Thursday, September 21, 2006

The da Vinci Code

  Posted by Picasa Leonardo da Vinci is generally regarded as one of the great geniuses of all times. His gifts seem unlimited and extended into all areas of human knowledge – art, science, architecture, music, engineering, court entertainering (‘events arranger’) inventing and philosophy.

Today we ‘image’ him as an old man but in his youth he must have been an impressive individual.

What not may be known to many of us is that, because he was illegitimate, he was not permitted to go to the schools of the day. Instead he was given an apprenticeship at Florence’s most renowned workshop but he soon outshone his masters. He was happy to bi pass the current curriculum of the day, Latin and Greek, and immersed himself in observing every facet of his immediate environment and in the process escaped from and challenged the narrowness of current teachings.

Considered to be the ultimate ‘Renaissance Man’ he was capable of turning his questing mind to anything that caught his attention or imagination. We have his workbooks to prove it. He has some pretty simple idea to follow – observe and question everything, draw or record your findings, and realize ideas through modeling and making, or by using the imagination.

He was a man for his time and for our own. Indeed some people call our current era the beginning of the 'second Renaissance' – or the 'new era of ideas and creativity'.

We need to follow his example if we are to capitalize on the new understandings about learning and the immense power of information technology we now have available to us.

Imagine if we could design schools that could tap into the questing intelligences of the young people who enter our schools today so full of hope and imagination.

The trouble is that our secondary schools are locked into 'mindsets' that belong to an industrial era – ideas equivalent to Leonardo’s Latin and Greek. The industrial era has had a long run but the problem is someone forgot to tell the secondary schools where the 'factory model' is alive and well. These mental factories mass produce a narrow range of learning ( with equivalent 'waste products') in the process marginalizing the variety of individual talents and gifts of their captive students.

The current school ‘egg crate’ model is no place to prepare students for a fast changing global society they will inherit.

Imagine a school based on an updated version of da Vinci’s thinking.

Students would be working on projects that they are personally interested in, enriching their understanding by a cross pollination of ideas from every current learning areas (and some not yet even imagined). Students and their teachers (we would need a new name because many students, like Leonardo, would be in advance of their teachers) would be working be on projects at the edge of their intellectual competence, pushing their shared understandings to the full.

In this new world (for which we already have all the technology to achieve) the lines between disciplines, so persuasive in today’s schools, would be absent. The students would be involved in free flowing learning utilizing the various skills each weould bring to the learning situation rather than learning alone in mental competition with each other.

To achieve such 'free flowing' learning we would need completely new buildings to represent the new thinking. Schools would no longer look like ‘factories’ and become flexible ever changing 'communities of inquiry'. Just as it was difficult to decide if Leonardo was involved in art, science or philosophy so will the work of our future students.

Learning in modern day da Vinci school, with what we know about how students learn and with the amazing but as yet untapped power of modern information technology, will have burst through the mental barriers that created the straight lines, bells, timetables and predermined curriculums of our current outdated system.

It will not be money that limits us but imagination and courage; imagination to be able to create schools as places of intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. Once you begin to think about how creative thinkers actually work the ‘classroom as a factory’ metaphor will be seen as a mere enforcer of obedience and conformity.

To achieve such an imaginative possibility will require us to 'change our minds first' – but no matter, if we don’t, modern creative students, like Leonardo, will simply create their own curriculum and in the process change our minds for us.

Modern day Leonardos are out there already!


Anonymous said...

I agree. Our our schools are not designed to suit the 'mindsets' of modern students - they only ever suited academic learners.

All children enter with unlimited potential and only a few creative individuals survive - the rest bow down to the conformity of the system.

Anonymous said...

I believe there are many young people 'out there', busy learning in their own way like the young da Vinci, for whom school is a total irrelevance.

Anonymous said...

The answers to our school problems are obvious except to teachers - like fish they will be the last to discover water!

Bruce said...

All the ideas are available to design magnificent new secondary schools, or at least transform cuurent schools, but it seems no real will to do so.

Every community needs a real alternative for creative teachers to try out new ideas about personalized learning for those students whose secondary education is a nightmare or a bore.

I believe there is one in Auckland ( Alfriston) and another in Christchurch ( Unlimited)!

We need one in every major city!