What's New in School?
It's that old, sweet phrase - learn by doing
Ignore the rather obnoxious title of this article, “So You Want to Raise a Wunderkind: The Tech Parent’s Guide to Alt Education,” (behind paywall at The Information) as well as its overhyped attitude. The article looks at alternative schools and programs inspired by what Silicon Valley parents want for their children and largely funded by those same parents the way that startups are funded. The article looks at:
an exploding category of alternative primary and high schools, labs, fellowships and intensive summer programs designed to groom future innovators. The overarching ethos of these alt schools—which range in tuition as well as available scholarships and financial support—is to learn by doing.
Dewey’s essential idea, which once defined progressive education years ago as it now defines maker education, is central to understanding how children learn best. It’s just not central to public education today. The article continues:
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The objective at schools and programs like these is less about learning the basics of code or the foundations of an enduring business than it is about stoking problem solving, promoting failure and iteration, and pushing the value of agency over conformance.
The author, Diana Kapp, who doesn’t seem to know enough about maker education to mention it explicitly, describes in similar ways what’s new about these alternative schools that want to create the innovators of the future. They engage students in meaningful projects. They encourage students to define their own path for learning.
One of the schools on the list is Brightworks School in San Francisco, which was started by Gever Tulley. He originally started offering Tinkering School as a two-week summer program. Its popularity led him to develop Brightworks, which opened in 2011. Brightworks “creates meaningful learning experiences through hands-on, project-based experiential learning.”
On the Brightworks School website is this part of a mission statement:
The events of the last two years have highlighted to us that the traditional model of learning does not serve learners who will become the leaders of the future. With all the issues that we are facing as a society, from the worldwide pandemic, continued political unrest, the lasting impacts of systemic racism, and the damages of climate change, our children need learning communities that foster their sense of agency, community, critical thinking, and possibility. And our world needs needs voracious, self-directed learners who see tough problems as puzzles.
I applaud parents who don’t accept the traditional school for their children. They don’t accept the status quo. They seek out new schools like Brightworks so their children will flourish.
Yet why not advocate for “learn by doing” for all students? Why not push for changes in public education so that maker education becomes central to what students do in school and how they develop? Why not imagine how more children could flourish if their teachers fostered creativity and critical thinking in place of regimented learning and testing? For all the “tough problems” out there, this is one our society continues to ignore. First-class education is available for a few, while everybody else gets economy class or worse. Perhaps they are flying on different airlines that go to different places.
Maker education as a cause is important because “learning by doing” is not widely available for all children and it should be. These new schools show why it’s critical.
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