Our campaign for student-teacher empowerment is guided by
a few first principles we hold as truths about learning and life:
Our 4 Axioms of Choice
- Everyone is a student. Everyone is a teacher. Learning happens everywhere.
- Experimentation and exploration should be honored and encouraged as the core activities of learning. This includes, especially, experimentation in approaches to teaching and learning.
- Students must have the freedom and responsibility to determine their own courses of intellectual development, with the guidance and support of the community and its professional educators.
- Young people are powerful. It is up to them to transform education and save the world. They will succeed. br>
10 Things We Love About Education
There are a few topics focused around the education revolution that you will find us revisiting repeatedly in the weblog, committed as we are to Albert Einstein's noble cause – nurturing the "holy curiosity of inquiry" and the "enjoyment of seeing and searching" by promoting intellectual freedom and creative stimulation. Although we will, on occasion, turn a critical eye toward the nefarious forms of coercion and conformism that plague our schools and our societies, we will strive mostly to celebrate the good in education, and to support its growth everywhere, as old Albert would have wanted. In this hopeful Einsteinian spirit of liberation and empowerment, below are ten topics that most inspire us:
1. Youth Power
We are confident that the learning revolution will flourish in the coming years, knowing as we do the limitless nature of the movement's ultimate weapon: the power of youth.
As children, our favorite superheroes were teenagers (trained and advised by an inspirational teacher and mentor, Splinter).
Many education reformers talk about teacher accountability and the urgent need for great public school teachers while failing to see that there are many great teachers sitting silent in schools today, marginalized and disempowered simply because they are under the age of eighteen and are labeled "students." If administrators started re-imagining the troubling 30:1 student-to-teacher ratios as opportunities for 31 potential student-teachers to collaborate, labor and resource concerns could be turned on their heads. Then, for instance, a 5:0 student-to-teacher ratio would not be undefined in the math, but could be identified and celebrated as five students helping teach each other. The truth is that students and teachers necessarily co-create their learning environments together, whether teachers and administrators embrace this fact or not, and we shouldn't underestimate the awesome potential that students have to transform these environments.
Despite calls for for "higher standards" and "high expectations" for students, most education reformers don't seem to expect much from even those "high performing" students they champion – "academic success" in most schools largely boils down to memorizing content, passing standardized tests, writing grammatically correct essays that nobody really wants to read, and politely obeying the rules. Young people know this well, which is why their most common characterization of schools is that they are boring. Students who say this are only half right, of course, overlooking their own power (and thus, their responsibility) to invest meaning into the experience of school, or to envision and embark on a more fulfilling experience beyond the classroom confines. School, like the rest of life, is largely what we make of it.
So, young people: now is the time to be the masters of your fates and the captains of your souls! Engage with your schools on your own terms! Now is always the time! Professional educators and other former young people: inspire, encourage, support and collaborate with young people to build a more participatory culture of learning!
Child prodigy Adora Svitak: "Now, the world needs opportunities for new leaders and new ideas.
Kids need opportunities to lead and succeed. Are you ready to make the match?"
Here are just a few activities we will explore that young people are doing every day to change the world:
- Youth Researchers for a New Education System in New York City and the Council of Youth Research at UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access are leading participatory action research projects to study school environments and student attitudes and to design solutions to complex school problems.
- Youth Teaching: Thankfully, not all young teachers are sitting silent in their schools! Many are engaging in exciting programs designed to leverage and support the unique power of young teachers. The nationwide Breakthrough Collaborative (formerly Summerbridge) empowers high school and college students to serve as inspirational teachers to younger students, while receiving guidance and mentorship from older professional teachers. The non-profit Let's Get Ready relies on college student directors to manage its network of programs bringing college volunteers into low-income high schools to teach and advise students, supporting them through the daunting process of testing and admissions required to attend college. The U.K.-based We Are What We Do developed the "Young Speakers Programme" to train teenage students to design and lead interactive presentations at schools "to inspire their peers and younger children to use simple everyday actions to address social and environmental problems." And students hardly need national organizations to get out there and teach each other. The venerable teach-in, popularized by Students For a Democratic Society in the movement against the Vietnam War, has returned with a new importance in the current movement against financial corruption and inequity, as the impenetrable complexity of modern financial systems proved to be an important cause of our helplessness in guarding against the tsunami of financial fraudulence that has flattened the economy and left millions of victims financially devastated.
