“We cannot withdraw from the choices or moral consequences that come with knowledge”
-J. Roberts (2012)
Do you remember the last time your community of learners came alive in ways that astounded you….maybe scared you ( a little?). Students convened online study sessions around topics of self and social concerns, the way physics connects to the earth, poetry, a book, a simulation of the UN….took an interconnected service learning project to worldwide levels, devoted themselves to others (or in my case, the student who has devoted her life to the architecture of resilient human rights struggles after our course studied Darfur)….that, just the world of upper schools. Amazing middle level educators like Bill Ivey can undoubtedly tell us of integrated mini-societies, futures thinking projects and more that that made the walls and halls of his school burst at the seams and demand the outside world as an essential freedom for growth. Lower schools could regale us with stories of learning that feature heart-exploration, play and foundational connection to community and scholastic learning that cause hope to flourish. The outcomes of the times you may be envisioning are vast. These experiences propel individuals and communities of learning into the spaces many of us yearn for in education. They are wild spaces, panarchic frontiers and borderlands of learning. These learning experiences are liminal….but do they last? How do we process experiences past the feel good times as they fade so often under a duress of the status quo and reoccurring managerial education that orders us again….not as ecologic complexity might order, but with social constructs that take enormous effort on the part of humans to maintain (schedules, tests, behavior management, fragmented disciplinary instruction)….
What if we asked ourselves, colleagues and the young people we interact with “who are you now?” as a key assessment or better yet, centerpiece of our curricula.1 Given the space and time to reflect on this question what can you imagine they would say….what would you say? “Who are you now?” The statement gathers the epistemology and praxis of experience in education in the simplest yet most potent way. If we are discussing schools, pedagogy, thinking and action this question is in many ways all encompassing. Who are you now? Have you given yourself, the students you serve, the faculty you inspire, the community you share joy with the time to reflect on those experiences that made the heart sing? Aren’t our founding school visions and missions built upon supporting young people in a growth meant to easily answer this question for the sake of the world? It is startling to know how much we and our learning communities learn every day, month and year. I challenge you to ask this question of yourself, students and beyond on a regular basis. Be careful however, in the way you open a heart and soul. If you ask, listen for their sake as they answer. Do not grade, do not measure, do not benchmark against a standard….simply ask and listen. I hope what you hear is experience unchained. If this experience is allowed to grow and change in your school as humanity does what is our next step? The new fields of experiential education are open to us. We are “making”, flying kids around the earth and driving them across town to connect and serve, enabling connections around the earth through the internet, sitting down with, instead of standing in front of young people, and asking foundational questions of ourselves about education. Ultimately then, what are the moral choices we would face as the answers to our question “who are you now?” emerged and wove a tapestry of humanity and confluence around us?
1 I participated in the 2014 Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Annual Institute January 15-18. The experience was fulfilling. Meaningful discussions and collaboration unfolded daily at the institute with some amazing educators from around North America. As you might imagine this group was active and I found myself in deep belly laughs multiple times–a treat. In a recent post I make an argument that a New Field For Learning is emergent in education. The institute is a testament to this in many ways with its focus on experiential education. There were a wide arc of individuals at ISEEN representing faculty, directors of outdoor programs and amazing Headmasters like Ed Maggert of The College School. There where also industry professionals, professors, researchers, lawyers and luminaries like Dan Garvey (link is to a video of Dan Speaking on the future of education at a NOLS faculty gathering). As I reflect on the conference a few points of wonder have stayed with me as I think about the place of experience in education.
On day two of ISEEN, Dr. Barry Wright spoke to the institute on institutional and personal change. I tend to be tough company for businessese speakers on the topic of change. My work is influenced by the time I have worked with and learned from Shoshana Zuboff . Her work on bypass, mutation and change theory for institutions sings to me as vitally important. That said, Barry was a good speaker, a smart man and a tale he told has stuck. The tale was of him entering his Ph. D. program and being reunited with an earlier mentor he had not seen for years. As he worked to track his mentor down, he only caught fleeting interactions with the man. He describes the first interaction with this professor like so. As he walked eagerly to speak with the mentor, the man looked him in the eyes and said “who are you now?”, and kept walking.
My thanks go out to Jesse Barre of Albuquerque Academy and all of the participants at ISEEN 14. You moved me.