, the idea is to have little time devoted to traditional classes--lectures, tutorials, seminars--and the bulk of time during the regular school day given over to private study, research, and consultation with the teacher. This is not an easy time for either student or teacher.
Teachers, used to daily classes covering small ides in their subjects, now had only a lecture or seminar or two a week to impart larger concepts or themes. They had to
devise explorations for their students that would lead to investigation of subjects or texts in ways never attempted before.
For us, yes, there was a lot more free time, but a lot more to do, too. My experiences are material for other nodes.
Practically, this requires great flexibility in scheduling the new variety of classes, in a new variety of ways. It is much like a university schedule. Hence, the Flexible Scheduling Committee.
To recap, it was a make-do effort. That is, the first Committee, in the fall term of 1967, was composed of Seniors; who did the scheduling manually. This was possible
because the enrollment at Lick was small--500 or so if memory serves, with a handfull of staff. And it was a lot less expensive than going to a computer somewhere--presumably a timeshare at some mainframe.
Flexible Scheduling began with the Spring term, 1968. The Seniors’ work done--pioneering the manual scheduling, and ready to leave for university--they passed the torch to the second Committee, composed of Juniors. The Seniors’ schedule worked! We had to make one that would, too.
Physically, the committe room was drab. Underground, or so it seemed. No windows. We inherited five big pin boards, one for each day of the week. Our task was to arrange the class/lecture/seminar requests of the teachers with the availability of the students who were registered for their courses.
As things go, it might have been a dry affaire. But not for Lick boys, and not in spring, 1968.
One of the things about San Francisco that is legendary is the earthquakes, and the San Andreas fault. I was told a spur of the fault is documented to extend under the City College of San Francisco, across the street. We had a conceit that it extended under our building, under our room--between Monday and Tuesday.
It was not a dry affaire. In addition to the fault, we had flashing lights, flashing wit, and in general, a rousing experience. I heard people saying they’d been told the school reeked of burning ‘grass.’ This rube from Canada didn’t know what they were talking about. In retrospect, this might have explained something about the ‘atmosphere’ in the flexible scheduling committeeroom. But I never saw anyone smoke anything there--nor did I!
I have heard the notion of a ‘contact high;’ that is, we take cues for our behaviour from those around us. So, if our companions are acting in a witty manner, so will we. I
Much to my great regret, I left Lick at the end of my one and only year there. I don’t know how, or if, our attempt at flexible scheduling worked. And I was unable to attend either the 15th or 25th Reunion of my class.
But Lick continues. I am happy.