Day 1 at NAIS 2012

I began the day with a hope-and-see post about NAIS 2012–we have astonishing bucks, brain and brawn here under one roof. And while I’ve seen some exciting innovative practices showcased at this innovation-themed conference, I feel a big piece is still missing.

We need innovative practices, for sure. But our greater need is for a new narrative for education, something that holds all these new-best-practices together, an answer to Why? not What? or How? Skills-based curriculum, STEM and so on, iPads and cloud computing, by the way, are not narratives and can’t give us a vision for future education. They are means, and I am left at the end of the first day of NAIS asking to what end? Mostly, we have so far left that unexamined here.

Stephen Carter was the first and only speaker I heard today to ask a question and give an answer that might lead us to a narrative: What kind of people do we want our students to be, as they will be the future leaders of our world? His answer is not skilled 21C workers. His answer is not self-fulfilled persons. His answer draws on a misunderstanding of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Most incorrectly read this as a novel about censorship. It’s not. Censorship comes from the top down but in Fahrenheit 451 the impetus to burn books comes from the bottom up. It’s ordinary people, the fire cheif tells us, who don’t want complexity–and books, good books, are complex, in fact as complex as our lives which they so accurately reflect. So, Carter says, we want to create in our students an appreciation of complexity, the same appreciation for complexity and apprehension of reductionism his one-time boss, Thurgood Marshall, had.

I don’t think this is a radically new idea–Plato’s dialogues or Gilgamesh are stories about complexity, for example. Rather it’s the recovering of an idea the ancients stole from us. I’d love to see NAIS take this up and next year give the annual conference the theme or task of building narratives. We need a new story.


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