Solid State, and Liquid Nets

First watch this talk,

And then this one.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Back? Feel like you wasted forty minutes of your life? OK, I’m sorry. Tell you what… you don’t need to read this entry of my blog.  Then you won’t have wasted an hour.  That should save you some time.

But if you’re planning on sticking around, know that this is some of the problem I’m wrestling with.  It may, in fact, be the problem that teachers all around the world are wrestling with.  To sum it up as clearly as I can:

How do we take solid-state schools — that is, institutions that are designed to do one thing according to a model with relatively little variability — and graft onto them these liquid networks, which are flexible, innovating, and constantly learning new skills and trading new ideas?

I had dinner with a friend of mine last night, and we kept talking around the question.  He’s a floral designer, an artist, an actor, a writer, a playwright, a director, and a sculptor, and he’s getting to be nationally known.  So when he tells me that (for him) it was all about developing fluency with a set of tools, I tend to believe him. When I asked him to identify his four most important tools, he spoke of his knife, the bowls and urns and vases that contain his work, the flowers themselves, and glue.  He said, “without wire, I’d need glue.  With wire, I’d still need glue.”

I know that working with cord and twine and rope, I gain fluency by learning new knots.  The more knots I know, the more interesting and unusual things I do.  Same with artists’ pens and paper — the more kinds I work with, the better I do as an artist.

All through this vacation which ends tomorrow, I’ve been wondering about how to help my students develop their own liquid networks — systems of self-support and learning environments that help them find the information they want, instead of forcing specific information at them.  I think it’s one of the major challenges of our time, and I wish I knew how to move the conversation forward.

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