I plan to begin my next classes with the following quote from Abraham Lincoln, in his 1862 annual message to Congress. “It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” I first heard part of this quote in a speech delivered by Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talks (two of the best ones viewed below) have been viewed millions of times and have served as a major source of inspiration for others and myself in the pursuit of an Education Revolution. Lincoln’s words have taken on great significance for me in recent days as our class is taking on the task of designing our course for the year.
As much as my students are excited at the possibilities of our class environment can create, I continue to find it challenging to set their minds free as it pertains to their ‘learning’ this year. Our most recent class discussion centered on how we want to learn and use the course curriculum throughout the year. So many of them wanted to revert to traditional ways of learning, assessing, and running a classroom, mainly because it allowed them to stay in their comfort zones. Over the course of 10 years or so, they have become accustomed to a particular way that school information should be learned, grades established, and content knowledge assessed, and while it that way has limited their potential as learners, they have come to accept it as the norm.
It is moments such as this that our class statements of purpose should come in so handy. Reminded that our goals dismiss conventional approaches and seek opportunities to challenge ourselves in new and creative ways, we can only choose a path that dares to be different. Lincoln’s challenge means that we must both think and act anew. To think anew means to see new purpose in education, set new goals, change what we wish to achieve, and reevaluate what we value in our educational experience. To act anew means to have the courage and determination to stand up to outdated ways of thinking and make sure that we carry out that which we are capable of.
Maybe my favorite part of teaching AP classes is the last month of school, after all the AP tests have been taken. I really try to take advantage of that last, pressure-free month of school to get to know my students a bit better. Its not that I don’t get to know them throughout the course of the school year, because I do. Its just that the last month means we can, if the mood strikes, sit and talk about anything interesting without the weight of curriculum or tests hanging over our heads. I love it. This time connecting and talking taps into the interactive part of teaching that I find so fulfilling. This particular month, I happened upon a conversation with two of my junior students about a video I watched on TEDx the night before. In synopsis, the video featured an entrepreneur/philanthropist named Taylor Conroy who used unconventional fundraising methods to raise $10,000 to build a school in Kenya. I told the students how my wife and I were inspired by the video and the ease with which he was able to raise money and essentially change the world, and how cool would it be if a group of us pulled resources and used some of his methods to build a school in Africa over the summer. Since that conversation, things have taken off.
An email to Taylor Conroy led to a phone meeting where Taylor and I discussed the possibilities of using the fundraising/philanthropic powers of American students and schools to build, potentially, hundreds of thousands of schools in developing nations all over the world. He and I are still in talks of how to do something amazing, which pumps me up to no end. Meanwhile, my two students (we’ll call them T&C), took our idea and ran with it. Last week, they created a corporation (applying for non-profit, tax exempt status, and the whole shabang) as a means for collecting the money we are going to donate to build the schools. In one week, three of us have raised over $3500 and enlisted the help of 10 other students interested in joining the cause to use Taylor’s methods to raise the money to build a school. I would not be surprised if we have $10,000 raised in the next few weeks. Needless to say, things are still very much in their infancy and I hope there is much, much more to come. However, what I have learned is that big things can happen when you decide to act on thoughts. I have been inspired from TED lectures before, but only to the point to talk about them and share them with others. This time, with my new commitment to actually doing things rather than just talking about them, I think some actual purposeful good is going to come from the inspiration. I want to read this post one month from now and feel proud that things have progressed in the way that I envision them.
One note before I go. In my last post I wrote about my impending shoulder surgery and the tedious recovery that was to follow. Amazingly, the surgery revealed a far less serious shoulder issue than the doctor anticipated and informed me that recovery will be 4-6 weeks, and not 5-6 months as expected. It has been two weeks, and I am already out of my sling and have pretty much my whole range of motion back. Being almost back to normal so quickly has been very uplifting and that enthusiasm will certainly get put to good use.