- massive protests worldwide against educational inequity, budget cuts, privatization, and the various other symptoms of our generally anti-democratic educational systems and societies. From Santiago to Rome, Glasgow to Oakland, students have been mobilizing by the thousands to liberate learning from the clutches of business and bureaucracy and save it from the ravages of "austerity measures." In the United States, education activism has aligned with the Occupy movement, leading to the emergence of Occupy Education and Occupy Colleges. In Chile, many schools have been literally occupied ("en toma," they call it), in protest against the inequities perpetuated by Chile's privatized voucher education system, which was designed by the exiting Pinochet dictatorship. The worldwide student protests show no signs of stopping in 2012. We sure hope not.
- Youth Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurs build teams to explore the shifting sea of social needs and discover innovative opportunities to create value (though notions of "social needs" and "value" may not always be so high-minded). In many ways, young people are ideally suited to this sort of challenge, and through programs like Ashoka's Youth Venture and BUILD, they are indeed rising to the challenge. Entrepreneurship training can provide students of all ages with powerful skills and experiences to thrive in the demanding and dynamic societies of the 21st century, whether or not they choose to become professional entrepreneurs. For this very reason, the Kauffman Foundation has developed a multimedia program, with the help of Three Chicks Media, to introduce entrepreneurial concepts to children ages 8 to 12, which they call All Terrain Brain.
From the Activity Guide for the Kauffman Foundation's All Terrain Brain, "a multimedia project
designed to encourage kids to take their brains 'off road' and tap into their entrepreneurial spirit."
2. Democratic Education
When we call for "democracy" in education, we're talking about participatory democracy–cultivated daily through direct and unmediated activity by ordinary people in collaboration with each other–not the watered-down, electoral form of democracy which has given us in our national politics such an obviously unrepresentative collection of mostly white, mostly male, largely millionaire, entirely out-of-touch politicians who are only occasionally accountable to the public during elections, the outcomes of which are undeniably unrepresentative of the desires of the majority of the population. (This was, indeed, the goal of the white, male, aristocratic founders who drafted a Constitution exclusively for citizens who were white, male landowners. As James Madison wrote with a great deal of satisfaction in Federalist #63, the principal distinction between American democracy and its Athenian predecessors “lies in the total exclusion of the people, in their collective capacity, from any share” in actual political decision-making. [emphasis in original])
Join the new movement for democratic education in America. Read the IDEA strategy document.
So, what does participatory democracy mean for education? Inclusion–rather than exclusion–of all stakeholders in decision-making, with the aim of constantly increasing our collective capacity. The democratization of learning will empower students to decide what, where, when, and how their learning happens. The democratization of teaching will empower everyone everywhere to share what they know with others, and to continually develop their abilities to do so effectively. Students should have an especially empowered role in teaching each other, as peers are uniquely disposed to understand the challenges they face at their common level of comprehension. The democratization of cultural and intellectual production is exploding the traditional barriers to true freedom of the press and enabling a massive outpouring of valuable intellectual insight and artistic expression from non-professionals and amateurs. And the rapid proliferation of open source educational materials is enabling anyone with access to an internet connection (which is, importantly, not everyone) to acquire the tools necessary to learn just about anything.
In the new culture of education we see emerging, learning will be commonly considered to be central to one's entire life–not just one's childhood and young adulthood–and will be accorded the highest value and respect in society. Full-time educators will be highly professionalized and highly respected, like doctors, lawyers, designers, and consultants, but there will also be an even greater wealth of part-time and casual volunteer teaching provided by millions of people with skills and knowledges to share and the desire to share them. The concept of the Education City, pioneered in Israel by democratic educator Yaacov Hecht, shows a way forward. City by city, town by town, the citizens of the world can take up the banner of the Education City to invest the spirit of teaching and learning into every aspect of civic life, and to identify, and enrich the processes of education already in action in their communities.
