Out of the Box
I was talking with a parent of one of our Goat Track Kids this week and we were talking about schools. More specifically we were talking about which schools we would send our children to and why.She said something very interesting – she had chosen her daughter’s school, as it was the least ‘boxy of the boxes’.
The implication was that this school had greater flexibility to fit her daughter rather than her daughter having to fit the box. Unless you are box shaped a box won’t fit. Even if you are box shaped – it won’t give you room to move. It will either be too small for you, too large for you or just too boxy for you.
Learning is not BOXY.The challenge then is to create more human based systems – responsive systems- flexible systems.As Ken Robinson says, in this week’s video feature, we need schools to embrace “the richness of human capacity.” And this potential is far greater than one side of our brain.The intelligence or full capacity of our kids extends to all parts of their brains – to their creative brains, to their emotional intelligence and social intelligence, to their physical intelligence.And these multiple intelligences do not fit squarely into any one box.
Some advocates from the “it’s the way we’ve always done things camp” might say “ that’s why we invented subject areas – so that we can study these subjects separately”. But these are really just smaller boxes aren’t they? You can study drama for one hour on Tuesday and Math on Wednesdays through Fridays and Science here and Art there.
The only problem is that we are still viewing the school as the box and the child as the thing that enters the box and either fits or doesn’t fit.The implication is that the child must make do.After all, we’re doing the best that we can. Nothing’s perfect.
Here’s another way to think about it.Imagine that, if we must have this fixation with boxes, that the child is the box.The school’s role is now to ask The Box what it would like to fill itself with.The Box chooses. The Box fills up on what it feels like learning.The Box keeps the things that fit with it and throws away the things that do not. The Box can end up filled to perfection with the things that it chooses because it chooses. How empowering for The Box.
“Oh we couldn’t possibly do that – what if a child chose some crazy combination of things to learn that might not lead to a clearly defined, currently existing and completely explainable job”.
This is where I would like to talk about one of my ex-students –
Pauline Maudy – who chose to study Music, English, Drama, French, Spanish, Art, [and I think German]. Hardly a balanced portfolio! Sounds crazy! I know! How are you going to make a job out of that?
Fast Forward to Now– Pauline is the front woman for about three world music bands. She uses her music and drama skills to sing across more languages than most of us understand …and she gets paid for it.She never knew when she started that she wanted to be a world music singer. The goal did not drive the subject choices – no – her passions and skills drove her choices – which drove her to create job that suited her.
And more importantly, last time I spoke to Pauline she was loving her life – surely this counts for something – why are we so busy learning all of these amazing things if in the end they don’t bring us to a job and a life that makes us happy?
Now people ask her how did you pick up all of these skills and languages. Well interestingly – she did a lot of her learning “off line“ and in the real world – and because she had supportive parents and a flexible school – the school couldn’t even provide qualified teachers for several of Pauline’s choices. This meant that if Pauline was going to get the education she wanted, she had to be assertive, active and ask for what she wanted. She had to be empowered, purposeful, passionate and interested. She also had to be motivated to pursue what she was interested in BECAUSE she was interested in it. In other words she had to be a learner. She also did much of her study on her own while others got to head off with their friends to whatever ‘The Choices” were on line 2.And, to do that, she had to work outside the box. She had to have the courage to choose subjects outside the BOX, combinations outside the box and she had to do some of her study [heaven forbid] outside a school and she had to be prepared to pursue these things not because they led to her next box – a job – but because they were worthwhile to her.
The result of her relentless courage in being outside of the box has led to her having a job that reflects the uniqueness of her choices and the richness of her capacity.It has also made her -I would imagine – very hard to replace.How many of us can sing, play multiple instruments, perform and speak in four languages.I only know one person. That’s the power of learning outside the box and it is an opportunity that is open to us all – if we have the courage.