A couple of years ago when Scotland’s own Tilda Swinton tried to convince trustees of the Moray Steiner School — where her two twins (son Xavier Byrne, and daughter Honor Byrne) were attending, and where students graduate at 14 — that it might be a worthwhile venture to collaborate on creating a new kind of upper school for the next phase of the kids’ education, the idea fell on deaf ears. The board flat-out rejected her proposal. When the proposal failed, Swinton and Ian Sutherland McCook (to the left of Swinton in the photo just below), a friend and a fellow parent of a Moray Steiner student, decided they would build the school themselves.
Two years later and her two twins and their classmates are immersed in a groundbreaking curriculum at the brand new Drumduan Upper School (on the northern coast of Scotland, roughly a 3.5-hour drive north of Edinburgh). Aside from its vanguard co-founders, one of the most notable ideals that makes Drumduan so progressive is that students never have to take an exam or a test, there are no hierarchies, and there’s no sitting down for hours on end at a desk. No, students at Drumduan are out there in the world experiencing it first-hand. In an interview with The Guardian‘s Aaron Hicklin, Swinton says, “There’s no grading, no testing at all. My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it –- happy and inspired.”
Krzysztof Zajaczkowski (to the right of Swinton in the photo just below) is the Principal Teacher at Drumduan Upper School, and on the school’s website he explains the ethos of Drumduan: “We live in an age where much of our establishment is now under question and rightly so. Long held traditions, religions and major institutions are being scrutinised, yet are enough of us asking the fundamental questions? What is the true purpose of our education system? Why do we sit at desks for much of the day at school for over ten years? Are we teaching our pupils the life skills they need? We ourselves are the product of a post-industrial model of education, so it’s not easy to imagine an alternative to this mind-set. Yet, if we continue to inquire, we begin to find answers. At Drumduan we are living with these questions and implementing many of the answers, with passion and with practicality. The emergent future and the health of society will be defined and shaped by the very same young people who come looking for their answers at our schools.” To read the full mission statement CLICK HERE.
In a terrific one-on-one conversation with legendary artist, Chuck Close, Swinton talked about the school, saying, “Without that distraction and pressure [of state testing and grading] it’s really teaching these kids how to learn from head, via heart and hands: They learn everything from ethics to science to arts rigorously through systematic exercises and experiments, so it’s hands-on, craft-based, practical learning. It’s a blast. I find it hard to be away from it. It’s drawing teachers and families like anything. And they’re all chilled and engaged adolescents. Happy, and inspired.” Another of Drumduan’s hallmarks is music. “Children participate in regular workshops –- often on instruments like a wheelie bin –- and start each day singing in four-part harmonies,” writes Hicklin.
Swinton invited Hicklin to spend a day with her and the students as they took a school trip to the tiny island of Colonsay (pop. 120), and needless to say it was an extraordinary day, as the photos below give you a small glimpse of the the day trip’s learning adventure. You can find out what happened by visiting TheGuardian.com, and to learn more about the amazingness that is the Drumduan Upper School be sure to visit Drumduan.org.
In a January 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, Swinton opens up about what life is like as a mother of two curious twins, and she shares her personal insight into what it means to be the best parent one can possibly be. One person who would admire Swinton’s dedication to giving her kids such a rich outside-the-box education is architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who famously had deep contempt for the conditioned damage that the conventional K-12 education system does to our students. You can listen to a rare audio recording below where Wright explains his thoughts loud and crystal clear.
Someone else who holds Tilda Swinton in the highest regard is comedian and actress Amy Schumer. Earlier this year Amy presented Tilda with an award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards. You can watch Schumer’s tribute in full at the bottom of this post. For all FEELguide stories related to Tilda Swinton be sure to visit Tilda Swinton on FEELguide. (All photos courtesy of Murdo MacLeod for The Observer)
SEE ALSO: Tilda Swinton & Her Boyfriend Took Buzz Aldrin & Their Artist Friends To A Tropical Fantasy Island
SEE ALSO: Beyond Sciences And The Humanities: Why Design Must Become The 3rd Pillar Of K-12 Education
SEE ALSO: Mother Pens Emotional Op-Ed For Washington Post On How School Is Killing The Souls Of Our Children
TO WATCH CHARLIE ROSE’S INTERVIEW WITH TILDA SWINTON JUMP TO THE 30:20 MARK BELOW: