Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Physical Space (Yet Again)

by AJ

"Eventually, you begin to see that there's a blurred line between the world of human experience and the world of physical things. The physical arrangements in which people find themselves are quite determining. For example, there's a big difference between a conversation held at a long, rectangular table and one held at a round table. The same participants, the same time, the same agenda, but the discussions are completely different."

--Richard Farson

I came to this same realization while working as a social worker. I saw how powerfully space, decor, seating, lighting, and other factors effected people. A teen who was bored and listless at school would quickly come to life in our shelter... which had a warm and homey decor.

But it wasnt just the clients. Physical space had a powerful effect on the social workers too, including me. The second I entered the "Welfare Office" lobby, I felt a twinge in my gut. The walls were dingy. No colors (browns, greys, etc.). The receptionists sat behind a thick glass wall, so visitors had to crouch over and speak to them through a small hole.

In the back offices, the hallways were like a rat-warren.... twisted, dingy, and cramped. You needed no knowledge of the agency's policies to realize this was a place designed for humiliation and degradation.

Most schools remind me of the "welfare office". The same drab browns and greys. The same drab office furniture. The same inadequate lighting. And its getting worse. Many new public schools are now designed completely without windows... apparently the bureaucrats deem windows "too distracting"!! These structures are often surrounded by tall fences, sometimes topped with barbed wire. Desks are typically small... and the chairs are hard and uncomfortable.

This is more than just depressing... this type of decor actively works against the brain's natural learning systems. The brain craves stimulation, novelty, color, movement, and images. Deprived of these, is it any wonder so many students find it difficult to stay attentive in class... whatever the lesson... whoever the teacher.

All teacher education programs should include a required course in environmental design (or hell, interior decorating :) !!!