The concept of the Education City holds revolutionary potential as an approach to transforming education.
3. Design Thinking
When we think of design, we often think of beautifully crafted objects–an iPhone, a Ferrari, a Coach bag–without considering the process that goes into bringing such beautiful things into reality. Behind every intuitively designed thing lies a deeply human approach which gives central importance to experimentation and play–activities we believe are essential to great learning. The Stanford d.school, which offers courses in design thinking, elaborates five stages in the design process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Note that before any attempt to create an actual thing is made, there are three courses that designers embark upon to develop the great ideas that make great things possible. And even when designers begin making things, they only use the first creations as models for testing and refining their ideas. Note, also, that the first process is empathizing with the people that the designers are designing for: discovering how they think, feel, and live their lives to create solutions that work for them. This is clearly an important lesson for schools.
Award-winning designers Constantin and Laurene Boym note that the character of Curious George is distinctly one of a design thinker: "He is driven by curiosity to play and experiment with elements of his daily environment. He finds new uses for familiar objects, invents different ways of doing things, and tests the limits of materials and objects. Many of his experiments do not work, and he routinely gets in trouble, but occasionally he reaps praise or a medal. This sounds a lot like a designer's life."
"Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities that we all have but are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way.
"The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives."
See what designers and other creative professionals have to say about education in thirty conversations about design.
4. Serious Play
"Let my playing be my learning, and my learning be my playing," declared Johan Huizinga, a Dutch social theorist, in his pioneering 1938 book, Homo Ludens ("Playing Man"). Exploring the central characteristics of play, Huizinga observed that all aspects of society are defined by play structures. "We have to conclude that civilization is, in its earliest phases, played," he wrote. "It does not come from play like a baby detaching itself from the womb: it arises in and as play, and never leaves it." What is life, after all, but a sort of role-playing game? What are codes of laws and social norms but game rules with serious consequences attached to their violation? What is school but a game structured around academic performance, with game points awarded in the form of letter grades, scholastic honors, and so on? Surely, if we took this idea to heart, we could make the experience of schools less boring, more playful. And if games can be seen to constitute the foundation of all aspects of human society, then surely training students in the art of gameplay and game design could prove a powerful way to develop thriving citizens of the world, who could build the new "game systems" of 21st century education. The recent concepts of gamification, alternate reality games, "serious games," and so on provide exciting opportunities for us to fully realize our human potential and transition into our next stage of evolution, as Homo Ludens.
The ever-evolving game of Calvinball. "The only permanent rule of Calvinball is that you can't play it the same way twice!"
Bill Watterson's Calvin is an intellectual hero of ours, a true six-year-old supergenius with an imaginative playfulness and a radical nonconformity. His brilliant game invention, Calvinball, is a post-modern milestone in game design theory–while sincerely acknowledging the conventions of game rules and play space, the game radically subverts them by incorporating into the ruleset the first rule of improv: always say "yes, and" to any play, including the announcement of new rules. The shifting of rules and blending of game elements opens up another space for creative exploration that allows Calvin and his Hobbes to make their play however they want it at every moment. This sort of high-level innovative creativity–structured yet extremely flexible–is exactly what societies will need in order to discover solutions to the Gordian knot of problems we face globally and locally. We must face the challenges of the 21st century as Calvin does: with an improv state of mind.
Calvinball freely combines elements from many games, and experiments with everything
from physical boundaries to point systems. As Hobbes reminds us, "The score is still Q to 12!"
Here are a few directions in the field of play that we'll explore in the weblog:
- Children's Museums: Nothing brings us more joy than a visit to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or the New York Hall of Science in Queens. They spark our wonder, shift our thinking, and let us relax into learning. In Huizinga's words, inside of them we can let our learning be our playing. We're excited to check out the new Museum of Mathematics, in Manhattan–a much needed celebration of the infinite fun and beauty in math–and we hope at some point to catch a glimpse of the traveling Museum of Interesting Things!
