‘Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’ ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
We’ve known each other professionally for some years online, though I’ve always struggled to keep up with her prolific pace of educational innovation – she does so much that stretches the boundaries of what was considered possible with young kids. Marianne Malmstrom interviewed me about the implementation and application of Quest Atlantis is Middle Schooling for a presentation she gave to teachers. I could tell from our earliest conversations that we saw the world of education in a similar way. For a start she does not see the fruits of education- learning- as something that lives in a document, in a lesson plan, in a superintendent’s vision but in the self-guided activity of a thinking, inquiring mind. But few share this vision. Learning through discovery, through purposeful (and also a very necessary purposeless) play is a way to stimulate and respect young minds. It can take students from learning ‘about’ a given topic and instead find ways to apply what they have uncovered to their own lives and the lives of others.
Our meeting ranged geographically (from cafe to restaurant to cafe around Union Square, NY) but also around the topics of Political activism and the railroading of idealism by other agendas, Nonviolent communication, internet safety, unsatisfactory changes in the Quest Atlantis backstory, the movement towards recognition of same sex marriages and the present educational ‘reforms’ (to use a far more polite term) in the US that seem to be causing teachers to become disenfranchised from their creativity. Clearly, despite budgetry cuts, imagined or otherwise, teachers do not feel encouraged to innovate – except for a few like Marianne, or Knowclue as she is known in Second Life and QA.
What impresses most about Marianne is her skill with questioning. Not once did she offer an answer, rather she offered us a fascinatingly revealing question at our last stop of the evening- ‘What is essential content for students to know by the end of their school education?’ Now this question is not the question that is generally being asked in the US. The trend in education is to speak about essential skills that are needed rather than the content. Governments tend to take the content based focus as it is easier to control adn standardise, perhaps?
So this question was put to the people at the table – a web content editor/writer who shares resources with educational bodies, a music specialist teacher and myself – well intentioned dabbler across many fields. We each lead from our strengths – the editor said it was literacy and wide ranging literacy at that so that students grazed and savoured literature from around the world. The music teacher cited the ability to read notation would be of great assistance in developing skills across curriculum and life areas. I cited a need to develop and appreciate and awareness of Ethics – the life choices we make as well as the values that underpin them. And not just our own, but those of others and help equip students to design/refashion their own rather than just ‘buy them unquestioning off the rack.’ I also threw in that an absolute essential would be Beauty – in art, literature, mathematics, ideas – an aesthetic appreciation for life.
With great aplomb, Marianne deftly brought us to the issue she sees in the term ’21st Century Learning’ which, she argues, is becoming a meaningless slogan. ’21st century learning’ is a vast, nebulous piece of jargon to lump together skills such as collaboration and creation but if (and these are my words not hers, exactly) there are no raw materials (content) upon which to apply these tools, then what is created? What is the best content, the most needed, the most valuable and the most motivating for our young learners? She gave no answer, perhaps because we need to learn to live that inquiry ourselves…
I visit her in situ at her school on Monday. I can’t wait to see it all in practice. How does her students’ use of technology foster positive, collaborate, community-building inquiry.
For more on how she is innovating, please visit –