On January 10th, the Tischman Auditorium of the New School was the venue for a symposium on “the Power of Progressive Education”, in collaboration with City and Country School. The title of the event was: “Can creative thinking be taught?”
Founded in 1914 by the deeply influential Caroline Pratt, City and Country School has an investigative curriculum which has endured through the various cycles of so-called educational reforms. While the rest of New York City weaves back and forth between ideologies and theories that gain popularity and credence, only to be cast aside for the next fad before they can either be implemented effectively, or allowed to prove themselves over a period of years, City and Country has remained faithful to the same basic principles that brought it into being 100 years ago.
www.cityandcountry.org/ Just click on the icons for your topic.
The upcoming 100 year celebration described by current Principal Kate Turley will yield many more occasions for exploration and examination of its work.
As a starting point, this gathering brought together some intriguing examples of innovators and entrepreneurs who have connections to the school, mostly as parents of current students or of alumni. Each made the case that in significant ways, a combination of open ended learning and serendipity made them the creative people they certainly are today.
The speakers list included the following eight people:
WELCOME David E. Van Zandt President, The New School
Introduced a new (to me) acronym – V.U.C.A. “We are living in a VUCA moment”, where huge economic, ecological, and technological issues are in flux. There is Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity in all sectors of the marketplace/society, as perhaps never before.
INTRODUCTION Kate Turley Principal, City and Country School
KEYNOTE: Why creative intelligence counts: Bruce Nussbaum, Professor of Innovation and Design, The New School and author of Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire
LIFE LESSONS: Playing for keeps:
Tucker Viemeister: industrial designer/entrepreneur (Smart Design Co.; OXO Good Grips kitchen tools etc.)
David Rockwell CEO, Rockwell Group, architect and creator of Imagination Playground
Charles Adler Co-Founder and former Head of Design, Kickstarter
Mark Pinney CFO of Vimeo and parent of three City and Country graduates (Serial entrepreneur with early-stage internet based technology companies.)
Lori Breslow, Ph.D.: Director, MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory and Senior Lecturer, Sloan School of Management
Eric Freitag, Director of Product Innovation, RG/A (Smart Design; Healthcare Practice div.)
Each of these panelists has had significant success as an entrepreneur, educator, scientist and/or social activist – or all of the above.
The best way to find out more is to view the complete video of the event – but it is quite lengthy, so pace yourself!
Video of the symposium.
I’d like to especially highlight the presentation starting at about 37 minutes, from which point Tucker Viemeister makes a comprehensive introduction to the world we are about to inhabit – one of imagination, play, exploration – rather than the world of mandated benchmarks and test assessments, in his introduction of David Rockwell. Rockwell’s ideas and his company resonated the most with me, among an amazing group of people, and his studio is on Union Square, near to the New School. His Portable Adventure Playgrounds have been delivered through UNICEF to refugee camps in Africa, sites in Haiti, etc. and the sheer desperate necessity for play opportunities to reduce the trauma and stress of these settings is a revelation to see in action.
Finally, in the same auditorium where I saw Chris Hayes (msnbc host of Up with Chris Hayes) discuss the launch of his book “The Twilight of the Elites” (http://www.randomhouse.com/book/207055/twilight-of-the-elites-by-christopher-hayes)
a year ago, here was powerful evidence of the ‘Tale of two cities’ political narrative. During Q. & A. time, the Principal of an elementary school in Washington Heights remarked that she felt she was completely adrift, completely unmoored from her reality. “Here we are”, she said, “The 1% talking to the 1%.” She said it without malice, almost in a daze, because none of the options she heard discussed are remotely on the agenda for her population. In contrast to a complete trust in the seriousness, abilities and possibilities of this privileged few, in a typical school experience, there is a drive for control, for prescription, for domination of every aspect of both the children and the teachers. Curriculum content and pacing delivered top-down, discipline based on the assumption that every child is a potential sociopath, relevance and original research screened out to the point of non-existence. No wonder she felt like a stranger in a strange land. Someone has to be listening. Until basic trust in the inherent curiosity and drive of every child can be acknowledged throughout the socio-economic scale, we’ll continue this conversation among the 1%. The panel felt this acutely; they were very aware of the divide. But if innovation has come from individuals who looked around and saw a need and found the tools to resolve it, think of the potential for every niche of society to explore its own needs and provide solutions. Why is there a client mentality in which so often minority communities are told what to need and sold it, leading to a massive outflow of resources from precisely the places where resources most need to be recirculated within its’ members? This is where the growth potential now exists, and where only in music, so far, has that drive been met with success. Possibly sports too, but that has seen more of an outflow of resources increasing corporate wealth (Buy Nike! No, Buy AirJordans!), with notable exceptions such as ball players returning to build basketball courts in their home neighborhoods. Entrepreneurial spirit IS out there, but it needs the education, the venture capital and the trust – not red-lining – to flourish.
If we are at a potential turning point in the disastrous trajectory of Bloomberg/Bush/Obama’s Education policy, let the conversation begin at this nexus of creativity and empowerment.