- Adult Playgrounds: Some questions have been with us ever since became "adults" (when was that, exactly?). For instance: Why are public play spaces (as distinct from sport facilities) created exclusively for young people? Why don't we create spaces for adults that encourage the same sorts of playfulness as playgrounds do for children? Why is this not a thriving field of design? We'll be following up on this, in search of some good answers (or better questions).
- Games For Change: There is a growing community of practitioners in the "serious games" movement dedicated to developing games with the goal of generating social awareness and influencing social change. Naturally, people were quick to recognize the enormous potential of such an approach for education, and have begun exploring the frontiers of serious games for student learning and training. Games For Change has developed an interactive toolkit to teach how to design "social issue games" for causes.
- Alternate Reality Games: Wikipedia currently defines the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) as "an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform and uses transmedia to deliver a story that may be altered by participants' ideas or actions." ARGs are a form of role-playing game, where players generally "play themselves" as protagonists in a drama unfolding in the real world, the characters in which maintain a firm insistence that "This Is Not A Game." As one guide to ARGs explains, “one of the main goals of the ARG is to deny and disguise the fact that it is even a game at all.” By defining the world as the gamespace and real world actions as gameplay activities, ARGs offer a compelling context for the activities of learning, training, or evaluation.
- Gamestorming: When creative professionals are called upon to design solutions to problems, they often start by playing games. A few visual designers from the design and consulting firm XPLANE gathered the best of the professional world's knowledge games into a manual, described as a "playbook for people who want to design the future, to change the world, to make, break and innovate…a rough-and-ready toolkit for inventors, explorers and change agents who want to use design thinking to navigate successfully in complex and uncertain knowledge and information spaces, to engage others, and to start, grow and sustain movements for change." The creators of Gamestorming set up a games wiki to collect and share an ever growing archive of gamestorm designs. We love the similarly playful approaches to ideation in Thinkertoys, IDEO's Method Cards, and, for entrepreneurial types, Business Model Generation. This is the future of education.
From XPLANE: "The most valuable assets in the networked economy are mind power, innovation, and creativity."
We've always thought it more than a little strange that schools–which depend for their success upon the capability of their students to learn–spend little to no time actually addressing the art and science of learning with their students. Judging from the standard school curriculum and structure, one would suppose that both students and teachers are expected to intuit automatically the best practices and conditions for learning, although neuroscientists and cognitive and developmental psychologists have found it necessary to devote an enormous amount of research in the past decades to understand just this. While these scientists have still only scratched the surface of this enormously interesting field of study, they have discovered many valuable insights about learning that we believe will provide enormous benefit to students, teachers, and all of society.
Moreover, we think the processes of thinking about thinking and learning about learning activate an important self-reflective impulse in students and teachers that can amplify awareness and expand mental flexibility. As learning happens everywhere, throughout an individual's entire life–and especially after a student has finished her sentence of compulsory schooling–developing a clearer, more informed approach to learning can have an incalculable impact on one's expanding capabilities over the course of a lifetime.
And learning isn't just for individuals, of course. Groups, social movements, businesses, cities, and entire societies learn–and surely, with insight into the process, they can learn better. Peter Senge brought popular awareness to the concept of systemic learning and adaptation with his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline, outlining five key "disciplines" for organizational learning: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. Learning organizations, he explained, are "organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together." Senge owes much of his theoretical insight to the pioneering work of Donald Schön (himself greatly influenced by John Dewey), who saw in 1971 that the nature of constant, rapid, radical change in modern society required a better understanding of the processes of learning, not just for the individual, but also for groups and for entire societies. As he wrote in Beyond the Stable State:
- What is the nature of the process by which organizations, institutions and societies transform themselves?
- What are the characteristics of effective learning systems?
- What are the forms and limits of knowledge that can operate within processes of social learning?
- What demands are made on a person who engages in this kind of learning?"
Over forty years later, Schön's questions remain essential, even vital.
