KickStarter: Approaching the Elephant

Approaching the Elephant is a proposed documentary by film-maker Amanda Wilder.

From KickStarter;

“Imagine attending a school where it’s up to you what you learn. No class is mandatory. Rules and judicial decisions are determined by democratic vote. Everyone from the youngest person, who could be as young as five years old, to the director of the school, has an equal say in how the school runs. Whether your response to this picture is, ‘I love it! Send me, this is my bag!’ or, ‘Horrible! Anarchy! Hogwash! Don’t tell me it’s real!’ I bet you’ll itch to know more. Free schools are rare birds, radically different from conventional models of ‘school.’ Approaching the Elephant takes its audience into a free school, and through carefully observed scenes cut and strung into an engaging story, invites viewers to fundamentally reconsider the rights of children and how we learn.”

This documentary would be a valuable addition to the larger narrative of the notion of ‘school.’

$8568 has been pledged so far of a goal of $14500 – if you would like to see this film made, please consider donating.

Yeah but…

Following the #pencilchat storm over the weekend (I wonder how many people know that John Spencer’s blog Adventures in Pencil Integration has been doing this for years and in fact Seymour Papert used the pencil allegory dating back to 1980) got me to thinking. As educators who are pushing change or perhaps just trying to promote the integration of more technology, we need to have a go-to list, to overcome the ‘yeah buts…’

Developments in technologies have played a critical role in bringing about social and institutional change throughout the ages, but resistance to change is not new.

From Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology:

From the journal of the National Association of Teachers, 1907: “Students today depend too much on ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”

From Rural American Teacher, 1928: “Students today depend on store bought ink, They don’t know how to make their own, When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words until their next trip to the store. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

From Federal Teachers, 1950: “Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in this country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”

Or from Out of Our Minds:

“If Shakespeare was alive today he would only understand 50% of what we were talking about – as indeed many of us struggle to completely understand Elizabethan English”

“At the end of the 19th century, artists worried that photography would be the death of painting. Others argued that this would be unlikely since a photograph could never be a work of art.”

Many people have interpreted passages of the Bible to imply: “The earth is fixed and immovable and lies at the center of all things.”

Or Bill Gates: “256K should be enough for anybody.”

These points illustrate the long struggle people, let alone educators, have had with contemporary technologies and dealing with change. The future is hard to predict, but one thing is certain – in a world moving at an exponential pace, change is the one known against the multitude of unknowns. So the next time you here a “yeah, but…”, tell them to get over it.

Add your own evidence below about resistance to change.

Democratic Schools – Summerhill

A. S. Neill’s Summerhill School in Suffolk, UK is a completely democratic school. Students of all ages decide for themselves what they will do and when, how and where they will do it.

“This freedom is at the heart of the school; it belongs to students as their right, not to be violated. The fundamental premise of the school is that “all people are curious by nature ; that the most efficient, long-lasting  and profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the learner; that all people are creative if they are allowed to develop their unique talents; that age-mixing among students promotes growth in all members of the group; and that freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility.”

From their website,

The important freedom at Summerhill is the right to play. All lessons are optional. There is no pressure to conform to adult ideas of growing up, though the community itself has expectation of reasonable conduct from individual.

Sounds like my kind of school.

Interested to hear from anyone who has had experience with democratic schools.