Big Ideas

I’m probably not the only person to have read this essay on Sunday and have it eat away at them all week. I agree with both parts of this thesis — there aren’t as many great ideas out there and that even if there were, people, individually and collectively, aren’t ready to hear them. The article did made me think about what I’d want a school to feel like:

I’d want a school where big ideas or questions started a conversation that students and teachers would then lose themselves in for a few weeks or months.

How do you live well?
How do you change the world?

A student ought to be able to respond out of deep thought and genuine engagement, to draw upon research and reflection they’ve done and that they know they need to do more of. I’ve run classes where students offered pithy responses and forgot the question the moment the course ended; I’ve had other classes where students left puzzled or annoyed or, on rare days, inspired, because they realized that our class time wasn’t enough, that an easy answer wasn’t forthcoming, that real work would be necessary for even a partially satisfying response to be found.

I’d want a school where students and teachers identified flippant, cynical answers and gracefully deflected them or pushed the speaker/author towards deeper involvement. I’d want the students to see for each other (and for themselves) when they were actually digging into an idea and when they were faking it. I’d want a school structured so that facile arguments designed to win teacher or peer approval or to meet an illusory state requirement would come to be seen as preliminary, possibly even unnecessary, steps rather than end goals.

Mostly, I’d want a school where students departed knowing that someday they could create a great idea of their own, an idea that would come out of real work and deep engagement, not from a social network or a lucky flash of inspiration.