After Monday afternoon’s committee meeting, when I discovered that so many colleagues of mine actually do seek to help their students become creative, independent learners rather than memorizers and test-score producers, I thought nothing could possibly surprise me on Tuesday. And until the end of the school day, it seemed I was right. One of our Relevant Powers dropped by to observe the end of one class and the beginning of another, but that’s not unexpected. B and U, in the upper-level class, were sad about their somewhat low grades for the first reporting period – but neither the grades nor the sadness could be classified as unexpected. “What was the biggest problem?” asked U, and when I showed her, she wasn’t surprised at all. “I’m going to get in big trouble,” said B, but I told her I’d be glad to get in touch with her Relevant Parental Powers and talk about the improvement we’ve seen recently. It was time for a conversation about managing yourself and managing distractions in the large Latin I class, but that wasn’t unexpected, either.
But then B and O, veteran Latin Family members who are now in student-government leadership positions, came by right after school to talk about the school-wide seminar program. And both the messengers and the message really were unexpected.
When I first knew B and O as Latin I students a few years ago, it was clear that they were very intelligent, but it was also clear that they’d learned to play the School Game very well. Like many other school-smart young people I’ve known, they’d found ways to achieve desired results (high grades for themselves, high test scores for Ms. X and Mr. Y) with minimal effort. They liked me, and they enjoyed Latin, but it was a struggle for a while. All of a sudden minimal effort was yielding minimal results, and we were talking about things like creativity and self-management and independence and world-class instead of do this worksheet or here’s the formula or here’s the study guide, which is also the test. “Mr. S,” they said on Tuesday afternoon, “we have an idea for the school-wide seminar program. Have you seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about how schools kill creativity?”
Yes, I said, I’ve seen it several times … and I love it. Then O told me how profoundly it had moved her – so profoundly, in fact, that she’s focusing her graduation project on the topic of schools and creativity. “It seems like schools spent 10 or 11 years beating the creativity out of us,” she said, “and now, all of a sudden, when we’re seniors, we’re being asked to be creative and independent learners.” We talked for a while, and O left with a challenge: to find a 5-8 minute segment of Sir Ken’s talk that encapsulates his message and to develop the questions and the structure that the Student Seminar Assistants will be using when we have this seminar. She and B will also be talking with the Relevant Powers about creativity and independence and about how we might possibly avoid that feeling of beating them out of future groups and generations of students.
You can see why I was excited by the unexpected convergence – so excited that I went ahead and shared part of the story in a comment on the Google+ thread about yesterday’s post. There’s a rich, rich conversation about connection errors as a metaphor right before my comment, and powerful responses from Debbie and Brendan after it. I’d encourage you to go ahead and read the whole thread!
As I think about the unexpected convergence this morning, I realize how important it is for me to be in this place at this time, when these conversations are happening. It’s not what I desired and wished for during the summer … or maybe it is! Maybe the factory-paradigm really is crumbling as fast as I’d hoped, and maybe the desperate attempts by Great Powers Indeed to enforce process really are further signs of that collapse. Maybe joyful learning communities really are emerging all around as the assembly lines fall apart, and if so, perhaps I have an important role to play in this place at this time during the transition.
After my meeting with B and O, as I was getting ready to leave for the day, One Ms. X happened to be in the hallway, and she was looking at the familia Rōmāna posters the Latin I classes had made. “I love these!” she said. “They’re so pretty and creative!” And I explained how we’ll be using and refining these families all year, making stories about them as we learn more and more … and she was excited. “That’s wonderful!” she said. “That will really give them ownership, won’t it?”
Ms. X! I thought. Did you just say ownership of learning was wonderful? Did you just value creativity over task compliance? And she had … because right below the surface of the Ms. X self that teachers learned to wear as a mask over the years, there’s a human being for whom creativity and ownership are essential and vital. Right under the good student or bad, lazy one mask, there’s a young person who deeply values connection and community, too. And somehow, in the days and weeks to come, we may just be able to take off some of those masks – or at least acknowledge that they’re there – and help a larger joyful learning community emerge in that old, factory-looking building that a community built decades ago because it dreamed of educating its children for a wider, better world.
I wonder what small, but vital part we can play in that process today!