Like a lot of you, I’ve been consumed by the Brock Turner case, and its particularly egregious form of privilege-soaked injustice.
Then again, we’re continually bombarded by stories that make it impossible to ignore the extent to which our society perpetuates different rules for different people, based on nothing more than the color of your skin and/or your proximity to power.
I know, I know — we can do better, and public education in America is in need of a makeover. We’re in the midst of the biggest shifts to how we think about teaching and learning in more than a century, and some of us are a little slower on the uptick. I get it.
Here’s the thing, though — amidst the pressing need for change, amidst the horror stories of abject failure, amidst the reports of growing segregation and inequity — there are also stories like this one, about a remarkable school for the sorts of kids who rarely get to be seen and heard. How might we view the challenges and opportunities ahead if we were more collectively focused on these sorts of schools, and what we can learn from them?
It comes courtesy of my new friends in Memphis (who we’re working with to design a pretty remarkable new high school), and it captures everything I think we want school to embody: fun, teamwork, problem-solving, a culture of experimentation, productive failures, and soul-satisfying successes.
How might we infuse every school in America with the spirit of this project?
I’ve yet to meet a grown-up who, at some point, hasn’t felt a bit like a hamster in the wheel – spinning mindlessly towards some opaque goal, and for some abstract, poorly understood reason.
Life can feel that way sometimes.
So you can imagine my surprise when, while visiting a small public high school in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco, I encountered a group of boys working on an indeterminate project out of plywood and a handsaw.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked.
“We’re building a human-sized hamster wheel,” they replied.
It’s been the no-brainiest of no-brainers for as long as anyone can remember: If you’re a parent, and you have the means to do so, a mark of your commitment to your children is measured by the amount of money you’re able to sock away for their college education.
I spent the first half of this week in Memphis, Tennessee, working with a remarkable local group of educators, parents and developers (yes, developers) who are all dreaming big together as part of Crosstown Concourse, an ambitious effort to redesign a 1.5 million square foot former Sears warehouse into a vertical urban village of residents, retail outlets, non-profits, and — wait for it — an innovative public high school.
It comes from the Fullerton (CA) School District, which has developed “epic storylines” and a gamification around core skills in order to make learning more technologically integrated, experiential, and fun.
It also looks and feels very different from the sort of educational experiences almost anyone above a certain age has ever had. Is that a good thing, or does an approach like this take us too far from the tried and true backbone of what teaching and learning has always looked like — and should continue to look like into the foreseeable future?