I met Judy Ellsesser, last Thursday after reading her email entitled “Percolating” that was sent to me by a friend !!! It got me to thinking about public schools and possibilities again. In March 2013, I wrote about starting a democratic school. “Schools should be for so many things - learning about community, learning to learn, creating responsible citizens and independent adults, respecting differences, and a safe environment. When I think about my participation in schools I felt so many times that perhaps we were spending to much time on content and not enough time on teaching students to learn and participate in their community.”
Then I read Judy’s email! Judy wrote, “It started with Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning. They had Biz Stone on the show, he is the 30-something who invented Twitter. What a fascinating young man. He was talking about how they conceived the idea and how it has developed. And then he was asked this question: 'So that was all 6 years ago, and now Twitter is an essential part of our universe. What do you see for 6 years down the road?' And his reply really resonated with me. He said, in effect, that there are so many mobile devices in the world today...there is one mobile device for every person on the planet. We are the most connected culture ever in civilization. And he liked the idea that it was beginning to build empathy. We are connected with people in Syria in a synchronous way. We can empathize with people in sub-Saharan Africa. And he went on to say that he observes that present day pop culture is focused on dystopia. Walking Dead and stuff like that is focused on how mankind falls apart. He wishes we could move more toward the Gene Roddenberry philosophy: We have solved the world's problems of poverty and hunger and war...now we are building starships to go out and explore our universe...to go where no man has gone before! Get to the point, Judy, get to the point!
OK! I was thinking about the courses offered by BSN (Blended Schools Network). They are all pretty much academic-based (as far as I have seen). These are the courses you might see in any large, well-appointed and well-financed school. What is the next generation of classes going to look like? I was reminded of a course I took at Breadloaf called “Describing the Imagination”. It focused on studying the imaginative impulse...where does the spark to create come from? And how can we nurture it? We read everything from John Keats essays (negative capability)...and forgive me for the wikipedia links here, but just to give you an idea: Negative capability describes the capacity of human beings to transcend and revise their contexts. The term was first used by the romantic poet John Keats to critique those who sought to categorize all experience and phenomena and turn them into a theory of knowledge. It has recently been appropriated by philosopher and social theorist Roberto Mangabeira Unger to comment on human nature and to explain how human beings innovate and resist within confining social contexts. The concept has also inspired psychoanalytic practices and twentieth-century art and literary criticism. How cool would that be? (To create courses where young people think about thinking!) I think it would be fascinating! A whole slate of classes that deal with things like that: A course on the literature of sustainability...thinking about ways to sustain the natural resources...water, air, etc. Can we create classes with virtual field trips, actual collaboration with people in another part of the world where (this is already happening) and students are actively solving real world problems? …. Judy"
Well Judy, I think yes! Yes we can. MOOC’s are reaching places and expanding opportunities, Charter Schools, Private Schools; reform made, reform retracted. Our education system is spinning with well-intentioned people (like us and our friends), yet 24% of our children don’t graduate from high school (not in my neighborhood you say!). Recently, I listened to a book, The Smartest Kids in the World (and how they got that way), by Amanda Ripley (2013) who took a different tack on what was missing. She looked at motivation, creating a culture of learning, setting high standards, and believing that with hard work, all kids can learn. She studied exchange students, both home and abroad, to dig into how places that were lagging behind in student success moved to the head of the world. No excuses, no apologies. We can do this! So yes – I think we can create caring environments with walls and online that teach kids (people) to think, that set high standards, that motivate kids to work hard, that believe all kids can learn. Yes Judy, I say, yes we can!
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