I’ll never be the same again. A reflection on transforming school from consumer to creator. #IDreamASchool

I’ll never be the same again. 

Today marks an anniversary, of sorts, for me. Two years ago, on January 31, I committed to watching a TED talk everyday. I made this 3-to-18-minute commitment part of my larger personal learning routine – my way of “going to school” everyday. I had been watching TED talks for a few years, but I decided to up my ante and watch one everyday.

That’s over 700 talks in as many days – windows to some incredible topics and teachers from whom I can learn… for free (excluding opportunity cost, of course). My perspectives and points of view have been stretched, developed, altered, and grown.

I realized yesterday morning, while watching “Janine di Giovanni: What I saw in the war,”

that my TED-talk education has forever changed the way I view education at large. I will never be the same again. I will forever see schooling as being about so much more than just content delivery and knowledge transfer from one generation to the next.

School must engage and prepare students for the realities of their times.

Aran Levasseur wrote, “The best schools throughout history prepared their students for the social and economic realities of their time.” While watching over 700 TED talks in two years, I have witnessed great inventors, social activists, business owners, cause elevators, and thoughtful citizens. I have seen solutions seekers, problem finders, and connection makers. I have learned about societal issues, advancements in brain science, technological innovations, and global challenges.

Part of me thinks that the reason we have such talks and TED moments is because we need more of these heroes and opportunities. We need more creative solutions seekers and problem finders. We need more social activists and cause elevators. The talks are like advertisements for what we need more of.

And I’m not convinced that the traditional school structure – largely formatted to deliver departmentalized content knowledge – is the best means by which to develop and nurture the scale and shear numbers of engaged citizens that we need for the times in which we live. When traditional school works on a consumer framework – kids being receivers of information like radios to a broadcast tower – then the students get far too little practice exercising their muscles for problem finding, solutions seeking, empathic empowerment, and product creation.

If you want to develop soccer players, you facilitate the playing of soccer. If you want to develop violinists, you facilitate the playing of the violin. If you want creative solution producers, you facilitate the creative production of solutions. To real problems.

We don’t need many more “project” outputs that get thrown in the trashcan as soon as the grade is in the gradebook. We do need iterative prototypes that get discarded because the makers are learning from their mistakes as they create real solutions to real issues. I’d rather see my trashcan filled with early prototypes than finished school projects.

What doesn’t get thrown away is work that makes a real difference.

These projects are improving our world, not littering our trashcans:

There are countless more examples. But it’s not enough. More of a student’s day should be engaged with relevant issues that motivate their innate problem-solver genes. Our students are one of our most underutilized resources. They want to do work that matters. We must work to develop our profession as educators so that more feel comfortable facilitating such learning and growth for our young people. They are all smart in countless ways, and the bandwidth of wisdom that the world demands is much wider than the current bandwidth of knowledge transfer that too many schools are patterned on. Our young people are artists and makers and empathizers and solvers.

So, are we going to continue “manufacturing” consumers, or will we rise to our challenge and help grow creators and producers?

Maybe if we did, Janine di Giovanni would have fewer wars to cover.

Do you think I’ve taken the hypothesis too far? Well, maybe we should just try.

11 thoughts on “I’ll never be the same again. A reflection on transforming school from consumer to creator. #IDreamASchool

  1. Playing a little catch up on my reading, but thanks for the mention. We are trying to do so many things right, and I feel like we have so much still to do, but I love the energy of the journey. TED provides me the energy that comes from passionate people acting and thinking. One TED talk a day could be a nice cornerstone of every kids learning journey. Hoping that we are together in the same space again soon. Looking forward to share more.

    • Bob,

      For what it’s worth, I think what your school is doing is phenomenal!

      I can attest to the power of a TED each day – 3:00 to 20:00 on a topic to stir the imagination, grow more aware of what’s happening, and stretch my thinking. It’s a cornerstone of my personal learning that I hold very dear. It’s interesting that it’s “lecture,” but it makes all the difference in the world that I CHOOSE it myself.

      Jill and I used TED as a cornerstone of Synergy, too. It also showed great presentation styles.

      Hoping to be together in same space soon, too.

  2. The concepts you outline have been written about extensively since the neoliberal agenda of the Reagan Administration and the publication of a Nation at Risk in 1983. Good stuff Bo..if i could I would like urge you to look into Michel Foucault’s, Discipline and Punishment, Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed or Basil Berstein’s,’ Pedagogy, Symbolic Control, and Identity, to begin to theoretically situation your notions of consumption and more specifically control in education. If you want to read more contemporary analysis of consumptive education I would recommend, American Education and Corporations: The Free Market Goes to School, by Deron Boyles…he is a professor at Georgia State and is know nationally for his philosophical writings on the corporatization of American Education.

    • Thanks, Jeff. At the very core, I am saying that students should be given more space in school to ideate and create – and to create things that matter to more than just the teacher and the grade book. What do YOU think?

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  4. I love it, Bo — but here’s a bit of semantic pushback that I’ve personally be wrestling with: I’m walking away from the word “creator” when I describe the changes that I want to see in classrooms.

    Here’s why: Many teachers see that as nothing more than taking work that kids have always done — book reports, PowerPoint presentations, persuasive essays on pointless topics — and publishing them on the web.

    I think the word “contributors” makes the kind of shift that we really want more clear. I don’t want kids to simply create content — I want them to see themselves as people with the power to change the world.

    More importantly, they WANT to change the world. They WANT to make contributions beyond themselves — and with the proper use of digital tools and spaces, they CAN change the world.

    I hear that in your post — you are probably nodding your head, right?

    If so, how do you feel about ditching the word “create” and replacing it with the word “contribute?”


    • Bill, I so appreciate your comment, and I did nod my head – just as you predicted. I completely see your viewpoint, and I understand what you’re saying. However, I just cannot ditch “create.” I think it’s a both/and, not an either/or. I believe that school should work toward facilitating students’ creations as well as their contributions. Is there a word that encompasses both connotations?

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