Mind, body, and spirit form a holy trinity of real learning. Healthy, active bodies make healthy, active minds. To transform the next generation of learners and teachers, we must explore the frontiers of what it truly means to be healthy, to be vital–that is, to be full of life! Future generations may look back and conclude, as Russian research scientist Israel I. Brekhman argued, that our modern medicine, with its intense focus on pathology, has made great progress down the wrong path. Throughout his career, Dr. Brekhman championed the study of healthiness–which he termed valeology, from the Latin valeos, "to be strong, to be healthy"–focusing his efforts on exploring a range of health-promoting herbal compounds, known as adaptogens. As our interest will be primarily in the education and training of vitality-promoting activities and habits of awareness, not in organic compounds, we prefer to use a different neologism, "vitalogy," which suggests the active vital force that generates life and the process of revitalization–and which is also the title of a great Pearl Jam album.
Rather than a binary approach to health care which regards health simply as the absence of illness or injury, we find it important to view health as a continuum or field, potentially infinite, inseparably intertwined with the concepts of strength, energy, clarity, harmony, balance, fluidity, lightness, rhythm. There is much to be done to bring our systems of education into harmony with the vital processes of the mind, body, and spirit. We must revolutionize the approach to food in our modern school systems, not just by replacing the terribly unhealthy school lunches with more nutritional food, but also by investing in a real education in nutrition, food preparation, and organic food cultivation. We must revolutionize the approach to physical education in schools by bringing the insights of the health sciences to every aspect of our learning environments, not just to the one period students endure every day, unaffectionately known as "P.E." We must take cognizance of the enormous impact on physical and mental health that sleep has, and reschedule our schools accordingly. Other important and largely disregarded influences on health must be reconsidered with a new level of concern: the quality of light matters greatly for learning, for instance, as does regular movement, stretching, breathing, posture, and so on.
Finally, we must devote more attention to the social, psychological, mental, and emotional health of our students and teachers, and to the burdens on health imposed by current education systems, so that we can design new environments that promote an integrated health of the spirit. It is a mistake to wait for problems of dispiritedness to manifest in obvious behavior or performance issues, as the level of spiritual health is always a powerful determinant of the capacity for learning or teaching, and of physical health as well. Even minor emotional or psychological issues can profoundly impair education, while a strong, healthy spirit can make almost any learning challenge attainable. Along with physical health, we must train as students in emotional and psychological health and the behaviors and activities–personal and collective–that support this vitality of the spirit. Students deserve meaningful training in counseling, communication, collaboration, introspection, spiritual practice, sensuality and sexual health, and so on–if not simply for their sake, then for the sake of society as a whole. We cannot even imagine what might come from a generation whose vitality were unshackled by the training of truly healthy ways of living.
7. DIY Education
Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for society's leading thinkers to be polymaths, accomplished in many fields. Today it is basically unheard of for a leading scientist to be an important poet, philosopher, or politician. Examples like Benjamin Franklin (political theorist, politician, statesman, printer, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, writer) or Francis Bacon (philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, writer) or Leonardo da Vinci (painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer) were hardly even atypical in their era–indeed, there's even a typical term for them: Renaissance Men. However, it is almost inconceivable that one could achieve something of significance in as many different fields today.
A major reason for this, we believe, is that modern society strongly promotes a long and costly process of intellectual specialization inside of highly structured academic institutions, while the polymathery of the past was largely driven by individual curiosity and pluck, by which bright thinkers learned for themselves how to achieve great things in many fields. Even inside of the academic institutions of the day, it was tutors–not lecturing professors–that were the primary agents of instruction, offering a highly personalized approach to learning. Great thinkers of the past were not boxed in by rigid conceptions of who they were or what they could do, and thus were free to experiment and explore as their passions dictated. We need a renaissance of this Renaissance Man, and so we will need to free intellectual inquiry from its current state of over-institutionalization.
The internet, of course, has heralded a new intellectual renaissance–different in scope and scale from anything to ever come before–and has done much to transcend the relatively rigid intellectual boundaries reinforced and defended by the old guard of academia. With the democratization of learning and the proliferation of open source educational materials, individuals no longer need to feel the dependence upon institutions to develop new capabilities and explore new fields. The unfortunate monopoly on the modern mind that schools have held with respect to education is now being disrupted by the infinitely available internet and the collaborative connections it fosters among curious seekers of knowledge. DIY education has always been as common as its academic counterpart–more so–but it is only now becoming as organized and as visible.
