In the book, “The Cunning Man” the author, Robertson Davies, creates a character named Dr. Jonathan Hullah. Dr. Hullah discusses why he would never give up house calls. The details he sees in the house help him to make a more accurate diagnosis of his patient’s illness.
Among the details the Doctor notices are not only obvious — like the contents of the medicine cabinet — but whether the books look as if they are read or whether they are only perfectly placed on a bookshelf. Whether the dining room looks like it is used daily by a feasting happy family or whether it is only used for company. On a house visit, he says he can smell disease, domestic disquiet and unhappiness.
You do not have to be a doctor to begin to notice, you can go on house tours. You learn to notice that many houses are decorated by professional interior decorators which tend to reflect current trends rather than the personality of the owners. They all look alike. You begin to notice that some houses have a great deal of electronic equipment but have no books, book shelves, or reading lamps. You notice that there are televisions in all the bedrooms including the children’s. You begin to feel that some houses are for show and entertaining and not for family living.
Another opportunity to start noticing is when you go to a new restaurant. Do not eat in a restaurant until you have made a restroom visit. If the restroom is dirty, you usually can make the assumption that the kitchen is not clean either. It is best to dine elsewhere.
As the Doctor in the story learns about his patients by making home visits, you can learn about your child’s education by making school visits. As in a restaurant, visit the restroom. If the restroom is messy, smelly and unclean, you know the school is not very well run. The custodian takes no pride in his work and people in authority do not notice or if they do notice, just do not care. If the walls of the restroom are covered with graffiti, it is a pretty safe guess that the students take no pride and feel no commitment to their school.
The next place to visit is the classroom. Notice how the teacher uses the space allotted to her class. This tells you a great deal about that teacher as an educator. Notice how the students’ desks are arranged and where the teacher’s desk is located in relation to the students. If all of the desks, including the teacher’s. are separated from each other, communication in that classroom is at a minimum.
Notice how the rest of the space is used. Some classrooms are so completely filled with teacher-generated pictures, posters and charts that there is no room left for the students’ contribution or for anything else. the anything else might be a comfortable reading corner with books that look like they are being used. It might be an interesting science table which, at this time of year, might include different leaves. It might be a student-generated bulletin board. It might be an art corner with materials for working on different projects. It might be a space for the teacher to work with a small group of children while the rest of the class is involved in other activities.
The Doctor in the story used all of the things he noticed in a house visit to make an accurate diagnosis. You can use all of the details you notice in a school visit to understand your child’s learning environment and perhaps to make an accurate diagnosis if things are not going well. Start training yourself to notice.