Teaching collective care through group-centered learning

Teaching collective care through group-centered learning



When I began teaching, I was initially a great believer in child-centered education. I thought the center of the classroom should be children, and each child should individually be centered. The idea of teacher-centered education was dubious to me. I didn’t want to have a dictatorship where I was barking orders at children.

Ideally, the positions I advocate for are universal education, universal housing, and universal healthcare. The center of a person’s existence should not only be themselves. But as we are a binary society, I had to pick a side. I chose child-centered.

Child-centered initially didn’t mean just individualized, but in public school, it was translated to mean tailored for each individual child. Child-centered became creating a program that could help a child pass a standardized test in the way that they learn best.

And after ten years in the classroom, I began to suspect child-centered was self-centered. It is physically impossible, financially infeasible, and socially unhealthful to attempt to create an individual experience for each child.

Life is not your favorite TV show on repeat. Life is a shared experience. So I began to embrace the idea of group-centered or peer-centered classrooms. A classroom where children have to think about how their actions impact others, cooperate with other students and learn that everything can’t be tailored specifically for them, because for the benefit of all, you can’t have everything 100 percent your way.

“A group-centered philosophy provides the practice necessary for relating to a culturally pluralistic society. No one lives in a vacuum or only with their kind. Besides the obvious ethnic, racial, and sexual differences, there are socio-economic, political, intellectual, regional, and career variations of people we meet. Feelings of inferiority or superiority develop, it seems, in segregated situations. Recognizing,that people can make different kinds of contributions occurs in group-centered classroom.” (Hunsaker & Roy, 1977)

Sometimes a neurotypical child has to figure out on their own how not to be bored, because the adult in the classroom’s job is not to entertain from the time a child arrives, until the time a child leaves. That is an essential lesson for all children to learn. It is not the job of teachers, parents, guardians, waiters, nannies, or nurses to burnout due to being consistently stretched beyond reasonable limits. We all live in the community, and we all, regardless of age, must learn to give and take. 

During the pandemic, I think we’re all figuring out that learning to cooperate with siblings and to be considerate of the time of adults and children is an essential skill for even young children to have. 

For the good of society and the good of all children, we need to change our perspective.  As a society we all need to reflect on how and why we teach and we need to think about the kinds of seeds we are sowing with those choices.

Lark Sontag
Children’s Book Author, Early Childhood Education Specialist, Curriculum Developer, Peace Educator, and Social Justice Advocate for Children



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Child centered, social justice
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