Learn how to make an Urban Guerrilla Movie House
We love DIY learning for the way it fosters so many of the values we celebrate: it engages the processes of design thinking, experimentation, and participatory democracy, it inherently involves learning about learning, it empowers students to be teachers (of themselves), and so on. Most of all, it liberates learning from a dependence on experts and instructors (as valuable as they are). Nor does DIY education have to be a solo affair. Group classes can be organized with no teacher at all–perhaps only a "lead learner," responsible for facilitating the overall course of learning undertaken by the group, but in no way an expert on the subject under study.
And we think DIY is not just an awesome concept as a mode of learning, but also as a field of study: that is, how to do and make things yourself. The more we know how to make the things we want and need ourselves, the closer we will come to true independence and sustainability. Knowing how to make things also entails knowing how things work, an important systems-level awareness which will remain especially important for the societal learning we need to evolve in this era of rapid flux. Not to mention that making things yourself is just plain fun.
Gon Kirin, and his giant fire-breathing dragon, featured at the World Maker Faire New York
8. The New Socratic
"I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this? And if the person with whom I an arguing says: Yes, but I do care: I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he has, I reproach him with overvaluing the greater, and undervaluing the less.…For this is the command of God, as I would have you know..." –Socrates, Apology
Perhaps the most famous teacher of all time, Socrates gave his life–literally–to the teaching of a philosophy of virtue through the process of elenchus: a question-driven dialectical interrogation of ideas now known as the "socratic method." Socrates put the art of questioning at the heart of teaching and learning, insisting that he was no wiser than any other Athenian, except insofar as he knew that he was not wise. Although the socratic method is a popular and well-respected instructional approach in education–famously used in law school courses in connection with the "casebook method" of studying legal precedents–Socrates was clear that his means of inquiry was not his greatest contribution to society. Most important, he insisted, was his revolutionary effort to persuade people to value "wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul" over wealth and power and petty superficialities. As a philosopher, Socrates was, first and foremost, an ethicist.
So, in honor of this great teacher, we call for a New Socratic movement that not only puts inquiry at the center of learning–focusing on asking questions rather than answering them, and valuing the "open question" that has no answer–but also puts the committed ethics of Socrates back into the method that bears his name. After all, Socrates was sentenced to death not simply for discussing any old philosophical ideas, but for radically challenging the pretensions of those in power in Athens. As Socrates said of the motivations of his accusers, "they do not like to confess that their pretense of knowledge has been detected." We need to train young minds to think critically about the most critical issues of our time–and to really rock the boat–if we are to make the rapid progress we need to solve the overwhelming complex global problems we face. Merely academic philosophizing is not good enough: we need to engage in critical inquiry to make new things, and make new things happen.
As proponents of the design thinking approach, we advocate for a bias toward action. Open inquiry and cross-examination are great tools for refining ideas, but alone can lead to "analysis paralysis" in making decisions and implementing solutions. Concepts such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, and mission-based learning provide examples of approaches that inherently demand critical inquiry as an integral part of hands-on action. Participatory action research leverages the power of student study to make meaningful active research that both examines and influences the social environment. Deeply enriching learning evolves out of this kind of praxis–defined by Paulo Freire as "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it."
9. Global Exchange
Some of the world's greatest cultural and intellectual developments have emerged from the threads of several cultures interwoven together. Algebra and the decimal numerical system, for instance, appeared in the Western world in the twelfth century thanks to Latin translations of the work of Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who based his work on Indian numeral systems and Greek mathematical treatises like Ptolemy's Geography. The transformative modern art made by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse was heavily influenced by the exhibition of African art in the museums of Paris at the time. The varied American musical traditions of jazz, blues, rock, soul, hip hop, and rap–which have since become global musical traditions–emerged from the forced African migration to the American colonies carried out by European and colonial slave traders. The list of such intercultural origin stories is endless.
