Unnatural Age-segregation in Traditional Schools

By Angela Hansen
President and Founder
American Academy of Strategic Education

In today’s society, age segregation, where children are separated into age-specific groupings, has become increasingly prevalent. Although it is unnatural, and possibly unhealthy, children are regularly separated from adults in playgroups, daycares, and schools. These institutions further segregate children by birth year. Children live for 13 years in an age-segregated bubble. Their lives provide them very limited exposure to adults and children of other age groups. This artificial age-segregation is not found in nature and leads to a lack of understanding between ages.

Historically, age segregation has effectively diminished the understanding between people of different ages which occurred naturally. This lack of understanding of people of different ages has contributed to many of today’s social problems. Sheltered into their own age groups, children’s emotional and social growth is crippled. Children become incapable of fully understanding people older or younger than themselves because they lack familiarity with either. 

Unfortunately, children and families feel the ill consequences of this age-segregated society. Children’s ability to spend time with younger or older siblings is further limited by school and activities such as organized sports and after school classes. Children are also cut off from the real daily work and concerns of their parents. Children’s lives become too busy to spend quality time with grandparents. Many of society’s problems arise from this clear-cut age-segregation. I believe much crime would decrease if children felt like they were more deeply connected to people of all ages in their community, especially crimes related to children rebelling, crimes against society, and those against elderly people.

It is my belief that young people who have experience with people of a variety of age-ranges and those who have had the opportunity to experience a gradual shift from childhood to independence have a more fulfilling experience growing up and truly do mature. John Taylor Gatto, iconic American teacher and authority on education, writes of today’s schoolchildren as living in constant childhood. “School,” he says, has done a “spectacular job of turning children into children” and ensuring that they “would grow older, but never really grow up.” 

People of all ages and stages of life enjoy the company of others who share their interests. No amount of academic study, socializing, or media exposure can substitute this valuable life experience. Young adults need more opportunities to be with and learn from older youth and adults whom they respect. When given these opportunities, children learn to communicate openly and learn about growing up. Sometimes this means they will choose companions of a similar age, but not always.

We are privileged to learn from history of the benefits of families and communities living and growing together. There are so many intangible benefits of associating with people of all ages including emotional growth and stability and the opportunity of learning and teaching one another. Historically, young children were given more opportunities to take part in the lives of mature family and community members. We are missing this richness in our modern age-segregated lifestyles. There is a richness that cannot be replaced when we give and share our lives with people of all ages. Hopefully the one silver lining of the COVID quarantine and having our children home for a length of time, is that we see the benefits of children associating with people of a variety of ages even within their own family. I hope we will all continue to seek these types of opportunities to recapture that richness and incorporate it into our children’s academic and community lives to help them continue to grow and mature with a better understanding of those around them.

At American Academy, our curriculum is multi-layered. Students work individually on core subjects at their exact ability-level that meet the State Standards. This is accomplished in part through a textbook-based curriculum, detailed course syllabus with specific learning outcomes, or a technology-based program with the support of qualified teachers. The other elements that make up our student’s academic curriculum include our project-based and discussion-based core subject classes, which also meet the State Standards, and our Student Clubs. 

Our project-based, discussion-based classes provide students of close age, but not exact age, to work together. Students are selected and balanced by age, ability, and gender. This grouping is deliberately made for the benefit of the students, leading to a true family of learners. A multi-age classroom is not the same as a multi-grade classroom. A multi-age classroom is where students are still taught as separate grade levels even though they are in the same room. Within a multi-age classroom, students are often regrouped according to interests, talents, multiple intelligences, and ability. Instruction is differentiated according to each child’s needs; teachers assess where students are starting from and help them progress.  Rather than being taught at a certain age level, students are taught at their point of learning.  A multi-age school is subject to the same accountabilities (state testing, MAP testing, report cards) as single-grade schools. However, students won’t be confined to a single grade level of learning.  

When parents ask Roman Fernando of American Academy, “Are the children of different ages together in the same class?” He happily responds in the affirmative and adds “It is amazing how different ages can learn to work together.” At American Academy, students of similar ability, interest, and age–but not exact same age, are grouped together to form their Essential Discourse class. Mr. Fernando further explains that, “The older students take on leadership roles and help the younger students, and the younger students help the older students by giving them teaching opportunities.”

This approach to grouping students based on ability and interest helps to build strong relationships and teamwork between students and teachers. It allows for consistency in providing personalized learning and stronger relationships between students, teachers, and families.  Multi-age classrooms promote social skill development and leadership skills as students interact with other age peers and learn from one another.  A multi-age classroom is more reflective of real-world situations, such as workplaces, committee groups, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Teaching our students in ability-based groups with project-based and discussion-based learning helps our students become successful, articulate, and well-rounded contributors to society. Let us show you how!

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