student presentation, adult discovery


On Tuesday I went to visit another school. Between meetings I had a chance to visit two classes: an eighth grade history class and a sixth grade art class with an art-history component. I’ll talk about the eighth grade program some other time. Today I want to consider what happened in the sixth grade class.

The students were giving slide shows on artists: Monet, Picasso, Man Ray, Leonardo DaVinci, and more. I saw about a dozen of these presentations. And I must say some of them were very good.

A few were downright appalling, like the one on Donatello (name changed to protect the guilty) that didn’t have any art by Donatello in it. And the one on a poor Polish (not correct nationality) Dadaist (not right art movement) where the presenting student ignored her teacher and fellow students’ pleas to pronounce his name correctly, steadfastly clinging to the mispronunciation through fourteen times and 21 corrections from the floor.

But the thing that struck me, more than anything else, was how many artists had abandoned the traditional schooling at an early age to go to drawing school. Or to apprentice with an artist. Or to sit for examinations to enter painting schools. Or to run away to drawing school. Monet comes to mind: according to his youthful biographer at this “death by PowerPoint” festival, Monet abandoned regular school for his local drawing school at age 13.

One of the selling points of our educational system is how monolithic it all is. You have to go to school Your choices seem to be public school, a magnet school if you get the right recommendations and win the entrance lottery, a charter school or a private school.

But there were other kinds of local schools, apparently. Drawing schools and painting schools. And military academies, funded by the taxpayers. There were other kinds of schools.

There were other kinds of schools!

This thought has been coursing through me like lightning this week. We, as citizens and taxpayers, have the right to vote that our school districts create other kinds of schools than just the traditional five-subject model. We could specify local military academies, where kids study engineering and military history. Art schools, where kids make art all day long in preparation for careers as designers and artists. Programming schools, for the geeks into computers. Service schools, for kids interested in cooking. Drama schools, for kids interested in theater. Law schools and journalism schools and biology schools and writing schools. There could be — is “should” too strong a word here? — eight or ten broad category of school, only one of which would be the traditional five subject model.


I think I need to find out more about this multitrack education system they used to have, where drawing and art were as important as language and writing.

Planbooks are Dumb

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I realized this past week that our planbook system is dumb — D-U-M-B — dumb.  

We have a specialty planbook made for each child at our school; it has our logo on the front.  We must sell dozens, if not hundreds, every year, since most students lose at least one every year.  It has special tables for due dates of book reports and other all-school projects, and then it has a grid for daily homework assignments, organized by subject: history, English, foreign language, science, mathematics. There’s a grid for athletic and other special events, and a grid for keeping up with your book report book.  

But they’re dumb.

Children learn best by imitation. That’s what everyone says at the brain conferences, and learning conferences, and organizational conferences.  So why are we teaching them to organize their lives around a rigidly organized grid, into which they must write the months and date-numbers?  Adults have all that sort of scut-work done for them; it’s called a Calendar, people.  Why don’t we teach children to use those?  How about a date-book, or a dayplanner?  Why not start teaching children to keep a to-do list and dayplanner using an adult daybook, rather than a kid’s spoon-fed artificial student book? Duh. 

Let’s think about Gladwell’s 10,000-hour problem from his book Outliers:

Do you know what’s interesting about that list [of the 75 richest people in history]? Of the 75 names, an astonishing 14 are Americans born within nine years of each other in the mid 19th century. Think about that for a moment. Historians start with Cleopatra and the Pharaohs and comb through every year in human history ever since, looking in every corner of the world for evidence of extraordinary wealth, and almost 20 percent of the names they end up with come from a single generation in a single country.

Let’s assume that the children we’re currently teaching are born into a generation that’s worthy of something.  Let’s assume that the seventh, eighth, and ninth graders are going to be in a position to achieve something spectacular in seven to twelve years.  Do we know what it is?  No.  Might it be connected with art?  Yes.  Might it be connected with technology?  Yes? Might it be connected with science? Yes?  Might it be connected with being organized?  Yes. 

Will they use a student planbook to get there?

Or do they need something more like the Renaissance “Commonplace Book” — a combination day-planner, to-do list, philosophers’ phrasebook, joke repository, sketchbook, reader’s notebook, writer’s planning place, and artist’s journal?  Isn’t that what they need?  Should we be teaching them to keep it digitally? Or on paper?  Yes, to both.  

Because we all keep bookmarks online, don’t we?  Some of us use Delicious.  Some used Digg, or StumbleUpon.  We use Flickr to save favorite artworks and photos.  Adam Savage collected thousands of MBs of images before he built a Dodo Bird skeleton out of sculpey modeling clay

But I don’t know any serious adult who uses a student plan-book to organize their lives.  And that means our students shouldn’t use a dead-end tool either.  Let’s give kids scaled-down adult day planners, and consciously teach them to plan their days like serious adults do: with serious tools.