Imagine if we used our incredible capacities to create a world in which every person had a deep understanding of their own unique talents. Imagine if we built systems that lifted us up instead of keeping us down. Imagine if we embraced our diversities rather than running from them. We have come to a point in our history in which continuing to do what we have always done is no longer an option. We must do better. It begins, as it always does, with each of us taking a stand.
Note 2 (On Creativity)
Creativity is a process, which means it includes a relationship between two main aspects that bounce off each other: generating ideas and evaluating ideas
Creativity involves originality
Creativity involves making judgments of value. What is considered to be of value depends on the nature and the purpose of the work—if something is useful, beautiful, valid, or sustainable
Creativity is call and response: one idea can catalyze a multitude more in the minds of other people
Creativity, like the brain or muscle, changes with use. If we neglect our creative capacities, they lie dormant. If we use them properly, they grow and develop.
Creativity—the ability to generate new ideas and to apply them in practice
Every generation lives through its own unique set of circumstances, and in doing so leaves indelible marks for future generations to make sense of. The unique set of circumstances we find ourselves navigating are in part born from the crosscurrents of three global forces: demography, technology, and ideology.
Despite our unprecedented material comforts, life in the twenty-first century is proving too much to bear for growing numbers of people. Many of the problems we are experiencing are spiritual. I mean that in the sense of being in good spirits or poor spirits: of feeling purposeful and fulfilled, or nihilistic and despairing. While the majority of people are materially better off than ever before, a large portion are caught in a global epidemic of depression and anxiety.
It is often said that we have to “save the planet.” I’m not so sure that’s true—the planet has a long time left to run until it crashes into the Sun. What we mean when we talk about saving the planet is that we have to save our own existence on it. That much is certain. If we continue to ravage the Earth at the current rate, we face no future as a species. Extinctions are a very real part of nature, but at this rate humans will join an elite and unfortunate club of species directly responsible for their own extinction.
Note 6 (IQ)
in 1912 German psychologist William Stern proposed implementing a formal calculation of mental age divided by chronological age multiplied by 100 to determine a specific IQ figure.
Ask most people about intelligence and the conversation usually turns to academic ability and IQ (Intelligence Quotient). “Academic” is often used interchangeably with “intelligent,” but while academic ability is an important example of intelligence, it is far from being the whole of it.
Academic work is a mode of analysis that can be applied to anything. It refers to intellectual work that is mainly theoretical or scholarly, rather than practical or applied. Working academically generally focuses on three areas: propositional knowledge — facts about what is the case, for example, “George Washington was president of the United States of America from 1789 to 1797”; critical analysis — the impact of Washington’s presidency and the nature of his leadership; and desk studies — which mainly involve reading and writing, processing and presenting facts, and critical analysis.
Note 7 (IQ and Eugenics)
The concept of IQ was eventually picked up by members of the eugenics movement, who used it as grounds for their belief in selective breeding and population control. Their argument was that the IQ test could be used to identify people with low intelligence and stop them from reproducing. It caught on—some states in the USA legalized the sterilization of people deemed to have low intelligence, and eugenics was a key tactic of the Nazis’ Final Solution.
Note 8 (Differences between learning, school)
There are a few terms that are often confused or used interchangeably—“learning,” “education,” “training,” and “school”—but there are important differences between them. Learning is the process of acquiring new skills and understanding. Education is an organized system of learning. Training is a type of education that is focused on learning specific skills. A school is a community of learners: a group that comes together to learn with and from each other.
Note 9 (Role of School)
There should be three cultural priorities for schools: to help students understand their own cultures, to understand other cultures, and to promote a sense of cultural tolerance and coexistence.
Note 10 (Separation of areas/subjects)
The conventional curriculum is based on a collection of separate subjects. These are prioritized according to beliefs around the limited understanding of intelligence we discussed in the previous chapter, as well as what is deemed to be important later in life. The idea of “subjects” suggests that each subject, whether mathematics, science, art, or language, stands completely separate from all the other subjects. This is problematic. Mathematics, for example, is not defined only by propositional knowledge; it is a combination of types of knowledge, including concepts, processes, and methods as well as propositional knowledge. This is also true of science, art, and languages, and of all other subjects. It is therefore much more useful to focus on the concept of disciplines rather than subjects.
Note 11 (Traditional schooling)
Traditional methods of formal education are often compared to an industrial factory. In this analogy, children are the commodity being manufactured in a linear process along a conveyor belt; teachers are the factory workers, each responsible for their own section; and along the way, there are a series of quality control checks. The whole process is routine, predefined, and regulated.
In traditional schools, children are taught in specific age groups—all of the seven-year-olds together in one group, separate from all of the nine-year-olds. From an administrative point of view, this makes sense. It also makes sense from the perspective of industrial priorities.
However, when it comes to what and how children actually learn, segregation by age makes little sense at all. When children of different ages learn together, they can be grouped by their stage of mastery rather than their chronological age. The younger students can benefit from the relative sophistication of the older ones, who reinforce their own learning by helping the younger ones. In bringing a variety of ages together, the experience, knowledge, and ability of each is enhanced. It also provides opportunities for children to nurture each other, developing empathy, responsibility, and patience.
Despite the astronomical changes in circumstances between the Industrial Revolution and the twenty-first century, formal systems of education by and large remain structurally the same. Students and teachers spend huge amounts of their time in conditions that have been designed for the mass production of a standardized product, the student, that by design focuses on output and yield. While industrial farms prioritize quantity, size, and cost over quality, health, and natural ecosystems, we prioritize test data, attendance, and college admission over well-being, creativity, and learning. While industrial farms pump crops and livestock with vast amounts of antibiotics, we prescribe mood-stabilizing and attention-enhancing drugs to children to compensate for the very real levels of anxiety, stress, and disengagement they are experiencing.
The purpose of the schedule is to facilitate learning. Rather than rotating teachers and students through the day from room to room and subject to subject, the schedule should be sensitive to the needs and requirements of each activity. If a business required that its entire workforce stop what it was doing every forty minutes to move to a different room and do something else entirely, the business would rapidly grind to a halt. When you think of it in those terms, it seems ridiculous that the majority of schools put their students and teachers through this bizarre routine. Not only is it a strange concept to expect human beings to stop what they are doing and physically move rooms at the sound of a bell, it is also counterintuitive for learning.
Note 12 (Playing)
Play is not only a fundamental aspect of learning, but also a child’s natural expression of it and a critical aspect of developing curiosity and imagination. In the case of play, the most effective action a school can take is to stand aside and let it happen. Children do not need lessons in how to play, nor do they need to be overly surveilled or scheduled—they simply require the space and freedom to do what they naturally do best.
8 Core competencies
The concept of disciplines brings us to a better starting point when planning the curriculum, which is to ask what students should know and be able to do as a result of their education. The four purposes above suggest eight core competencies that, if properly integrated into education, will equip students who leave school to engage in the personal, cultural, economic, and social challenges they will inevitably face in their lives. These competencies are curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, and citizenship
Communication—the ability to express thoughts and feelings clearly and confidently in a range of media and forms
Criticism—the ability to analyze information and ideas and to form reasoned arguments and judgments
Collaboration—the ability to work constructively with others
The human adventure can only be carried forward through complex forms of collaboration. Without the ability to work with others we would stand no chance against the challenges we collectively face. Fortunately, human beings are social creatures: we live and learn in the company of others. This is true in most situations, but seldom cultivated in school environments. Too often, young people learn in groups but not as groups.
Compassion—the ability to empathize with others and to act accordingly
Composure—the ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance
Citizenship—the ability to engage constructively with society and to participate in the processes that sustain it