My son Ian and I are pretty good skiers. We’ve been at it as long as we can remember. Today in Switzerland we received over three feet of fresh powder snow which sounds like paradise but can be equally terrifying. When Ian fell he completely disappeared in the snow, his legs tangled on top of him so that he couldn’t move. It was an experience that pushed everything he had ever learned about skiing to its extreme limits. (Luckily I was nearby to help pull him out).
In the Life of Pi, Piscine Patel grew up around zoo animals and learned much from his father about the dangers and the habits of dealing with creatures from the wild. And then the boat that was transporting them across the Pacific sank.
There’s so much talk about creative confidence, experiential learning, design thinking, resiliency, global competence (and let’s not forget about disruptive innovation), that it makes me wonder what we’re going to do once that genie is really out of the bottle. It’s easy to use I.B. internal assessments to determine who’s ‘learning’ and who’s not. What are we going to do as we start moving closer to this new era of subjective reality? After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the standards movement grew out of the self-esteem movement of the late 1980s.
Believe you me, I’d love to see some of my former I.B. Diploma students straddling a life boat with a broken oar and a hungry Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific just to see how they’d handle it. But I am starting to look ahead at how the institution of school will not only simulate what is creative or innovative or unique, but how they will ‘judge’ it. A product driven world gave us product driven schools. Is it right to give the world process driven people? After all, the men from the Japanese shipping company were not interested so much in how Piscine survived his odyssey with the tiger so much as they wanted to know how the ship sank.
I loved how Piscine had to grapple not only with the logistics but the psychology of survival. I looked over at my son as we watched and wondered how well he would have done on the journey. Have I prepared him for the anguish of learning in the real world? Was he psychologically and spiritually strong enough to match intellects with a tiger on a boat? At one point in the film, Pi had the opportunity to kill the tiger but he did not because he realized that the challenge of keeping them both alive was the key to his own survival. That simply cannot be taught.
I am excited about the conversations, I truly am. But this excitement is tempered by something nagging at me that schools are going to try to create innovative, creative, academic, outdoorsy, generous, intellectual, resilient super people who simply cannot do it all and they’re going to ‘lose the plot’ (to quote my English friends). Whether it’s three feet of powder or a tiger on a life raft, it is when we are put in the most dire of situations that we truly learn what we are all about and what we are capable of. You cannot teach that.
Speaking of survival , gotta play this one out with a cheesy 80s classic…