In these weird, terrible and wonderful times, I wanted to share my thoughts from an education design perspective. I believe we have reached a crossroads in how and why we learn that is of historical significance. How do I know this?
On Wednesday, September 12th 2001 I arrived to greet my Year 12 class. The first glance we shared will stay with me forever as we all knew our world would never be the same again. For the next 3 weeks, we spent our lessons not covering the syllabus but talking about life, dreams, cruelty and unfairness. The end of year exam results for that class broke all records and each of those students went on to become accomplished human beings, living full lives with loving families. I hang onto the notion that for a brief moment of time we experienced pedagogy perfection, Socratic bliss, Sullivan’s miracle that catapulted learning, personal growth and selfless goals. The students were working harder, asking deeper questions, being more diligent and more creative with their answers.
Then it became clear. These young people had been involved in what psychologists call an ‘intervention’- an activity used to modify behaviour, emotional state, or feelings. The only difference is psychologists would plan them whilst the events of September 11th were thrust upon them. Normality had been disrupted in such a dramatic way that it had caused a mirror to be held up to their current ways, thoughts and habits. It had jolted the students into seeking order amongst the chaos and yearning meaning from the terror. They wanted to ‘do’ something!
You see, we do such a great job in society of lowering our expectations of what young people can actually achieve. I ask you to stop reading this and Google ‘What expectations should I have of my teenager?....... Still, in 2021 a teenager that makes their own bed is a hero. Did you know that two hundred years ago that same teenager could be a captain of a ship circumnavigating the globe, be a leading figure in industry or publishing great works of Art. So many things have dramatically improved for young people over those two centuries but our expectations of them aren’t one of them.
OK, I’ll speed up to my point. Covid-19 has led to rapid change. The way we interact, do business, travel has been completely rocked but on the other hand we are spending more time with loved ones, reaching out to family and friends around the globe and sharing kind thoughts. Normality has been dramatically broken just as it had in 2001. We are questioning our habits, making new choices and we are doing that around the world together. It is leading us to a new crossroads.
We are envisioning our future, asking questions of the status quo, gaining the facts for ourselves rather than reacting to hearsay. Most importantly we are wanting to ‘do’ something, to act purposefully, to join a common effort that needs your individual strengths in a united front.
This is a compelling message to young people that will now be questioning quick fixes and easy wins. It’s a compelling message to educators that want more than pdf handouts and ticking off standards. I don’t know what will happen post-Covid but I do know what education can look like. It can fulfil a young person’s biological urge to find their place and make sense of this new world. It can provide an educator with the energy and commitment to seek deeper learning opportunities and creative adventures.
We can provide the potential of who we might become if we transcend this chaos to build on the love and understanding demonstrated globally over the past few weeks. That’s pretty cool!