A Surprising Downside

I had an unexpected revelation about design thinking, and design, yesterday, that I think has bearing on the problems of schools today.

For close to 20 minutes, I watched middle schoolers come close to shouting at one another over the challenges of planning a middle school dance. And then, I watched as almost-shouting became real shouting.  And then, real shouting became real criticism.  And real criticism became really angry.

And then, after all that, some kids gave up.  They trundled themselves off to study hall, and bowed out of the work.  Others tried to use the design lab to play their own ‘games’ — I sent them off to study hall, too.

And some stayed behind to work.  Really work.  And they did, really, work.

UPDATE: Wow.  Half this entry is missing, and it really changes the dynamic of what I was trying to say.  OK… let me try to rewrite what’s missing.

A lot of the kids who left for study hall are new-ish to design thinking in general.  And they’re also either NOT on the debate team, or have just recently joined the debate team.  As a group, they were much more concerned with being right than solving problems, at least in this particular moment.   But the ones who stayed are mostly kids who were on the debate team last year and are again, or have decided to leave the debate team this year.  It’s kind of like they’ve gotten the idea of being right out of their system.

And the dynamic of the room totally changed when this group got down to brass tacks.  Instead of arguing, they conversed with one another.  Instead of talking over each other, they listened.  Instead of goofing around and playing with the toys and tools, they were making diagrams and actually trying to solve problems connected with their class’s dance at the end of October.  In other words, they were trying to work with each other to create and build.  The ones who had to be “Right” and left the room, and now the real work could begin.

How often in our society is it like this — that the ones who “win the debate” leave the room in frustration or triumph — and then a completely different group has to stay behind and actually do the hard work of figuring out what to do?

In a sense, watching Congress, and the Tea Party, and Occupy Wall Street, and the talking heads on television, we’re seeing a crowd of folks who have never moved past what they learned in Debate Club… or who never had a design thinking club or class where they had to do the hard work of moving past the argument to actually solve a real problem.

And it may be the way that we structure our schools that prevented them from learning that important lesson.

Hmmm.

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