November 12, 2012

We’re all in Grade 4

Ever since I saw John say this I've been using it in pretty much ever talk I've given since then:


There's a humility in this statement that resonates me. It often seems like folks are looking for answers or solutions in this messiness we're currently in. I'd suggest we've always lived in messiness but it's simply more exposed. To that end we're seeing all kinds of experimentation and exploration to find some semblance of peace and stability in a world seemily void of that. And while some thrive in the messiness and uncertainity, others push back looking for a simpler, more satisfying existence. I watch with fascination sometimes at both of these approaches. 

The New York Times published an article recently about a school in Vermont cutting themselves off from technology. People often assume that I would reject an idea like this and that you have to choose sides in this debat.e. I think that's a false dichotomy. In fact, this article offers a couple of ideas that really stand out. 

True to its mission of encouraging “collaborative learning and shared work,” the school asked its students and alumni to develop a technology policy that will determine whether to ban phones, allow them in a limited way or leave the decision whether to disconnect to students. …But the school has always held that its students can be trusted to make good choices, he said. “We have to figure out the balance between how to preserve the values we have,” Mr. Smith said. “But I tend to think that adolescents, particularly the ones we get here, when mentored, will rise to the occasion when trusted with real responsibility.”

Inviting students in on this conversation from the onset is brilliant. Part of what I've learned from my time online is the need for community and trust when developing a healthy, thriving culture of learning. Trying to figure things out together in an ongoing, open dialog is much messier than a mandated policy but  much more satisfying.

Finally their goal is beautiful.

“The idea is not to be going back to a time where things were better,” Mr. Smith said, “but where the richness of each day is defined by the food you eat, the company you keep, the work you do.”

That could be the start of a powerful mission statement for any organization or school.

People want to summarize all of this to say, "it's about balance." I suppose, but to me this is about exploring the edges, tasting some extremes and ultimately being reflective and public about those experiences. We're seeing many schools dive into tech and being criticized for too much technology and in the case of the Vermont school, maybe they aren't using enough. I'd like us to avoid these judgments and instead recognize we're all 4th graders trying to figure it out. Exploring boundaries, having some success, seeing some failure but all the time talking about it openly. Another quote I've been using a lot which I believe I first heard Bud use is "describe, not prescribe". Unless you've truly got this figured out, maybe save the mandate and simply share your story. Not to tell anyone what they should do but simply to suggest another perspective.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some kickball to play.