Another piece of “why:” Tis more blessed to give than to receive…and school change

At bedtime, my two boys, my wife, and I often return to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

For me, the story has always been aspirational. Throughout my life, I hope to grow closer to the end of the spectrum where giving is more valued than receiving. In the book, of course, the boy takes and takes from the tree and his happiness is only temporary and fleeting – it lasts until he needs the next thing…maybe shorter. But the tree finds its happiness and joy from giving, and the tree’s joy seems to be more permanent and long-lasting.

This weekend, as we read The Giving Tree, I was struck by the lessons that this story could teach school. I am constantly amazed by the latest generations’ generosity. As a school principal, I had countless students come to me seeking permission to have a fund raiser for a special cause to help others. I had numerous others want to stage events to make a positive difference in the world. In fact, my school had to create a policy to deal with the number of requests for coordination and organization reasons.

Interestingly, most, if not all, of these special requests existed outside the curriculum. Shouldn’t such giving, and work, and lessoning BE the curriculum? Or at least more of the curriculum?

Schools seems so geared to getting. So much of the fundamental set-up is about what each student gets, as they enroll in math, English, science, history, etc. We send them from class to class to be filled like vessels with departmental knowledge so that they can “get” into a good college and so that they can “get” a good job.

What if school were re-imagined and re-purposed to be about what students can give? What they can contribute to the world now.

This is why I feel so passionately about PBL – project-based learning, problem-based learning, passion-based learning, place-based learning, etc. This is why I love examples like Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School. This is why I feel so strongly about school curricula being more integrated and participatory in design-thinking and problem solving.

This is another piece of why people talk of 21st C education.

Twentieth-century education was modeled on the widget-creating, assembly-line system. Send the product down the line to have parts added and reservoirs filled. It was about 1.0. It was about receiving, like radios taking the signals from the towers.

Twenty-first-century education can be about giving. It is 2.0 and 3.0. Students can be co-creators of systemic improvement in the world – from better design, to water solutions, to energy enhancements, to health improvements, to more powerful robotics, to improved communications tools, to…, to…, to….

Tis better to give than to receive. Let’s facilitate kids “giving an education” instead of just “getting an education.”

Does any of this make any sense?


Young people today think in terms of fixing the world,…

Young people today think in terms of fixing the world, by making things, and selling them. Selling them is just the necessary end point of the process.

William Deresiewicz, Writer and Critic speaking at CreativeMornings/Portland (*watch the talk)


Related Posts:

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

4 thoughts on “Another piece of “why:” Tis more blessed to give than to receive…and school change

  1. Pingback: If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t it look more like real life? | it's about learning

  2. Pingback: PROCESS POST: Playing with words. Words matter. And all change is linguistic. | it's about learning

  3. Pingback: Why-What-How: Being Research-Practice Designers…I Dream a School « It's About Learning

  4. Pingback: BRAVO Stephen Ritz and Green Bronx Machine! A vivid example of “tis better to give than to receive” « It's About Learning

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