Sunday, June 3, 2012

The "Passion-Driven School:" Two great arguments that go great together.

There's an interesting connection between two blog posts I've read this morning. One is about student aspirations.

"What we need is 'a shift in emphasis from ‘raising aspirations’ to ‘keeping aspirations on track,'" says Annie Murphy Paul in her post, What’s the Best Way to Encourage Kids?

Turns out most kids start their school life with pretty high aspirations for what they want to do and be; it's the top-down, factory model of schooling that discourages kids from following their dreams.

I wanted to be a naturalist when I was in Elementary first year at middle school made me think Science was boring and arcane and had nothing to do with staring into tide pools or knowing the habits of birds. I remember doing litmus tests with those little strips. Testing for acid or base didn't connect to anything that had any importance to me.

Which brings us to Larry Ferlazzo's blog post, which discusses new evidence of the importance of building on prior knowledge. From the study:
"...prior knowledge changes how ...images are processed, allowing thousands of them to be transferred from the whiteboard of short-term memory into the bank vault of long-term memory, where they are stored with remarkable detail."

Encouraging kids to pursue the dreams of what they want to be or do (even if it is a 6-year-old wanting to be a fireman) means building on what they know. Why do you want to be a fireman?  I love the big extendable ladder. Wow, how does that ladder work, do you think? And so on.

These two concepts together lead us to a better argument for passion-driven learning -- arguments that are based on research as well as the necessity of refocusing the purpose of school. Rather than teaching content, we need to discover who these children are, and devote time, support and resources to helping them become the people then want to be.


  1. In any given classroom there may be anywhere from 15 - 25 kids. Each kid has a different home life; a different school life; a different personality. Of course teachers in those rooms try to keep track of what each kid is interested in and of course they try to make connections to the content that they are teaching.

    But teachers (like everyone else) are not miracle-workers. They can't keep track of each kid's developmentally ever-changing "passion". Even parents can't keep track of their own two or three children's obsessions. And heaven forbid the teacher focus on last week's enthusiasm when trying to make the connection to proper apostrophe use or fractions!

    Furthermore, any individual teacher may not know much about a student's specific passion. A student who is a pianist, for example, may be interested in and by the math aspect of music, but the math teacher may be a strong left-brained thinker who doesn't care for music. Besides pointing out that math and music link in many ways, how much more do you expect the teacher to do?

    Your emphasis on so-called passion-driven education is nice but impractical.

  2. All I can tell you, Nancy, as I have before, is that there are schools that do it. You've asked for lists of schools; we've given you lists of schools.

    You have the limitations of a person who can't see beyond how things are currently being done.

    Things are going really badly right now in our schools. People who teach in our 2-year colleges, where a great majority of our Mt. View graduates go after HS report that the students are not prepared.

    Want to continue this way?

    Or maybe think outside the public school box?

    You say it can't be done. I say it has to be done. I tell you that it IS being done. You don't like giving power over to kids, apparently. I think it'd be the best thing that could happen.

  3. =Of course teachers in those rooms try to keep track of what each kid is interested in and of course they try to make connections to the content that they are teaching.=
    Really? In the traditional model I don't see this being done. Most people / students I know who attended traditional public school do not believe their teachers had a clue what they were passionate about. This doesn't happen because of a conversation in passing or listening to the kids in the halls. It comes from having this as a deliberate part of the vision and school model.

    As Lisa Cooley said, there are indeed school models that do this (i.e. Schoolwide Enrichment, Nuestra Escuela, Big Picture, Democratic). As I've suggested before, if you want to engage in conversations like this, you need to educate yourself and go visit schools that are doing this work. When you say something can't be done that IS being done, it isn't fair to those following the conversation. You haven't done the real research to substantiate your views or engage in the conversation.

    Perhaps rather than dig your heals in the sand in these conversations, open your mind and ask where and how these ideas have been done. You have a lot to learn and once you do you will be pleasantly surprised to discover what is possible.

  4. I would add, ask yourself what problems our approach would solve, and see why we are adamant that it be part of public education.

    I know we seem uncompromising...but that's only because...we are.