I am, in the modern meaning of the word, highly educated. I am among the slightly less than 1 in 10 Canadians who hold a Masters Degree. I’ve spent twenty years in schools as a student.
However, in all of those years of school I can recall only a few things learned that are truly important and useful in my life. Recent statistics show a growing disengagement of students with their schooling. Thus, we can assume that they are not finding school relevant to their lives.
A Small List of Important Things I Don’t Know or Did Not Learn in School
How to build a house.
How to fix an appliance.
How an engine works.
The species of trees and plants in my backyard.
How to run a business.
How to manage my finances.
How to engage people in change work.
How to grow a garden.
How to look after small animals.
A deep understanding of electricity.
How to live in a sustainable manner.
How to find, meet, and predict the coming needs of my community.
This list is small and just a modest example of the things that school didn’t teach me. However, I believe that each of the items listed are integral to a true education because each is integral to student independence. In other words – learning about these items will allow our children to grow up to be truly ‘free’.
Please join us as we build a school of relevance at Headwaters Academy.
“The ideas… are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones.” – John Maynard Keyes, 1936
When we started to build the ideal school we asked ourselves “how do children learn best?” We made this list without consideration for the way schools currently look. We wanted to break away because we could see, quite obviously, that what ‘is’ in schools is not what ‘should be’. Big ideas had to re-thought:
Sorting children by birth date. Who ever said that children learn and grow in a standardized way based on their age?
Putting our school in a major population centre. This is definitely the most convenient for the adults but how can children connect with nature when it is not outside the door?
Inviting the community back in to our school and our children back in to the community. Why were children removed from the mentors in their communities in the first place? (the answer to this, should you research it, will surprise you!)
Encouraging our students to run their own businesses. Why should this literacy, learning, and experience be only the domain of the adults?
We also decided on daily physical education, daily outdoor education, and very different approaches to music, French, and the arts. We invite you to come join the conversation today and help your child escape the ideas of the past.
“What about earbuds for the movies on the airplane?”
“What about iPads for the trip from the airport to our house?” [it is a long drive…]
I’ve just returned to Bermuda from a trip to Ontario with eight students. As per so many trips over the last eight years the above conversation played out. And as per so many trips there was a massive benefit to having students disconnect. On the airplane the students played cards, read, played chess with each other, talkedto each other, and even started conversations with fellow passengers (I know, it’s hard to imagine talking on an airplane these days!). The stewardess commented on how well behaved, engaged, and polite my students were… I don’t think this is necessarily because they are any more polite than others; I think that is a reflection of them actually being engaged in their world rather than stuck in a virtual world.
On car trips the children literally sang songs and, for a change, looked out the windows and surmised who might live at that farm, or what that building is for, etc. When we were at the rental house they played outside, built snowforts, and even went ‘ice mining’. Inside they never touched the couches and instead chose to perfect their robots (we were in Ontario for a robotics competition) or volunteer to come cook meals with me.
In short, the students never missed their electronics. If there was an electronic device available (such as at Pearson airport on our departure, complete with its million iPads) they of course were mesmerized and drawn back to its power. But they all, without exception, thanked me for the no electronics rule and vowed to avoid their insta-feeds when they returned. I have my doubts about how long this vow will last – but at least, for four days only, they had a chance to be disconnected, or, as I see it, truly free.
We cannot ignore the wave of technology that our children and students live with, hence the whole robotics program that I lead here in Bermuda. However, we are also making a terrible mistake when our children are more connected to their devices than nature. Thus, a trip to Ontario included a day in the woods at Highlands Nordic and purposefully renting a home outside of the city limits where the children had acres to play on. It isn’t technology itself that is limiting our children – it is an incredible tool. It is the ability of the technology to become the social network, to replace creativity, and to stifle wonder that is the problem. Some new friends brought their very young son by to see the robots and I had the opportunity to accompany him on his explorations. He walked up to any team whose robot looked interesting and asked “can I see it work?” His ability to engage people around technology, rather than the technology engaging the people, was a clear demonstration the change we need: prioritizing people and relationships before technology.