Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Lighting of a Fire

"Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire."
                                                                                               -William Butler Yeats

I've just returned home from the "youth scholarship" gathering at the Bioneers conference, and I am overflowing with inspiration. There's a fire that's been lit within me — a passion for creating empowering, relevant, solutions- and action-oriented models for education for as many children/youth as possible — and tonight added a noteworthy dose of fuel to the flames.

First of all, wow.  Young people in their teenage years can bring SUCH refreshing creativity into this world. I've spent the last few hours sitting in council with roughly 40 young people (plus a few fantastic older folks who brought these bright minds to Bioneers), almost all between 12-18 years of age, sharing our stories and (if called to speak) picking up the talking stick to share what is most inspiring us, right now.

The answers they gave!!! The enthusiasm they brought! It just lit the whole tent up, for me. I couldn't keep myself from smiling. Witnessing the level of critical thinking, and the humor, and the honesty, and the diversity of talents and gifts they bring... I really couldn't keep myself from smiling, the whole time. It was a reminder of what's possible from teenagers, even in our current educational climate.

I had the great fortune of speaking with some students and teachers from the Jefferson County Open School (JSOC) in Denver, Colorado, and WOW. You readers of this blog don't know this yet, but recently I've been drafting my "vision statement" for the "school for solutionaries" (working title) that I want to start as soon as I feel ready to (it'll likely be somewhere in the next 5-10 years, following a diversity of experiences in different educational settings) . . . and a great deal of what's already happening at JCOS bears an uncanny resemblance to this "education system of my dreams" that I've been putting into writing.

Students having tremendous ownership over their learning process. Travel being an integral part of education. Rites of passage being integrated into the structure of the school. The school being K-12 (and in their case pre-K, actually!), and actively encouraging intergenerational learning. Creating abundant opportunities for students to take leadership positions.

All of this and SO more is already happening at JSOC — and I can't even tell you how much joy it brings me to know that such an experience is actually happening. To converse with a number of the students from the school tonight, and hear directly from them the level of joy/gratitude they feel towards their education... what a gift!

Sure, this is "just one school", a rather unusual exception in the overall picture of what's happening in public education across the US. But it's also true that what's been happening there since 1970 is REAL, affecting the lives of thousands of students (all of whom are going on to generate profound ripple effects in the world, arguably in a very positive way)... and you can't discount the incredible significance of that simply because it's "not the norm". To me, this represents the emergence of a new system that's taking into account numerous trends which mainstream education as a whole has not yet adapted to — and if, for a moment, we view mainstream public education itself as a gigantic living organism, this could very well be the emergence of a higher form of life. Forgive me if that seems a bit out there; I tend to view all "big-picture" change through the lens of living systems.

I'm going to close now and go to sleep, but not before putting the following question out there:

(1) What will it take to MAKE such open-ended schooling "the norm" (or rather, an option that's available to millions of children)?
(2) What conditions/circumstances have made possible the emergence (and continued existence of) a school like JCOS?

I obviously don't have immediate answers to these questions. I'm putting them out there for now as placeholders — as questions I want to return to, and which I'd be thrilled to receive input on from none other than YOU!

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