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’s a thrilling idea — a city within a city, organized around an overarching umbrella of arts, education and wellness, and imagined as a learning ecology that helps all people examine multiple pathways to healthy living. And clearly, if it works, the high school it houses (there will also be an adult education high school, by the way) will need to look nothing like the high schools of our collective past, which were designed for efficiency, and for batching and queuing unprecedented numbers of young people into an Industrial economy that was largely fixed and known.
Indeed, if this project is successful, Crosstown High School will be, according to the lead developer (who happens to be an art history professor), “the beginning of the end of education in a vacuum.”
So what does that look like?
That’s the task we at WONDER now have before us — along with some great local partners. And while the specifics remain to be hammered out, we already know enough to say this:
- A school like this must be a home base more than a school — a place where students gather to assemble their literal or figurative rucksacks before heading out on learning expeditions of their choosing;
- A school like this must not look or feel like a regular “school.” The design goal is not to facilitate 1:30 teacher/student ratios, or facilitate easy movement through double-loaded corridors. Instead, it should be to give kids environments that look and feel more like this — or this.
- A school like this must be oriented outward, not inward; the learning that happens there must be action-oriented, not abstract; and the space in which this all occurs must be dynamic, not fixed.
In other words, a school like this must mark the beginning of the end of not just education in a vacuum — but of the Industrial Age itself, and its emphasis on efficiency.
Behold: the “Age of Expeditioncy” — an era in which learning is deeply public, and contextualized, and relevant, and dynamic, and hands-on — is upon us.