When I was a kid I went to summer camp in rural Maine. It was a rustic place on the banks of a small lake where we spent the day outside, swimming, learning archery and water skiing, doing arts and crafts, and building meaningful friendships. I lived for summer camp, and cried for days when I had to return to school.
In my quest to stay at camp, I wrote a letter to the camp director urging him to turn the camp into a year-round school, and included a full curriculum demonstrating how we could learn everything we needed in that environment.
Learning can take place anywhere.
This is important to consider now. The pandemic that is threatening the opening of schools in the Fall provides an opportunity to completely rethink the way we teach and learn. Instead of trying to figure out how to go back to classrooms, which have essentially looked the same for over a hundred years, we have a rare chance to look forward, considering even better ways to educate than we have in the past. School is but one way to learn.
School and Learning are two different things.
In my classes at Stanford on creative problem solving, I do an exercise that focuses on unpacking assumptions about a particular issue, and then challenging those assumptions in order to explore alternatives that might be even better. It is easy to do that with education — there are so many assumptions! They include classrooms, teachers, textbooks, homework, final exams, grades, attendance records, multiple choice tests, homeroom, lockers, after school sports, etc,
What happens when we turn our assumptions about education upside down?
I’ve done this exercise with students of all ages, and they are giddy with the prospect of reinventing education. They come up with endless ways to learn that they know would be more engaging than their traditional classrooms, including student-initiated activities, internships that run all year long, and bold multi-year projects.
What could be more important than engaged students?