Category Archives: Voice

The Beautiful Struggle

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.

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Categories: Assessment, Democracy, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Teacher Quality, Voice

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Discipline in schools moves toward peacemaking

The first time he got in trouble, 7-year-old “Z” kicked his teacher — getting him into more trouble.

A few months later, shortly after his grandfather passed away, he kicked his teacher again.

In many schools across the country, where zero tolerance policies allow little wiggle room for understanding why a child may be misbehaving, Z would have been suspended, expelled, or even arrested.

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A Year of Wonder

I admit: I’m the type of person who sees every New Year as a chance to reboot, revisit and refresh.

And this year, 2016, I want to try and sustain a yearlong exploration of wonder.

Part of the reason for that is pretty straightforward: on January 1, I officially became a partner in a global design studio that helps communities reimagine learning at the intersection of space, culture and story.

Our name? WONDER, By Design.

But part of it is also a desire to wrestle with some questions my colleagues and I want to understand more deeply:

If wonder is to learning as carbon is to life, then what are the neurochemical underpinnings of wonder itself?
In what ways does our capacity for wonder help explain what is most essential to what shapes and drives us as human beings?
What blocks our ability to wonder widely about the world? What gets us unblocked?
You can imagine my excitement, then, when I saw that the Renwick Gallery, a century-old museum in Washington, D.C. once described as the “American Louvre,” had recently undergone its own reboot – a literal, massive, two-year renovation – and was reintroducing itself to the public by having its first new exhibit transform the entire building into an immersive, multisensory work of art.

The inaugural exhibit’s name? WONDER.

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Categories: Learning, Voice

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The Empathy Formula

For over a year now, I’ve been working with a remarkable group of people at Ashoka who believe empathy is the foundational skill we need in order to become effective changemakers in modern society — and who are bold (quixotic?) enough to envision a world in which one day, every child learns to master it as readily as s/he masters the ability to read and write.

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Categories: Learning, Parenting, Voice

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The World is Watching Chicago, Once Again

In 1968, student protesters stationed outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago broke into a spontaneous chant that quickly crystallized the tenor of the times: “The whole world is watching!”

It’s ironic, then, that one day after this year’s Democratic National Convention, rumors of a city-wide teacher strike in Chicago are reaching a similarly feverous pitch.

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This is what student learning looks like

This movie was produced by five-year-olds as a culminating project for a study of butterflies and habitats. It’s worth noting that this happened at a first-year-school that had never done this sort of thing before. Just to underscore that this sort of thing is possible anywhere, as long as the community is committed to letting […]

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Empathy for a Killer?

As the bizarre courtroom faces of James Holmes start appearing in newspapers alongside the beautiful lost faces of the twelve people he murdered, I wonder: is it possible for feel empathy for a person capable of such senseless violence?

I think the answer is that it depends, and what it depends on is the larger story of James Holmes, and what that story tells us about this 24-year-old killer, and, by extension, ourselves.

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Kid Whisperers

In theory, Buck is a documentary about horses, and a cinematic profile of the laconic cowboy who has learned to speak their silent animal language.

In fact, Buck is a film about the invisible line that connects being to being, and the ways that line can serve as either a tether or a bridge.

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Education Inception

I just watched Christopher Nolan’s remarkable new movie Inception, a futuristic film about a group of people who, through a variety of means, plant a thought so deeply in the mind of one man that it grows naturally and becomes seen as his own. In the opening scene of the movie, protagonist Peter Cobb rhetorically asks the audience: “What’s the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? No. An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea’s taken hold in the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. A person can cover it up, or ignore it – but it stays there.”

Cobb’s movie-based challenge is not unlike the reality-based one being faced by today’s advocates for public education reform – how to seed an idea so simple and powerful that it can mobilize public opinion, inspire policymakers, and improve the overall learning conditions for children. And yet after reading Michelle Rhee’s two newest efforts to launch her own form of “inception” – an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and her organization’s inaugural policy agenda – I see further evidence of both her well-intentioned vision for massive educational reform, and her fundamental misunderstanding about the power of ideas.

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Building Democratic Learning Communities

On July 28, I participated in a live web discussion about democratic learning communities with Classroom 2.0’s Steve Hargadon. It was an interesting and sometimes chaotic discussion. While Steve was asking me questions, participants from all over the globe were also typing questions and comments in a dialogue box. So please excuse my occasional flightiness […]

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