Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices

Ken Gordon at PEJE suggested on Twitter that those of us interested in "changing education paradigms" (thank you, Sir Ken Robinson) read The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices by Frank Moss, the former director of the MIT Media Lab, which is what RealSchool wants to be when it grows up.

The MIT Media Lab
In the book's Preface, Moss lays out the chapters and simultaneously shares the vision at the heart of the MIT Media Lab. Following is a summary of that vision, one which will sound familiar to anyone who has been drinking the RealSchool Kool-Aid , ahem, participating in the RealSchool learning endeavor:

  • Chapter 1 is about the creative freedom researchers have at the lab, which allows them to "invent according to their passions and curiosities, in an environment where the only real rule is that there are no rules, and where there is no such thing as failure."
  • Chapter 2 describes the anti-disciplinary nature of the work that takes place in the lab, where people from many different disciplines can cross-pollinate with each other and arrive at innovative solutions to problems that have been addressed in more narrow ways. 
  • Chapter 3 is one of RealSchool's favorites, describing the hard fun researchers enjoy in the lab because they are encouraged to "express their most fanciful ideas by building them and then seeing what happens when people use them" 
  • Chapter 4 is about serendipity by design, or what happens as a result of the fact that the lab encourages "accidental" encounters among students and teachers that enrich and improve the projects the different teams are working on (xiii-xiv). This philosophy of design by chance is described well in Steven Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From. We showed the following clip narrated by Johnson at RealSchool's first meeting this year:

Now that you're acquainted with some of the Media Lab's values, here's RealSchool's mission, which was hashed out by the RealSchool members of 2011-12 and Mrs. Tikvah Wiener, RealSchool's founder and director. Of course, RealSchool is not only a group of clubs, as we describe it below; it's also as an educational philosophy that can be used to form an academic program as well. In fact, baby RealSchool is going to be a toddler next year, because it's going to be offered as an elective at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ. 

RealSchool's Mission Statement (see our website for more information about the program):

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” -- Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:13

RealSchool is a group of clubs that are linked together by a matrix of shared beliefs about how one learns and the way learning benefits the self and others. One of the key values of RealSchool is that learning should be self-directed, that is, what one learns should be chosen by the individual. However, once a student has selected a RealSchool team in the area of interest s/he has, all learning takes place collaboratively. Learning at RealSchool is also primarily experiential rather than based on the knowledge of an expert, commonly referred to in the past as a teacher. In addition, RealSchool encourages -- no, demands -- divergent, creative thinking that enables students to apply their knowledge and skills to real life and the challenges of the real world.

The relationship that all RealSchool members are taught to create within the RealSchool community and with the broader world is a caring, symbiotic one. Students may join a particular RealSchool team because of a talent or interest they have, but they must learn about the talents that others possess and how to help others pursue their interests. Therefore, though the process of joining RealSchool  begins with the self and an individual’s interests, it ends in a stronger community, as students are not only consumers, that is, recipients of help from RealSchool teams, but are also producers, that is, ones who give help to fellow teams and ultimately to the larger community.

Built into RealSchool’s DNA, then, is a focus on student empowerment: students choose what and how to learn. However, students also come to realize that by doing the very things they love, they can benefit not only their peers but the community and world at large.

Stay tuned for more sound bytes from Frank Moss' book! 

Work Cited:

Moss, Frank. The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices. New York: Crown Business, 2011. Print. (Yes, people still read books!)