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Archive for November, 2011

Do schools make us smart? smarter? What is more important: intelligence or ingenuity?  If you had to choose, which would you?

Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, recently wrote that Jobs was more ingenious than he was conventionally intelligent.   He argues that Bill Gates – that other guy – had more raw intelligence but that Jobs, like Einstein and others before him, stood at the intersection of the humanities and science.  Ingenuity here means “practical creativity”, it means seeing the relationship between disparate things that others don’t see, the connections.

It’s not that ingenuity is better than intelligence, they are just different.  The world needs all kinds.

What is an educational experience to do with these?  How can the experience in schools support both styles?  There’s no secret today that there are many kinds of learners.  Jobs’ insight is said to come from “experiential wisdom” – that’s learning which comes from doing, from acting in the world, learning from errors, trial and error- like all the great inventors did.

Of course, Jobs dropped out of college.  School was a limitation for him.  It didn’t allow for him to function, dare we say “excel”, the way he he was born to.  The reality is that we are all “born this way” – the way we are.  We need schools that recognize this, that allow each student to be themself, to learn as they need to, to think, create, invent, explore and solve problems.  Some may not even need school the way it is typically conceived of today.

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Educators can learn a lot from the parenting author Wendy Mogel. She’s a clinical psychologist who took what she learned from listening to parents and their children and has written two books that basically tell parents to “chillax”.

On the heels of the Race to Nowhere phenomenon, stories of helicopter parents, long lines to get children into the “best” preschool, parents vying for the preferred second grade teacher like it will matter for the rest of their 7 year old’s life, and so on…. Mogel tells it like it is: none of this matters.  She understands that the problems created by all this stressing out, for parents and their children, is just that: problems created, manufactured.  All could have been just fine if left alone.

Schools, teachers, educators of all sorts are complicit in this game, this destructive culture.  How often do teachers tell parents that it doesn’t matter  which  teacher they get?  Or that it’s okay if their child doesn’t get straight As?  Educators need to begin to deflate this myth.  We need to help parents appreciate that their children are not, as Mogel puts it, “your masterpieces”, nor are they a reflection of you.  Mistakes are what we learn from, where wisdom comes from; and our present culture of perfection and one-upmanship to get into the “few” good college spots is harming our children as well as presenting a picture of the world that is not real.

Mogel echoes the spirit of Ken Robinson when she tells parents that your children will be what they will be and that if your daughter or son is meant to be a baker it’s a waste of your time to try to make a doctor out of them.  More than just a waste: you’ll make both of you miserable in the process, turn them into unhappy adults who will, what?, make the world around them unhappy (because that’s what unhappy people do) and contribute more misery to the world.  Yes, there are a lot of dominoes that will fall if you try to make a doctor out of  baker.

Educators need to step  up with this message.  Let each child discover their own passions and skills and let them bring that best self to the world.  What follows then is amazing – isn’t that the world we all want to live in?

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