I am always on the hunt for new and innovative ways to help my students learn. Not for an end in and of itself; new and innovative do not always denote effective. Heck, I am a classicist; nothing is more evident than how the old becomes new again. Education is terrific for this kind of circus act.
That said, I have always been on the hunt for ways to decentralize my classrooms and shift the responsibility of learning to my students. We teachers can cajole and inspire, but we are limited to this end as we really only have about 1 hour per day, 5 days a week, to get our students to care. So what may seem new and innovative may simply be more about a point of view than an actual trend.
Project Zero, at Harvard, is in its 50th year. Many exciting pedagogical ideas have been born from this space over that time span and many of the cutting edge ideas in education started there and are continuing to spread. For this reason I am heading up there with some colleagues this week to get a closer look. I signed up for several mini-courses – as a participant, you are slated to take four during your visit over the course of the week, that is one a day from Wednesday through Saturday.
I am going to be logging my thoughts over the course of the week reflecting on what I have learned and new ideas that are cropping up as well, so stay tuned for that.
To help get us started, we were asked to post a picture to Twitter (with the hashtag #PZC2017) that “captures an important quality of your context”. As someone who tends to be a visual learner and thinker, this would seem an easy task but it proved the opposite. So many possibilities and, essentially, I cannot generate the meme for my context as easily as one would think. I did settle on a monotype by one of my favorite artists, William Blake. Yes, that William Blake. The guy was such an oddity and an eccentric, in my opinion. I just love his whacked-out world and his body of work. He lived in London his entire life, but his work was extreme in its visionary qualities and embraced ways of life that far exceeded his seemingly limited grasp.
He was considered very odd in his day, some would even say a touch mad. I chose an image he made about Isaac Newton – someone he disagreed with vehemently about regarding a general philosophy on life itself. Although both are God-fearing men, Newton’s scientific approach was regarded as sterile by Blake, who by extension was critical of the Enlightenment. He felt that there was an overemphasis on the material and this would lead to a destruction of the spiritual.
I chose this image for a couple of reasons – most of which didn’t have a rational set of principles to it. Yes, I love Blake’s visual work – his treatment of both his subject and his technique are uniquely his. Basically, it looks striking to me. There’s more, of course. Most would think, at first glance, that Blake was praising Newton – as we would tend to hold that general opinion today in our modern society, regarding science as the savior of mankind. Yet, his harsh criticism, which is only apparent when you look more deeply at Blake and his views, is a reminder that the Enlightenment was not inevitable. More importantly, it opens up questions about its legacy – was this development completely positive for the world or even Western civilization?
For me, it is a reminder to question everything but also an exhortation for balance. Today, we seem to be running off to make our students more like robots that can perform or throw at them what we think are the “practical” arts; subjects with immediate payoffs. We don’t really develop their sense of self, their depth of imagination, or their play with creativity. Regardless of which side of this debate you come down on, Blake certainly did not possess a dull imagination and the fact that he got there almost by abandoning a complete dedication to the altar of the intellect is something of importance.
At least, I would like to think so.