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What non-educators can teach us

Posted on: July 29, 2015

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Takaharu Tezuka is the architect who designed what TED calls the “world’s cutest kindergarten”. It was designed in 2007, but only took the world by YouTube and TED storm recently.

The kindergarten was not designed to be safe, soft, and spongy. Quite the contrary. Tezuka mentioned several times in his talk how kids learnt from falling down, getting scrapes, and bumping their heads. As for water play, he said:

… you should know that you are waterproof. You never melt in rain. So, children are supposed to be outside. So that is how we should treat them.

The kindergarten was also intentionally designed to be open and round. Why?

There is no boundary between inside and outside… there is no boundary between classrooms… When you put many children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous. But in this kindergarten, there is no reason they get nervous. Because there is no boundary.

… if the boy in the corner doesn’t want to stay in the room, we let him go. He will come back eventually, because it’s a circle… they leave and come back.

Tezuka noticed kids liked running around and doing so freely. He noted how kids learnt best by doing and experiencing. So he designed a school around such behaviours.

Perhaps Tezuka’s point is this: There is much to be learnt about how to teach kids by watching and learning from them. It is less about curriculum and instruction, and more about how they think and act.

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I do not know anyone who hates John Green. If they do, they probably are not worth knowing.

Green is an author, YouTuber, and amongst many other things, TED speaker.

After sharing his passion for maps, Green described himself as a student:

I was a really terrible student when I was a kid. My GPA was consistently in the low 2s. 

And I think the reason that I was such a terrible student is that I felt like education was just a series of hurdles that had been erected before me, and I had to jump over in order to achieve adulthood. And I didn’t really want to jump over these hurdles, because they seemed completely arbitrary, so I often wouldn’t, and then people would threaten me, you know, they’d threaten me with this “going on [my] permanent record,” or “You’ll never get a good job.” 

I didn’t want a good job! As far as I could tell at eleven or twelve years old, like, people with good jobs woke up very early in the morning, and the men who had good jobs, one of the first things they did was tie a strangulation item of clothing around their necks. They literally put nooses on themselves, and then they went off to their jobs, whatever they were. That’s not a recipe for a happy life.

He sounded like a student that most adults would write off early in life as a future also-ran or has-been. So how did he become so successful? Here are some choice quotes from his talk:

  • I became a learner because I found myself in a community of learners.
  • A lot of the learning that I did in high school wasn’t about what happened inside the classroom, it was about what happened outside of the classroom.
  • It wasn’t a formal, organized learning process.
  • The most interesting communities of learners that are growing up on the Internet right now are on YouTube.
  • I know that YouTube comments have a very bad reputation in the world of the Internet, but in fact, if you go on comments for these channels, what you’ll find is people engaging the subject matter, asking difficult, complicated questions that are about the subject matter, and then other people answering those questions.
  • As an adult, re-finding these communities has re-introduced me to a community of learners, and has encouraged me to continue to be a learner even in my adulthood.
  • I’m here to tell you that these places exist, they still exist. They exist in corners of the Internet, where old men fear to tread.

Green reminds us that learning does not happen only in the classroom. In fact, it mostly happens outside of it. One of the most powerful learning communities and informal classrooms is YouTube.

Both Tezuka and Green made references to being outside. The benefit of being there means you do not have a teacher’s blind spots. Sometimes those blind spots land squarely on what teachers need to focus on: The learner and the processes of learning.

But these are the very places teachers need to go to recover their sight. Are they reacting, as Green put it, like old men and women fearing to tread?

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