I’m currently reading a book about learning nationalism at the El Paso – Juarez Border and I was struck by the holistic approach that the authors Susan J. Rippberger and Kathleen A. Staudt have in describing education on both sides of the US – Mexico Border.

Of particular amusement to me was the stress in part of the book on the differences of personal space in Mexico and in the US and the ways in which this plays out in the physical structure and layout of the classroom.

Upon showing a video recording of a classroom in Juarez (which by its description, seemed very constructivist in its approach) to students in a Graduate Seminar on Education, a student commented on the difference between the Mexican classroom dynamic and the US dynamic by highlighting the similarity between individual desks and cubicles, essentially equating the stress on individual student desks as preparation for a capitalist mindset in which you are just a cog in the machine, a single employee in his cubicle.

I couldn’t help but repeatedly highlight that passage, it struck me as being one of the most hauntingly accurate critiques of American classroom layouts.

At a time when businesses everywhere are realizing the importance of workplace environment and removing cubicles as they attempt to create more collaborative work spaces, I can’t help but wonder how much of this collaboration is permeating to our schools, to our kids.

Any hope at a collaborative structure in the workplace seems like it should start by creating a collaborative work structure in the classroom.

How do we create collaborative work spaces? Is it enough to just have children sitting in small groups? Should we be sharing materials as well? How much of a role does the physical environment play in teaching and developing collaboration and creativity in our classrooms? Especially when those are the skills our businesses are seeking so passionately now.

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