And Maddest of All to See Education As It Is & Not As It Should Be

The way I tackle life comes from one of my favorite books,  Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote of La Mancha. Briefly, the protagonist of the story, an idealist, is told he is mad and responds,

I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, hunger … cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from taverns and the moans from bundles of filth on the streets. I have been a soldier and seen my comrades fall in battle … or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no gallant last words … only their eyes filled with confusion, whimpering the question, “Why?” I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

In the same way I think it is maddest of all to see education as it is and not as it should be. For decades, I have seen policies, curricula, standardized testing, instructional practices, institutional rules, bureaucracy, and classroom design destroy the joy of learning.  That is why so many of our students slip through the system and become part of the poverty or crime cycle. Our students are searching for that thing that makes them ignite, feel like they are alive and provides meaning to their existence. I believe we can help our students find their purpose and passion through education. When they learn and discover new things they continually find a piece to that puzzle. If not, they continually will seek this elsewhere. So how can we begin to have an education system that supports this type of learning where we don’t punish kids for their curiosity and where we give them the time to explore their passions?

How Do We Transform the System?

Don Quixote had two characteristics every stakeholder in education should have, vision and passion. Passionate people are contagious. They spread their vision and energy to others who become inflamed as well! My vision for education is to see educators and students collaborate with each other over dire problems, mentor each other, and spread the passion so the weary become strong.

6 Revolutionary Educational Models We Can Learn From

I also believe there are educational models out there that are on the right track. We can learn from these models and try to replicate them. I will introduce you to them in the hope that as we begin 2012 we will aim to adopt some of their characteristics into our classrooms. That is where transformation starts. We begin in our classrooms and do what we can and as we feel more empowered we transform our schools then the community. As a famous Chinese proverb says,”The journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.”

Be Very Afraid and Other Projects by Dr. Stephen Heppell

In April, I had the opportunity to meet Professor Heppell at the Plymouth E-learning Conference and learn about the amazing projects he has been organizing to transform education. One of them is the Be Very Afraid project where students redesign their schools and make key decisions about their learning environments and how they want to learn. You have to watch the amazing interviews by the students, because it is truly inspirational. Prof. Heppell also leads projects to help us rethink the way we design our classrooms. Look at the photos here to learn about shoeless classrooms and tiered seating. Check out his other revolutionary ideas here that are taking place.

Bijal Damani’s Class Bazaar in India

In October I was at the UNESCO Bangkok ICT and Problem Based Learning Conference, which is where I met ISTE Outstanding Teacher, Bijal Damani, and learned about her bazaar project that has her students in India using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to learn about marketing skills. The students host their own bazaar, invent projects that will improve the lives of others, create advertisements for these products, get sponsors, and much more. The most incredible part is that the money raised helps children in the slums in India receive a better education.

Monika Hardy’s Innovation Lab

Monika Hardy’s Innovation Lab connects her high school students in Denver with mentors worldwide from her Personal Learning Network. Basically, the students have a curriculum built upon what they want to explore. They are matched up with mentors in the chosen field in the community and online that provide them the reading, math, and other relevant skills that are needed to explore their interests. Read more about the passion led courses here and watch a full presentation with her mentors and students here.

The Swiss School

I learned about this school through a Tweet. I loved what I saw, children learning in various languages math, culture, food, creativity, and more! They need funding and are offering language and culture courses taught by kids for a fee. Check out how you can learn and give.

The Blue School by The Blue Man Group

I learned about this school by watching an online talk by Sir Ken Robinson. This school is a Lab School that invites parents to sit in on classes and supports the creative learning of students.

The Hellerup School in Denmark

I learned about the Hellerup school in Denmark from this article that describes the concept of learning without walls, “The school’s stairs and hallways double as a space where the whole school community can gather and learn together. The school leader’s office is located in the center of the school, without walls, because he wanted to be able to see the students throughout the day and because he believed it was important for students to see adults interact professionally and respectfully with each other, setting an example for the young students.”

Think about how you can transform your classroom in 2012 and begin to set that in motion.

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What other educational models do you think are revolutionary?