A newbie’s riff on “The Future of Learning” manifesto

I was reading a post on Graham Wegner’s blog the other day and followed a link there to The Future of Learning Manifesto. I liked what the author had to say. I liked his energy and humor and passion, although I didn’t understand everything he said. He did say though that he hopes other teachers will create their own manifestos as “part of their introduction to students, colleagues and the greater community alike.  And a passionate reminder to their inner calling that will keep them steady in the days ahead.”

So here’s my take on this manifesto. The dark numbered points are from the original. So are the parts in quote marks. The rest, in italics, is my mashed-up contribution.

1.  “Playing Small  Does Not Serve the World.”– Your Brain is Your Brand.

“You’ve got one choice.  Play big or stay home.”

Yep. If you think of teaching, it can be anything from simply a job that you force yourself to grind through each day to earn money so that you can afford to do things you actually enjoy, or at the other end of the continuum, it can be the noblest of vocations in the tradition of Confucius or Socrates. I choose the big end of this continuum. So I’ve decided to think big and act on big thoughts. There is sufficient room in this job for trial and error, but there are no rehearsals. So, be big-minded and generous and brave. Start now.

2.  What Would Socrates Do?

Exactly. Like philosophy, teaching draws out the big questions in your life. But you have to find a way to apply that day after day at school. It’s good to have two feet planted firmly on the ground of a spherical rock hurtling through an infinitesimally small portion of space during the slenderest sliver of time in the billions and billions of years that are wrapped in a comfy circle around us, but what should we do for period 3, Friday.

3.  Nobody Cares if You Walked Up Hill Both Ways Barefoot in the Snow and Could Diagram a Sentence.

There’s that Buddhist thing about dying before dying, or your ego dying so that you can live. Is this point like that? I think it is. The big thing I had to learn simply to cope in day to day teaching is never to take things personally. One step beyond this survival level is intentionally disappearing. As a teacher, you’ve already had your youth and you now have all the things you need to enjoy your own life. The job is to help the kids build their own fantastic lives, starting now, during this lesson.

4.  Got Passion?  If Not, I’ll Tell You What To Care About.

I think he means here that it’s not about you (the teacher), it’s about the kids. Even as a newbie, I get this. Everything from classroom management, to good relationships with students, to effective and engrossing lessons seems to somehow relate back to the teacher getting out of the way. Which seems paradoxical, because without the teacher, the very special, planned-for event of a great lesson would never happen. I don’t know exactly how good teachers do it, but I’ve seen it happen. They light the fire (they bring the firewood, they were the ones who actually cut down the tree!), but after they light the fire, they get out of the way.

5.  My Memory Is Only As Big As My Heart.  Otherwise, I’ll Stick with Google.

“Reach deep into my gut. Massage my heart. Get the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Get me to tell the flavor of clouds. Tell me to close my eyes and go somewhere bold.”

Stories really are the stuff of life. As Natalie Goldberg says, storytellers get to “live twice.” Bringing that storyteller (and story-collector) perspective into my own life and my lessons is something I’ll keep at.

6.  Look it Up or Die.

Teach kids how to use technology by teaching them how to think, how to observe themselves, observe their own minds. This seems to match up with the ideas of Douglas Rushkoff’s book Program or be Programmed. Here’s a quote from the book: “In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed. Choose the former, and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

7.  Collaboration Ain’t About Holding Hands.  It’s about Going Cool Places Fast.

This point really opened my eyes to something that was right in front of me but couldn’t see before. This is what kids need. I’d say it has to start with the individual student first, with self-knowledge and self-respect, then respect for classmates. Then it’s the world. These days, the “world” part is not so hard. Self-respect, motivation, and cooperation are the things I want in my classroom. I’ve seen teachers who have built their classroom into an environment where you almost breath in these principles. It is possible. How do I learn how to do it?

8.  This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record.

Kids don’t care so much about anonymity, from what I can tell. Is that because they’re young and silly or because that’s the way our culture is changing? I do agree here that we would be better to teach kids about how to handle the dangers of the internet rather than trying to block all access to anything that might be dangerous online. How many people over 40 now do not have the experience of looking up the F word in the dictionary when they were a school kid? History’s biggest collection of awful images and hateful writing is now accessible by kids through the phones in their hands (or under their desks). How does that affect our teaching and what we need to teach? What are we teaching by blocking?

9.  It Ain’t About the Technology.  It’s About the Story.

Most kids don’t care so much about the technology for its own sake, since for them the technology has always been there. For them it goes without saying that there exists a real dimension of busy human interaction happening right now in that place described with the old-fashioned word “cyberspace”. I had a glimpse of this when I started Edmodo in a few classes. In my previous job I was used to having longstanding professional and social connections with people I’d never met in person. Now in the classroom I was finding that my connections with some students were deeper and more real via a social network even though these kids had been in my class all year.

10.  Nobody Knows the Answer.  Get Comfy with the Questions.

That’s kind of true, except as a teacher I do know the main answers. Please, accept the mystery. As that famous parchment blogger said: “Love and do whatever ya like.” (Or something like that). So, kids, be good, don’t be mean to anybody, put on your seatbelts, let’s go find some answers that need questioning.

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