Sunday, April 24, 2016

AntiDisciplinary Learning and High School Curriculums

The term "21st Century School" has become an empty catchphrase for the architecture and construction of schools that are still stuck in Carnegie Seat time classes and business as usual in a fashionably decorated child warehouse.

There's an unholy political dance that has subsumed intelligent discussion about public education and for the purposes of this essay we'll not revisit that topic.

At EO Smith, the Building Committee is now engaged in performing due diligence in gathering and formalizing ideas about the potential for  developing a new facility. Potential is the key word because getting from here to there is a complex process.

A month or so ago MIT announced a new magazine that it called antidisciplinary ( a Joi Ito original phrase - see:  That conceptual framework for a magazine got me  to thinking about educational possibilities.

I wrote this email to the stakeholders at EO Smith today;

"At our last Building Committee meeting I made a comment about anti-disciplinary learning without enough context to make it sound like anything more than a guy blowing smoke.

So let me clarify and offer a phenomenal video that illustrates the concept.

The interdisciplinary concept sounds good and has been tried over and over with occasional but fading success.  It's largely a dead-end. And its a dead-end because it continues to to try to union together two subjects as if they were autonomous stovepipes of guarded knowledge. 

So at EO we have successfully implemented Big Picture that allows individual students who have a personal calling to pursue that.

But what the world increasingly looks like is something different and we catch glimpses of it with kickstarter and open source projects.  It is this. The problems individuals are expected to help solve are no longer can be solved by the sole individual. And so for high schools, this means a new kind of Big Picture (maybe Broad Picture) - one in which a semester of learning no longer has to do with "subjects" but of the learning involved in examining [tho not necessarily solving] a very complex problem like the one presented in the video.  You don't have enough fingers and toes to count the instances of math, art, history, critical thinking and so on involved in the presentation.

Okay, so "why would we do this in high school? Isn't this for post high school?  The answer is that of the students who do go on to college, fewer than a third ever graduate by age thirty or so. take into consideration the number who never attend and it becomes obvious how critical sophisticated high school learning is. 

One last note. the Long Now Foundation is Stuart Brand's follow-up to the Whole Earth catalog. His wife is attempting to clone a Woolly Mammoth in addition to other extinct animals and this presentation by Jane Langdale is shockingly accessible and interesting throughout.  The Q and A at about 2/3 through is great. Try fitting this into subject-based learning."