“It’s not sexy but it has teeth”

As we work to converge to “an idea worth spreading” we are still determining the unit of change that will have a long-lasting impact in improving education.   Many of us in the group believe that education needs to be improved but we question at what level should we attack this problem.  Should we address it at a student, teacher, principal, district or systemic level?  We know we need to empower somebody or something in this process to make a change but who should be our target?  Once we figure out our entry point then we need to match the resources we have at TED to make this change stick so when we reunite one year from now we can see incremental change from how students are learning today to an ideal we have yet to define.

As a social entrepreneur I have been given a blank slate to create both after school programs (L.A. and Boston) and a high school (Chicago) from scratch but something at a systematic level has made me create programs that look more like the status quo than towards an ideal model.  We acknowledge in our group there are many great pockets of successful schools that empower students to have an impact in their own education.  But if there are pockets of success at empowering students in various places then why has it been so hard to replicate at scale?  This is definitely something worth looking into more deeply.  I think Sir Ken Robinson did a great job of this in his highly viewed TED talk and perhaps we could investigate this further in the future.  For example, for my high school to be defined as successful we need our students to do well on the ACT and get high percentages of our students to very selective colleges.  To make this happen our students need to learn certain skill sets through a predetermined set of classes that colleges across the country observes as “core classes”.  The definition of success imposed on us by standardized test scores and college admission requirements make any kind of change at a systematic level too challenging to solve at 10pm meetings, after 2-3 hours of socializing, and 10 hours of mind-blowing conversations– so we moved onto an easier target.  Thinking of a solution within this system makes me feel like we are Tom Cruise in the movie “The Firm” and we see that it is too hard to challenge the system so we need to look for ways out without changing systemic issues.

We spent most of our time in two camps who believe that our group (and the newly introduced TED-ED) can influence change through the empowerment at either the teacher or student level.   At the teacher level, we can empower teachers to move from a more traditional direct instruction model of teaching to a more student centered, non directive or group investigation approach.  This is a subtle shift that can be made within the system.  To do this we discussed how we can gather TED and TED-like content that would serve as our hook or source of inspiration for our students to actively engage in the learning process.  We would also supplement each video with instructional materials and general directions to guide instructors through the non-directive approach of instruction based off of inspiring content.  It makes sense to me that we are offering this as a solution because there is no doubt that we are thinking at high levels in discussions with other TED participants after each session.  I think the hard work comes in developing the skills and thought processes of synthesis and evaluation that now comes naturally to us now into 14 – 18 year young adults or even younger students.

Starting the empowerment process at the teacher level, through empowering teachers to shift their instruction to a more non-directive approach, could go a long way to sustainably empowering students to impact education without challenging the current systematic constraints.   If teachers make this subtle shift then students will have more of a say in what they learn, how fast they learn and how they can express their newly acquired knowledge or thought processes in formats that are most meaningful to them. This isn’t a revolutionary concept but it has the simplicity of many great reforms or revolutions.

This is where we are at and I know that our group may be frustrated by either the lack of ambition or scale but as Tom Cruise states at the end of The Firm, as he needed to find a way out of a system without changing it, “it’s not sexy but it has teeth.”

Looking forward to our continued work today.

2 thoughts on ““It’s not sexy but it has teeth””

  1. Encouraging students to change within an unchanged system may cause students to be further alienated by the system.

    If enough brave souls screw up the courage to imagine a different model ( like BrightWorks), the system WILL change. The will of humanity is powerful. Take inspiration from the youth in the Middle East. Nothing can stop an idea if enough people stand behind it.


  2. Spot On! After – school and will you consider the funding of art, design and science fairs? This is how my own start up institute walked into schools last year and this year supported by the international Brain Awareness Campaign!!!!

    What we’ve learned thus far:

    1) Kids love learning about their brains! They show complete engagement with neuroscience if you give them space to show how artists, designers and scientists use their brains to explore the world! Context, hands on, experimentation — with the soft goal of ‘fun’!

    2) LAUSD could use all the help it can get.

    Let’s meet up. I”m in L. A.


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