Monday, October 28, 2013

Yes, Yes we Can!

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 we are building starships to go out and explore our go where no man has gone before! Get to the point, Judy, get to the point!

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!
Check out Starting A School at Kirkridge on this blog under the school tabs and on Facebook! 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the mention in your blog. For the past week now, I have been thinking about this idea of creating a new kind of school. In the past, I have read some books that truly galvanized my thinking about education. I think it started with Ted Sizer's Horace's Compromise. No, actually it started with Postman and Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I was blown away by their (at the time) revolutionary suggestions that teachers teach their courses without using a teacher's manual to accompany the textbook, or science teachers teach English classes for a week...and math teachers teach English. After I'd been teaching for a while, I found Sizer. His ideas, explained in the paradigm of Essential Schools and authentic assessment, were also revolutionary at the time. More recently I have read Barnett Berry's Teaching in 2030. There is an excellent website associated with that book: I suppose the ironic thing is that I will not be teaching in 2030. At least, I don't think I will. I see education at a crossroads right now. We have teachers wanting to move in one direction and politicians demanding we go in another. Any teacher worth his or her salt, as they say, believes in accountability. Almost every teacher I know loves learning as much if not more than teaching. And we all want to see our kids succeed. We want them to succeed beyond our own limits and experiences. We just also happen to believe that filling in bubbles on a sheet for three and four hours at a stretch is not the way to achieve that. I imagine a school...a huge open space, with lots of natural light coming in. Pods of comfortable seating arrangements that encourage collaboration and conversation. Around the perimeter would be some structures or artworks that encourage contemplation. Maybe water sculpture, a sand (Zen) garden, a large built-in aquarium maybe? The sound environment might include some flute music, or soft percussion of wind chimes in different mediums--metal, wood, glass. Radiating out from the central open space would be conference areas in well-appointed libraries. The arts/humanities wing, the science wing, the tinkering wing (where kids go to build models of things they have thought up, creating apps for mobile devices or designing the perfect closet space for their belongings. (Think: Adults are there as consultants and mentors. Some days might be spent with a group of kids in conversation with an adult about how economic systems reflect the government systems in which they operate. Another group might be talking about how architecture reflects the thinking of the time period in which it flourished. Those conversations would lead to products that reflect those students' thinking on those topics, their learning, their ideas of logical extensions of the thinking. And they would take many forms: essays, photo essays, plays, paintings, drawings, blueprints, computer programs or apps, and more. The conversations might also lead to video conferences with national or world experts in the areas of study. Absent from this learning center would be bells telling people when to stop thinking about one subject and start thinking about another. Absent would be the usual cafeteria fare of pizza and french fries. People would choose from foods grown mainly at the center and tended by the people at the center. Meal preparation time would be another time of collaboration and collegiality in the kitchen. Everything would be a learning experience and this would be a true learning community on so many levels. Inquiry would be the driving force behind everything. Again, Pat, thanks for the invitation to your blog. I will be consulting it often as I try to get my own blog going! What a wonderful way to think!!