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  • A New Culture of Learning

  • I'm really happy to be here, and I have a lot to talk about.

  • About a year and a half ago, I published a book

  • with my colleague John Seely Brown

  • called "A New Culture of Learning."

  • And it addressed what we saw on some fundamental problems with what was

  • happening in education today.

  • And, it hit us very early on that learning is fundamentally an easy thing that we do,

  • that we do from the day we're born until the day that we die.

  • And that for most of our lives it is natural

  • and it's effortless

  • everywhere but school.

  • So, it's sort of a hit this, that maybe we need to rethink a little bit about what learning

  • looks like in our everyday lives,

  • and, start to think about

  • how we can recreate our educational systems, our classrooms,

  • our training seminars

  • to mirror

  • what learning really looks like.

  • And we came with the idea of a new culture of learning

  • based on really three different areas:

  • The first was the idea that we need to engage passion

  • and if you look at a child learning

  • you see in their eyes

  • the passion,

  • the wonder,

  • the joy.

  • A few months ago, I was with a colleague of mine with her three-year-old child

  • walking down the beach

  • in Santa Monica, where I live.

  • And he came across a very odd tree that had all kinds of misshapen branches

  • and a strange bark,

  • and he just sat there and stared at it and wondered and then like a child would do

  • when you're three, started taking the bark, you know, smelling it, putting it in his mouth.

  • He wanted to know everything about that tree.

  • And it was a moment when I thought:

  • "I'm really witnessing pure learning happening."

  • And if somebody has a passion for something,

  • trying to stop them from learning,

  • you can't do it.

  • No matter what obstacles you put in the way,

  • they will find the way to learn what they need to know.

  • This is the first thing.

  • The second thing that we found as an important component of a new culture of learning

  • is imagination.

  • And imagination

  • really begins with two words which I think are the two most powerful words in

  • English language:

  • What if.

  • It's the ability to imagine things differently than they are,

  • and the incredible power that comes out of those two words

  • can literally reshape the world.

  • So, those two things

  • form one component

  • of the new culture of learning.

  • The third component that's equally as important is constraint.

  • If you want to drive an architect crazy

  • give them a large smooth flat piece of land,

  • and then watch them, you know...

  • spin out of control trying to figure out what to do with it;

  • but if you really want to make them happy,

  • give them something that's impossible to build on.

  • Give them a river, a mountain, a tree,

  • a big rock in the middle and let them work around it,

  • and, they will create something brilliant.

  • I think when Ken Robinson, at the beginning, he was talking about creativity,

  • that's what he meant.

  • It's the idea of creating in the face of obstacles.

  • And putting obstacles in people's way

  • can harness that passion and imagination,

  • and the combination of those two things can create something great.

  • And out of all this, John and I talked a lot about what the fundamental ingredient was

  • in creating a new culture of learning.

  • We decided it was PLAY.

  • And play is a concept

  • that combines those three things.

  • And I come up with the definition that I rather like,

  • which is "the play is an emergent property of the application of rules

  • to the imagination."

  • And if you think about something like as basic as a game where you say

  • "take this ball, put it in that goal

  • but you can't use your hands."

  • What would you invent? Football or what we call soccer.

  • So that idea of just putting those rules in place

  • fires the imagination, and if you think of all the wonderful things that people

  • do in that game: the imagination, the creativity, the joy;

  • it all comes from that simple collision

  • of imagination and rules.

  • So, that was the fundamental idea

  • behind "A New Culture of Learning".

  • And I realized pretty quickly one of the great things about my job

  • as I get to go to talk about this book to lots of audiences,

  • and a lot of them are teachers.

  • And, instead of telling teachers what they need to be doing,

  • I spent a lot of time listening to them

  • tell their stories about how their schools were working.

  • And I learned four things from the teachers that I talked to.

  • The first

  • was that teachers, just as much as students,

  • have passion.

  • They care about what's going on the classroom, they care about their students

  • and they want students to learn;

  • that the reason they went into that job was to see the light bulb go off

  • over students head, to see their eyes light up with wonder when they found some... you know,

  • a new idea.

  • And going through that,

  • talking to these teachers, I found time and time again

  • they have roadblocks put in their way.

  • I found a ninth grade teacher

  • who teaches English in California

  • and on the curriculum,

  • mandated by the state,

  • is that he teach the book "Romeo and Juliet" by Shakespeare.

  • And he tells me

  • the first two pages of "Romeo and Juliet",

  • this is his favorite thing to teach, it is his favorite day of the year.

  • It is the day he looks forward to more than anything else

  • because the first two pages of "Romeo and Juliet"

  • are full of dirty jokes.

  • And he knows that he is going to get every student laughing and giggling and

  • they'll be the one student who sit in their going

  • "I don't get it" and somebody will whisper on their ear...

  • and they will go "Oh oh oh, I get it", right.

  • It is a joyful experience for him to watch

  • the language of Shakespeare come alive

  • and for them to say "Well, I want to read this... it's a dirty book" right?

  • "I'm very interested in what's gonna happen."

