In the last few decades there has been a huge push to develop an open floor plan in most offices. Yet now that the research is in, we know open floor plans are terrible for the workplace.
The same can be said of the classroom. There are no cubbies, cubicles, or private areas in a classroom, which is important for a teacher who is attempting to educate and discipline up to thirty kids at a time. And there is research to show that the detriments of an open work environment are not limited to one age group—young people dislike the open environment as well.
It’s amazing to me, though, that while the workplace is reacting very fast to the new research, shifting to give more private space to each worker, schools have shown scant response to the fact that kids need privacy to learn:
1. Kids need to be able to get away during the day.
We learn best when we have a way to be alone. We might not use that space all the time, but a sense of privacy boosts performance for adults but also for children who are trying to think. This seems to me to be similar to how I carry around a Xanax in my purse. I don’t need it very often, but knowing it’s there gives me the strength to get through moments in the day when I feel too much stress.
2. Constant low-grade noise is unhealthy.
Office workers who were exposed to the background noise of an office for three hours emitted a fight-or flight response in their brainwaves. That same background noise permeates schools, and I can remember many times when I went to the bathroom in grade school just to get some peace and quiet.
3. People get more done outside the institution.
It cannot be said, however, that people are more productive when they’re in the office, and in fact, the Harvard Business Review published research to show that people get more work done when they have control over their own environment. The conclusion of the research is to let more people work from home.
Education professors like Peter Gray show how the research applies to children as well: they learn better when you give them control over their environment. Yet we expect kids to spend the majority of their day trying to learn in an environment they cannot control.
4. Introverts can’t think in an open office.
Nearly half the world is introverted. That doesn’t mean they hate people, or they are shy, or they don’t talk. What introversion signifies is the way someone gets ideas and recharges. And in both cases, the answer is that introverts do it alone.
The need for appropriate office space for introverts is so significant that Steelcase hired the author of the bestselling book about introverts, Susan Cain, to oversee design for a new line of office furniture especially for introverts. (Pictured above.)
Which begs the question, What are the introvert kids in school doing?
Suffering in open classroom plans. Because giving each kid space of their own at school requires too much space. Offices are willing to do it because they make money based on productivity. But no schools gets more money by making average performers perform better. In the US we only give schools money for bringing low performers up to average. So there is little incentive to rescue introverts from their classroom hell as long as they are scoring average on tests.
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