I used to think that I was an out-of-the-box thinker.  I used to think that the best way to think outside the box was to get rid of the box entirely, and I boiled these ideas down to one simple equation:

me – the box = very deep and amazingly creative and innovative thinking x 10 (or more)

However, the perception of my grandiosely creative thinking abilities came to a smashing halt when I discovered that many of my ‘original’ ideas had already been thought.  Over a hundred years ago.  And so I find myself gorging on a huge serving of humble pie as I rethink my views on education and how it relates to teaching.  I’ve also come to realize that maybe the box isn’t such a bad place to be after all.  Without the box our brains would be floating in some sort of neurological soup bordering closer to insanity than inspiration.  The box grounds us to reality.  It’s what we do inside the box that matters.

The mechanism that brought on this change of perspective was an article called “Dewey’s Perspectives on Social Individual and Democratic Education” by Francis A. Samuel.   It was in reading this article that I realized that many of my (very out of the box) ideas regarding educational reform have already been thought – in this case by John Dewey who was born in 1859.  Here are some of the main points I pulled from the article:

  • Experience is central to a student’s learning.  Dewey said, “An ounce of experience is better than a ton of theory simply because it is only in experience that any theory has vital and verifiable significance” (p.10).
  • Learning must connect to real life.
  • The current model of education encourages conformity and suppresses “spontaneity, originality, and creativity” (p. 11).
  • “[Dewey’s] concept of curriculum was flexible and open.  It was adjustable to the needs of the individual” (p.10)
  • Learning must be individualized and done within the context of community (p.9).

Every single one of these ideas is being talked about with regard to 21st century learning.  Experiential learning, differentiated learning, authentic learning, learning in community – it’s all there.  So here is my question: if these ideas have been around for such a long time, why is it that so little has changed on a fundamental, systematic level in the way that education is delivered?  There is no doubt that we are moving forward…but we’ve had over a hundred years to work on this.  Perhaps it’s time to go back to the box and look at some of the thought that has been patiently waiting to be put to use.  Perhaps it’s time for me to dig a little deeper into the past to see what’s there before building my own theories for educational reform – not realizing that the foundation I’m building on has already been set.

I’ve come to realize that there is a wealth of good thought in the box.  As an educator, I need to learn how to creatively think about these tried and true ideas and apply them in a 21st century way.