A couple of worthwhile ruminations here. By rumination I don’t mean matters of small, passing, and primarily intellectual import. The life of the mind sometimes takes a beating, trivialized as not quite as exciting or real as the life of the body. I disagree, as, I think writer Susan Cain (see below) would, too. In fact, I mean these are ideas we should take seriously, consider deeply, glean insights from, and strive to incorporate into our lives and the way we think about people and the world. It takes an active effort to meet ideas like these half way and an open-minded willingness to be moved by them.
INTROVERSION AND EXTROVERSION
The first is Susan Cain and a Ted talk she gave about the value of introversion. Introverts, too, have been taking a beating lately. In education especially, as the recent drive for collaboration, teamwork, and group decision making – all powerful creative tools – reaches a fevered pitch. More than anything, I hear Susan Cain reminding us to stay open-minded and positive about different cognitive styles, and to regain our balanced center in issues of workplace productivity. Introversion and extroversion, active teamwork and contemplative isolation, collaboration and autonomy – they all have their valued place. The better functioning schools of the future – like the most creative organizations today – will know and trust this.
And this follows on the heals of an article I circulated previously. Susan Cain’s New York Times piece called The Rise of the New Groupthink, January 15, 2012 (linked below.) Again, Cain is not suggesting that teamwork and collaboration are ineffective or misguided or should be dispensed with. Nor am I. In posting these I am arguing that in the current climate of education, introversion is vastly undervalued – and in some cases demonized.
DENNIS LITTKY ON SCHOOLING
The second is a recent interview from an online professional community called The Future of Education. Steve Hargadon, the community’s moderator, interviewed Littky on February 24, 2012, and the audio file is available below. Dr. Littky talks about his Big Picture Learning organization, a large-scale innovation in education that he started with his colleague, Dr. Elliot Washor, in 1995 to make schooling more responsive to the notion of relevance, authenticity, and individual student interest. The Big Picture Learning idea is an amazing development and it has spawned dozens of schools nationally and internationally.
The most amazing thing to me about the story of Dennis Littky and the quest for better schooling is the origin of his particular set of ideas. In 1981 Littky became principal at Thayer Junior/Senior High School in New Hampshire. Thayer, by any meaningful measure, was a failing school. Littky writes briefly about it in his book The Big Picture, and Susan Kammeraad-Campbell writes at length about it in her book, Doc; The Story of Dennis Littky and His Fight for a Better School. The changes Littky and his team were to make over the ensuing years were big and fundamental and effective – and simple. Having read his book and listened to his interview, what strikes me is that his take on education and what works for students is not rooted in arcane knowledge or revelation, not a spontaneous act of brilliance. In fact, when faced with a failing school, disengaged students, and disheartened teachers, Littky made the obvious choice: focus on community, real world relevance, and the interests of students. What could make more sense?
In the interview, you will hear the interviewer, Steve Hargadon say with some incredulity – “It all seems so logical” – and Littky’s response is appropriately incredulous – “Well, of course! Why not?” (quoted inexactly.)