We’ve all heard it at one point “my school is too big,” or “my school is too small.” What is the perfect size school? Is there in fact a magic number? Well according to scientists yes there is and almost none of our schools adhere to it.
Enter the rule of 150. Yes you saw correct only 150 students. Before you “humf” out your coffee stay with me. The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered human social networks cannot exceed 150 people. When this 150 people is exceeded the group needs restrictive laws, hierarchy and enforced norms to operate. The group also naturally starts to form its own factions. Hello discipline structures, cliques and mean girls.
How do we know this would actually work? Well the military, Gore technologies and some religious groups already operate with the rule of 150. The Methodist movement became and epidemic in England because of the rule of 150. The founder John Wesley did not use charm or charisma, instead he organized Methodist groups to be no larger than 150 and traveled between them. If you want an ideology or set of habits to catch fire like the generic “stay in school and get good grades” then you need to lower the group numbers to less than 150. In order to fundamentally change peoples beliefs and behavior you need to create a community around them to practice and nurture their new beliefs.
The next popular group to abide by the rule of 150 is the military. Through trial and error generals found groups less than 150 could easily manage themselves without higher ups getting involved. Military operations are coordinated efforts that must have understanding and buy in from all involved. Since human social capacity is limited to 150 it is hard to get military members to sufficiently care about each other and to operate as a functional unit in bigger numbers.
You may be thinking, how some religious nut balls and hard core mentally trained people could mean our students would benefit from the rule of 150? Well lets look at a different group that functions more like a school population, a work place. Gore technologies the company responsible for Gore-Tex jackets and much more uses the rule of 150. If any production plant reaches 150 employees the company builds a new plant. If you were to visit Gore Technologies you would find there are no hierarchies, everyone is an “associate.” The company is so successful because every employee has a social connection to another and they peer pressure each other, for lack of a better phrase, to preform at their best.
The take away from the rule of 150 is instead of building bigger and bigger schools we need to build many little ones. In our “at risk” neighborhoods we can save students by creating small communities that have different beliefs than the outside environment. The rule of 150 would create buy in and we could focus less on discipline and more on enrichment. So what is a small thing we can do to make a big improvement in our school system? Make it smaller.
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