  • And this language, it has lots of different levels so they spend the rest

  • of the semester trying to find the double entendres and

  • all of the magic in Shakespeare's language.

  • What a wonderful experience! And to see him in one day and two pages

  • hook kids on Shakespeare,

  • that for him is why he became a teacher.

  • Except... this year,

  • because someone complained because he was telling dirty jokes.

  • And he was called in

  • not only to the principal's office

  • but in front of a tribunal to evaluate his fitness as a teacher.

  • He was suspended from school for a week.

  • He was absolutely, you know, found this mind-boggling,

  • he hadn't assigned the book and he said:

  • "Your problem isn't with me, it's with Shakespeare;

  • and if you're gonna tell me I have to teach this play I'm going to teach it properly."

  • So he was being punished for actually teaching the text he was told to teach

  • and the kids understanding it.

  • And at one point he turned this committee and said:

  • "Have any of you actually read "Romeo and Juliet"?"

  • And not one of them had.

  • But one of them

  • had children who had explained it to her,

  • and she said to him:

  • "Why can't you just make it a nice love story?"

  • And he said: "You do realize they both died at the end right?"

  • So that's the kind of battle that students are faced or teachers are facing

  • and, to make matters worse, I was just in New York talking with some teachers as well

  • and they've done a survey of New York students, and they've asked K-12 students

  • outside of the classroom what are their major learning resources?

  • And the things that came up with were their mobile phone or iPhone,

  • Facebook and Youtube.

  • So New York City did the only reasonable thing that you could do,

  • which is they banned all three,

  • immediately.

  • Not only for the students but also for the teachers.

  • So if you're a New York City school teacher,

  • you cannot access Youtube to show videos,

  • you cannot do anything with mobile phones,

  • and you cannot have any contact with students or use Facebook in the classroom.

  • And there is a big protest now, where I think forty seven or fifty one

  • of the commissioners of the New York School System

  • wrote the president chancellor and said:

  • "This is unacceptable"

  • "You must allow phones in the schools"

  • "but we agree they should be kept turned off."

  • So, that's the solution

  • I find this fascinating that kids are telling people:

  • "This is how we learn"

  • and the schools are responding by saying:

  • "You can't do that here."

  • So, when I look at what's happening in the classrooms I think

  • what we've done

  • is we've looked at a way to prepare our students for the jobs of the nineteenth century

  • it's just that we've taken two hundred years to perfect that method

  • and we've gotten it right;

  • we are now training people for industrial revolution factory jobs

  • and we're doing a very good job of it; unfortunately

  • those jobs no longer exists anymore.

  • And I thought that was the problem

  • until I talked to the teachers more

  • and this let me know my second conclusion:

  • that the system standardized testing we have,

  • has almost nothing to do with knowledge

  • and everything to do with surveillance.

  • The way in which standardized testing works is not about accountability

  • it's not about making ensure people learn things

  • but the goal of any system of surveillance

  • is about normalization.

  • It is about treating every student like every other student

  • and every teacher like every other teacher,

  • and I've come to believe that that kind of normalization

  • is incredibly toxic

  • to the things that we talked about like passion,

  • and creativity, and innovation.

  • Because it presumes that everything is equally, any deviation is to be treated

  • with suspicion and contempt,

  • and that's what we're seeing takeover in our school systems.

  • When I talked to these teachers I was feeling all kinds of amazing things

  • and the one that disturbed me the most

  • was because of the pressures

  • of standardized testing

  • New York City school teachers said to me this line

  • "We have no time for imagination."

  • And I thought that cut to the heart of exactly what it is that we're trying to rail against.

  • So I talked to these New York City school teachers

  • and I find that only a few of them are happy

  • and the thing I realized pretty quickly, is the ones that are happy

  • are teaching kindergarten,

  • and first grade,

  • and second grade.

  • And I assume that's just because they're getting these kids at that age when

  • they're still joyful;

  • and someone said "Oh no,

  • standardized testing starts in third grade."

  • That's what's making the teachers lives miserable

  • because they no longer get to

  • have any kind of learning in their classroom,

  • all they can do is teach to the test.

  • I come home from New York to California and hear a news report that California

  • has adopted something called the California Core Curriculum,

  • and it will now begin standardized testing

  • in kindergarten.

  • I don't know how you devise a standardized test for nap time,

  • but they're probably going to figure it out.

  • Now, what's happening is we're sending messages to teachers

  • that essentially they can't be trusted.

  • My next-door neighbor teaches third grade in California

  • and he actually was quote, unquote "called into the principal's office"

  • that's how he described it,

  • for sneaking Art

  • into the curriculum.

  • It wasn't in standardized test,

  • there was no place for it,

  • and the administration believed it was trading off with higher test scores as a

  • result of putting more information in these kids' heads;

  • so he was called in, and disciplined as if he was a student,

  • and for sneaking Art into the curriculum.

  • So, what we have now is what we think of as a new culture of learning

  • only happens when you sneak into the curriculum

  • and it becomes subversive.

  • So, now teachers are not just battling for student's attention,

  • not battling to teach them, they're also battling their administration