Urgent Matters

Leysin's horizon

Leysin’s horizon

Tragedy always brings an immediacy to life. Being from the Boston area, this feeling brought new urgency when I learned of the recent bombing at the marathon.

Do we have this urgency in school? Do we have an immediacy sparked not by tragedy but the passing time of youth and knowledge in front of us? Certainly the IB/DP or AP teacher feels this sense more than most with its assessments and timelines. But what about the rest of us? How long should it take to learn? What drives innovation and why is it so hard to do?

I am in the midst of a two year project to disrupt the way we do things with a new course called “digital literacy.” Its pilot name was Flex but I had to change it so people could infer its intent beyond something akin to a rubber band. The urgency I am invoking is within a question I asked two years ago. “Are our students any more compassionate, responsible, or innovative (our mission) than when they got here? How do we know?” Nobody could answer it. And yet we all work so hard.

So, we are starting, ever so slowly, to introduce a curriculum, etc. to answer this question and put students in the hot seat to create something that shows they have attained, somehow, this goal. What mystifies me is the process. If, say, an automobile or high tech company had no idea whether or not their product was successful, then how in the world could they get better? Would they even stay in business? Maybe this is what in part sparked the accountability/testing movement in America. But many believe (and research is starting to show) how disastrous that has been for innovation and learning.

I live and work in a small village in Switzerland. We did a town ‘cleanup’ day for Earth Day. We all focused on one thing and did it really well. We agreed on the task. We participated. We felt a sense of accomplishment. We celebrated. Isn’t that what makes the human experience work? Do we feel that way in our daily school lives? Is it urgent?

We’ll see how this ‘digital literacy’ thing goes. It might cost me my job. It might not. But if we cannot answer those fundamental questions with urgency about whether our students are ‘getting there’ then you better start turning that aircraft carrier.

About Stephen Dexter, Jr.

Stephen is an international educator and administrator. A native of the United States, he lives with his wife Stephanie and children Zoe and Ian in the Singapore. With a career that spans over twenty years in public, private and international schools, he writes when he can and is on a quest to discover if "text walking" is changing the human brain.
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