E.M. "Mac" Swengel, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Education
School of Education
United States International University
San Diego, California
“Under One Roof”
THE BENIGN SCHOOL
by Edwin M. Swengel, Ph.D
So herewith a forest
view of The Benign School. Departing so radically from traditional
patterns, it must necessarily be a charter-type school.
1. It serves the educational, cultural, and recreational needs of
its community members, of all ages. It runs continuously year round,
is open evenings and weekends for adult and student activities.
Pupils attend the State-required number of days—more if needed or
desired—and take vacations that fit their family plans, any time of
2. It enrolls pupils of all ages, kindergarten through high school.
It provides high-quality supervised activities before and after
regular school hours for all students who need or desire them, and
all-day care in the Early Childhood program for pre-school children,
ages 6 months through 4 years.
3. It is non-graded, non-grading, and flexibly scheduled. Genuinely
individualized instruction allows students to work through
developmental study programs at their own pace. It has no 1st, 2nd …
4th … 12th grade classes. No type of ABCDF (bell curve) grading. All
students get expert tutorial help from trained schoolmates so they
all achieve functional mastery of basic knowledge and skills needed
for advanced work. This eliminates students’ failing courses and
classes and banishes fear of such failure.
4. Except for a homeroom for primary age children (5-8 years), large
Learning Labs replace age-based classes and scheduled courses. Each
Lab accommodates up to 75 students of all ages, supervised by three
teachers and their three trained aides, each pair specializing in
their field at the elementary, intermediate, or advanced level. Each
Lab is devoted to a major subject area: language arts, math,
sciences (social, physical, and biological), arts and crafts,
instrumental and vocal music, drama, plus gym and playing fields.
Labs operate continuously all day long and are open and supervised
before and after school hours.
5. Every student belongs to a “School Family” which provides
long-term membership in and support from a cohesive group of 25 to
30 students of all ages and from different socio-economic, ethnic,
and religious backgrounds. With an aide, each teacher heads a Family
and serves as primary counselor and mentor for each Family member,
helping them plan and carry out their individualized study programs,
with parent input. Students stay in the same Family for many years,
to build and maintain a close, on-going student-teacher-parent
relationship. The School Family meets daily for programs that focus
on personal growth and interpersonal relationships, and to discuss
matters that concern the entire school community, the surrounding
community, and even the world as a whole.
6. It provides one-to-one, individualized peer tutoring to help all
students in all subjects at all levels to achieve functional mastery
to assure their succeeding at higher levels. “Teachers teach
teaching.” Pupils also learn to tutor as they are being tutored. By
teaching every pupil how to tutor effectively, the school achieves
an efficient 1-1 teacher (tutor)-pupil ratio. This comprehensive
peer tutoring system is termed Mutual Instruction (MI) because (1)
tutoring is as beneficial to the tutors as to their tutees; and (2)
it integrates head-and-heart (intellectual and emotional-social)
All students are required to learn basic child care and parenting
skills, starting with children in the Early Childhood Unit on
campus. This real-life, hands-on experience, with instruction and
supervision, continues throughout students’ school life as they
tutor schoolmates of all ages in various subjects.
7. Mutual Instruction is twice as efficient as traditional group
instruction. Through MI, most students can master the essential
curriculum in about half their school time, with ample time and
energy left to develop their other intelligences—in art, music,
athletics, drama, and any other fields of personal interest without
endangering their academic record.
8. Freed from teaching scheduled daily classes and maintaining
large-group discipline, teachers can devote most of their time to
helping students individually and in small study groups. Teachers
have time to consult with other teachers in planning
inter-disciplinary projects. They have time to consult with parents,
by phone and in person. Teachers may offer special mini-courses to
groups of interested students. Teachers do not take home armloads of
papers to grade. They teach students to correct, improve, and
evaluate their own work. Teachers do not make daily lesson plans.
Their basic curricula are in their Labs’ step-by-step developmental
programs. Teachers, and interested students, voluntarily do
additional lessons plans if they are needed or wanted. Teachers have
time to keep up with professional developments in their fields.
9. Parents and community members are urged to participate in daily
school activities, to volunteer their time and expertise to enrich
and broaden the curriculum—and their own lives.
10. From an early age, all students get involved in community
services and activities on and off campus. Teenagers may elect to
serve as apprentices in businesses and social agencies. All students
are required throughout their school lives regularly to perform
School Community Service in a variety of ways: Tutoring, mentoring,
child care, room management (keeping labs neat, clean, and orderly),
grounds-keeping (yard-work), kitchen and dining room service,
clerical help. No student graduates without hundreds of hours of
real-life, hands-on learning about how a community works.