We believe in the enduring power of these global intercultural exchanges. On a daily, lived basis, one can feel the transformative power of immersion in a culture different from one's own. An individual spending time in a foreign country can be a natural ambassador and teacher of her culture, as well as a natural student of the cultural environment in which she finds herself, and can even be a natural inventor of new cultural blends quilted together organically and idiosyncratically. In a foreign country, everything is different, everything is new, and thus, everything is a learning opportunity. If this is naturally true for every stranger in a strange land, then it follows that the more people travel outside their native cultures, the more intercultural teaching and learning is possible. And in the translation between cultures and ideas, new insights and creative breakthroughs will continue to emerge.
10. Teaching To Change The World
"What most of us must be involved in--whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do--has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world."
–Howard Zinn, Artists In Times of War and Other Essays
If the youth are going to take the lead in solving the major problems that the world faces, as we believe must happen, then their teachers must be committed to helping them do so. Young people should know that we expect them to change the world, and that we support them in their mission. Educators must teach with the clear goal in mind of developing a generation of worldchangers. This will require a conscious training of certain habits of mind, ways of seeing, ethical commitments, intellectual and physical skills, and so on. It will also demand from professional teachers a demonstrated respect for the power of youth and their role in worldchanging, enacted daily in the ways in which we teach and the type of intellectual projects in which we engage our students.
In 2010, the Texas school board rewrote the state social studies curriculum to propagandize for a neo-conservative system of values and view of history, and the Arizona legislature outlawed the Mexican-American studies program and any others that "advocate ethnic solidarity." "Those students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals," Arizona Superintendant Tom Horne wrote to the citizens of Tucson. "They should not be taught that they are oppressed." In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation stripping public teacher unions of collective bargaining rights and cutting $1.85 billion from education spending, striking fear in the hearts of embattled public school teachers everywhere. But students and teachers are fighting back.
Education has always been a contested front in the war for the hearts and minds of our young citizens. "The only war that matters is the war against imagination," writes poet Diane Di Prima, "all other wars are subsumed in it." The struggle over education is critical because, as Ivan Illich wrote in Deschooling Society, "schools reproduce society," and so they are extremely important engines for the maintenance of the dominant social order:
"All over the world schools are organized enterprises designed to reproduce the established order, whether this order is called revolutionary, conservative, or evolutionary. Everywhere the loss of pedagogical credibility and the resistance to schools provide a fundamental option: shall this crisis be dealt with as a problem that can, and must, be solved by substituting new devices for school and readjusting the existing power structure to fit these devices? Or shall this crisis force a society to face the structural contradictions inherent in the politics and economics of any society that reproduces itself through the industrial process?"
There is no cause more important for the survival and liberation of the human race than that of education, because it holds the key to the development of the new minds that will determine the fate of the future. We must move forward as educators with this firm conviction in mind, guiding us on our way through the darkness toward the light.
Howard Zinn, "Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest":
"Equally important for social control as the military scientists are those professionals who are connected with the dissemination of knowledge in society: the teachers, the historians, the political scientists, the journalists, and yes, the archivists.…We have all heard the cries of "don't politicize our profession"…[but] this neat separation, keeping your nose to the professional grindstone, and leaving politics to your left-over moments, assumes that your profession is not inherently political. It is neutral. Teachers are objective and unbiased. Textbooks are eclectic and fair. The historian is even-handed and factual.…
Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973,
with the covert support of the CIA and other U.S. federal agencies and foreign governments, inaugurating
a brutal 17-year reign of terror. If the CIA had its way, nobody would know about its involvement.
Thus, history itself is a battleground.
The problems of the United States are not peripheral and have not been met by our genius at reform. They are not the problems of excess, but of normalcy.…If all this is so, then the normal functioning of the scholar, the intellectual, the researcher, helps maintain those corrupt norms in the United States, just as the intellectual in Germany, Soviet Russia, or South Africa, by simply doing his small job, maintains what is normal in those societies. And if so, then what we always asked of scholars in those terrible places is required of us in the United States today: rebellion against the norm.…Scholarship in society is inescapably political. Our choice is not between being political or not. Our choice is to follow the politics of the going order, that is, to do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society, or else to promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies."
Howard Zinn, activist and historian, a true American hero (1922-2010)