Things I Know 363 of 365: ‘And over there, let’s build a lyceum’

I’ve just added another book to the to-read pile. Gary just suggested Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall. It came with this recommendation:

El Sistema is SO heavy on a million different levels. There are a bazillion lessons to take from it, not the least of which is that the compromises we make reflexively in the name of pragmatism, incrementalism or budget shortfalls are not only wrong, but unnecessary.

When Gingrich talks about learning the dignity of work, the first thing educators should ask is, “does their schoolwork have dignity?” Then we should look at efforts like El Sistema where a work ethic is developed while doing something complex, meaningful, beautiful and spiritually uplifting.

Don’t be thrown off by the prominence of Dudamel in the title. This book is about education, culture, children and transformation.

My interest is effectively piqued.

It’s also got me thinking of a course I’d like to see in every school in the country. For a working title, let’s call it Synthesis. The goal would be to give student the space and resources to develop deep understandings of the connections between the ideas they’re encountering in whatever other courses in which they’re enrolled.

It comes from frequent frustration last semester of not having a space to converse with other students on how the ideas from my different courses were melting together in my brain. I could write about it online and in papers for my professors’ eyes only, but I wanted discussion and, well, synthesis.

Each week of the course would require students to prepare a brief on their learning across courses in the previous week. The question guiding the brief: How did your classes intersect this week? From there, discussions would ensue with students introducing the nascent connections in their minds and asking for help from their peers in the massaging and upkeep of those connections.

Throughout the course, larger creations would also be asked for, wherein students pulled an over-arching idea that made up a decent amount of the connective tissue of his learning and presented the idea as he understood it to the rest of the class. Think of it as Aristotle’s Lyceum, but for credit.

Imagine the power in asking students to find and tease out connections between algebra, United States history, and biology. Imagine what listening to these discussions could do to inform teachers’ practice.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to imagine the structure and planning that would need to go into constructing such a shift of mind around thinking of learning as a continuous and connected act.

One thought on “Things I Know 363 of 365: ‘And over there, let’s build a lyceum’

  1. Lack of synthesis, of connection, is one serious reason I believe kids get frustrated at school. In middle school, we start throwing ever larger bodies of “need to know” knowledge at them without providing enough context or connection. We react to their growing independence and ability to question “why” with tighter rules and artificial constructs, then we wonder why they lose the joy of learning. What they REALLY need is that space to synthesize, imagine, dream, and create. There stops being space for that for many kids by 5th grade.

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