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The Learning Revolution, Circa 2012

Six years ago, a funny Englishman gave a stirring speech about how schools were stifling the creativity of their students. Today, Sir Ken Robinson is a worldwide celebrity, and his TED talk has been seen by as many as 100 million people. How did that happen, exactly? And what is the state of the learning revolution Robinson urged us to launch? The first answer has a lot to do with TED, and the ways it has become an unparalleled global phenomenon and idea accelerator. But it has more to do with Robinson, and the ways he was able to – clearly and cleverly– articulate our education system as it is, and as it ought to be. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,” he argued. “By the time we get to be adults, most of us have lost that capacity. We have become frightened of being wrong. We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” The second answer has a lot to do with the impact of those words, and the ways

The Power of Outrospection

Did you get the memo? Apparently, introspection is out, and outrospection is in. Actually, as philosopher Roman Krznaric explains in this cool new RSA Animate video, what’s really in is empathy, and what’s really required is a systemic effort to drive social change by stepping outside ourselves. See for yourself — and see what you think.

Best Questions

Just because. Ask them, answer them, share them. If you have a favorite, tweet it along with the hashtag #bestquestions. If you have one that isn’t here, add it. And if you want to see what happened when a whole community asked these questions of themselves and each other — and then co-created a public portrait series, check out Who Am I in This Picture? What does the term “learning” mean to you? How has your life journey helped you to determine what learning means? Who/what has been your most influential teacher? There are many different ways by which people acquire knowledge. Under what conditions do you feel you learn best? Is it possible to learn everything about yourself? How has learning helped you to have better personal relationships in your family, school and community? When does your community feel loneliest to you? When is it a good place to be alone? Where, when, and with whom do you feel invisible in your community? When do you feel that other people feel invisible? Which is the better course, the one that challenges you to learn new things or the one that challenges you to reexamine what you have already learned?

The New Ninth Ward

If you’re one of the folks that stopped watching Treme after its first season (“Too boring! Too slow!”), or if you just never bothered to check it out, you might want to check back in. Now in its third season, Treme is proving itself adept at mirroring what creator David Simon’s more celebrated predecessor, The Wire, did better than any show before or since: depict characters struggling and surviving amidst the dysfunctional, intractable, and dialectical systems holding them – and us – prisoner. In The Wire, the city was Baltimore, and the systems were the drug trade, the public schools, the municipal government, the press, and the police. In Treme, the city is New Orleans, and several of the systems – the schools, the police and the elected officials – make a return appearance. This time, however, Simon adds some new storylines and characters, all of which ride in on the destructive current of Hurricane Katrina, and all of who exist to tell a different story. Indeed, if The Wire was about the older, less visible systems that are holding us prisoner, Treme is about the newer, more visible ones that are being created in the name of progress. The

How to Balance the Art & Science of Teaching

Recently, I gave a TED talk outlining why I think we’re in the midst of the most exciting and difficult time to be a teacher in American history. These sorts of talks are always imperfect (and timed) efforts to inject new ideas into the stratosphere, but I received lots of nice comments and feedback, including some observations that only a mom – my mom, actually – would share (“Your posture was very relaxed, and you never even said ‘um’!”). It was another thing my mother said that struck me, though. “Do you feel sure that your audience knows what to do with all you’ve said?” she wrote. Great point, and I’m not sure. So here, as simply as I can say it, are three specific things – some big, some small – we need to do to help teachers get better at helping children learn and grow. 1. Follow the Med School Model – As any M.D. knows, different medical schools have different strengths and weaknesses. But one thing every medical school shares is the belief that a strong medical training is built on a dual foundation of two courses: anatomy and physiology. In education, no similar consensus exists. Worse

This is How Youth (& YOU) Learn

Imagine if we acted on these insights?

Blue (School) Skies Ahead

It was fifteen years ago, but I still remember the first time I saw Blue Man Group. Watching those bald blue aliens discover how to eat a Twinkie, or investigate the queasy vibrations of a giant Jello cake, or climb the walls of the theater to learn more about the people who were sitting there – well, anyone who’s seen the show knows there’s nothing quite like it. Since that time, Blue Man Group has become an international phenomenon, and an unlikely aesthetic portal through which to vicariously experience the wonders of inquiry, discovery and mischief. And now, those same core ingredients are at the heart of a remarkable new school in New York City – a school I got to visit and see through the eyes of two of its founders, “Blue Man” Matt Goldman and his wife, Renee Rolleri. “Blue Man Group started in the 1980s as this outrageous idea,” Matt explained, shortly after we entered the school’s kinetic entry hall on a recent Friday morning and placed our shoes amidst a beehive of cardboard storage tubes lining the walls. “Our goal was to inspire creativity in our audiences and ourselves. We wanted to speak ‘up’ to the

Fellow Parents — Time to Stop Playing Favorites With Our Children

The other night over dinner, hours after my mother-in-law had returned home to New York, I casually asked my son Leo: “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” As I watched him stare blankly back at me, struggling to find an answer, I found myself wishing I could have a parental do-over. Why do we ask children this question so often? Would it make a difference if we asked it a different way? Anyone who’s a parent knows what I’m talking about: we’re always asking kids to tell us their favorite color, pick their favorite TV show, or select their favorite relative. And our intentions are in the right place; after all, we’re trying to learn about how they see themselves and others, and to give them a chance to reflect on what feels good and pleasing. But here’s the problem: children don’t see the world as a set of isolatable favorites; we make them see it this way.  Watching Leo’s face, I realized that for him, there was no single favorite memory – just a pastiche of happy experiences that blended together to make up a general feeling I’ll call “Weekend with Nana.” It wasn’t until I asked

Are We Putting the (Knowledge) Cart Before the (Emotional) Horse?

What would you say if I told you that all of our current national efforts to improve public education were blind to the actual way people learned and interacted with the world? Depressing, right? But it’s true. To prove it, watch this short video — just 100 seconds long — and be prepared to describe to yourself what you see: You just watched a short film about bullying, didn’t you? The larger triangle was harassing the smaller triangle, until the two smaller shapes banded together and outwitted their aggressor. Except that’s not really what happened; all you saw were shapes and lines moving around on a piece of paper. And although it’s true the subject is in the air thanks to this month’s release of the new feature film Bully, I can assure you that what you saw had nothing to do with the zeitgeist. In fact, people have been seeing that same story in that video now for more than 60 years. Why? According to Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner and the author of the current bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, we all see the same story because our brains seek instant explanations, and the quickest way to

Occupy Third Grade?

On a crisp fall morning in the nation’s capital, 3rd grade teacher Rebecca Lebowitz gathered her 29 public school students on their familiar giant multicolored carpet, and reminded them how to make sense of the characters whose worlds they would soon enter during independent reading time. “What are the four things we want to look for when we meet a new character?” Ms. Lebowitz asked from her chair at the foot of the rug. Several hands shot up before nine-year-old Monica spoke confidently over the steady hum of the classroom’s antiquated radiator. “We want to pay attention to what they do, what they say, how they feel, and what their body language tells us.” “That’s right,” her teacher said cheerily. “When we look for those four things, we have a much better sense of who a person really is.” As the calendar shifts to the eleventh month of 2011 – a year of near-constant revolution and upheaval, from the Arab Spring to the Wisconsin statehouse to the global effort to Occupy Wall Street – what might the rest of us learn from students like Monica? If, in short, we were as smart as a third-grader, what would we observe about

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