"If you could create a school just for you..."

I just returned from a week in Ireland with my father and my soon-to-be-11-year-old son, Maxwell. Given the country's literary history, it was no surprise that his love for storytelling and performance was in full bloom, as you can see from the photos above.

Over dinner one night, I asked him, "If you could create a school just for you, what would it be like?"

He was intrigued--even excited--by the question. And, perhaps predictably, he described a slight variation on his current school experience: More time for reading and recess, less time for Math and Science, etc.

"What kind of school would you create?" he asked me.

"If I were building a school for you?"

He nodded.

"Well, what if, when you arrived in the morning, the first thing you did was an improv game to get warmed up for the day? Like Zip Zap Zop, or Night at the Museum, for example.”

He loved this idea.

”Then, what if you and your classmates worked on writing a play? It would be something that you would perform for a public audience at the end of the quarter or the semester. After some writing time, you could all share your work and give each other feedback about what you would want to see more of and maybe what could look a little different. After that, what if you performed some of that writing to figure out what works and what could be better?"

This all sounded wonderful.

"From there, you could do Math--"

The word "Math" wiped the smile from Maxwell’s face.

"I'm thinking that you'll need to have some sort of budget to produce this play, so you could learn your Math--fractions, algebra, etc.--by doing budget calculations and adjustments. You could also measure the dimensions of the performance area and the volumes of the props."

The smile had returned to his face.

"And let's say you were writing that stage version of Raiders of the Lost Ark you're dying to perform as a play..."

(And, I must confess, that I would die to see.)

"For Social Studies--"

He finished my sentence for me: "You could learn all about World War II!"

Needless to say, Maxwell was in love with the idea of this school.

"So tell me something," I continued. "Why do you think school is the way it is now, instead of what you and I just talked about?"

He didn't need much time to consider his answer.

"Well, some people are very stern, and they believe that if you're having fun then you can't be learning."

"Why would that be?"

"Because," he said, "they probably think that if you're having fun that you must be distracted."

He emphasized that not all teachers are like this. Still, the march from period to period--Math to Social Studies to Science, and so on--has him frequently looking at the clock and wondering, When will this be over?

The school I described might not work for everyone, and it might not be scalable in obvious ways. Those are both legitimate concerns.

But if we want kids to experience transformational learning, shouldn't we start with a vision of students having fun, learning, and tapping into a sense of flow?


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Christian Talbot