In a previous essay, I addressed the idea of changing the architecture of gyms due to the pandemic’s spread inside closed spaces. In this essay, I address the same issue for schools. Since the three ‘Cs’ , confined spaces, close contact and crowded places, are the main situations that pass the Covid from one person to another, and, since such situations have always, always contributed to the spread of disease, perhaps it is time to rethink our public spaces.
Modern folk have more spaces in which to catch any airborne droplets of any virus, than any civilization before. We modernists have buildings, even school buildings, which do not have windows that can open. Air conditioning all summer and forced air heating all winter keeps our rooms airtight, and air leaden with particles of dust. Now we have learned it also carries particles of diseases.
Presently, we are in the middle of a debate on whether or not to open schools. I empathize with the teachers and their fears, nonetheless, my vote is for opening. True, teachers are are more likely to get the bug, whilst the children, who may get it, will not be very sick. Some epidemiologists think the children will not pass it on to the adults. Meaning, the adults will give it to each other. I’m not here to debate this. I am here to say it’s time to rethink the physical aspects of schooling. Children cannot be held back. So let’s rethink the buildings, and the seasons.
Firstly, the buildings. Why must we put students into these tightly closed spaces? Is there something wrong with fresh air? With being outside? Kids like to be outdoors. Why not keep them out there? In the good weather, there is no reason not to. Note that one of the most intellectually productive civilizations ever, was classical Greece. Were those students confined to a rigid, indoor space? No! When they were indoors, they were in rooms with space around them, especially above them. Did these surroundings fail to produce well educated children? Hell no! Some of the best minds, artists, and public officials came from these surroundings. Ditto the Romans. Indeed, our rigid, lifeless, public school buildings are producing kids who cannot read or write properly. Many don’t make it out of high school. No matter how much money and public programs we throw at them. Do they need these expensive schools that look like prisons? Hell no!
Here’s the second point. Opening up the classroom would mean, in certain places, a change in the school year. Since our school year is based on the old agrarian model, and since less than 5 percent live an agrarian lifestyle, isn’t it time our schools reflect that? Why not let school out for the winter, during the coldest months, like January/February? After all, those are the heavy virus months. Best the children are outside playing in the snow than inside passing around the bug. Better for the teachers as well to be out during the “flu season.”With school rooms open to the great outdoors during the spring, summer and fall, fresh air will fill the children's, and teacher's, lungs. In addition to open windows, as I suggested for gyms, skylights can allow in more sun, which kills off those bugs.
Arranging future schools on a courtyard system means an interior space, open to the outdoors but with shelter as well.
The important thing is to get out of the box, literally. The added attraction is this; open air buildings are less polluting and better for our environment. If you’re really into saving the planet, this idea is for you. For if we are sincere about “going green,” then we must sincerely learn to live in our natural environment as much as we can. We can learn to live through a hot day, without air conditioning, or wear more clothing during the cold of winter. It will make us physically more healthy. As a nation, we are too obese and too diabetic.
In conclusion, the open air schoolroom is a good idea on many levels, health wise for the individuals, and for our Earth.