Through Another Lens: School Reimagined

The movie event at Learning by Design sought to address a question that Suzie Boss challenged us with in 2017: “How can we design learning experiences that change the health of the whole community?” ISB Learning By Design is a call to reimagine the way schools facilitate learning in a culture characterized by open knowledge systems, inclusive educational communities, and rapid social change. In 2017 we hosted a screening of the Dintersmith film, Most Likely to Succeed but our search for a film on this occasion proved elusive. No single movie quite captures the essence of this complex question adequately or comprehensively. In the end, we opted to show several film clips that we felt captured the key themes of wellbeing, reimagining school, the place of the arts in education, inclusion and creativity – things that we all value, things that are vital to the health of a school community.

Ultimately, these are stories of triumph over adversity, heroic stories of making a difference, battling against the odds, finding something worth believing in to sustain hope. What are the implications for our students?

AT WHAT COST: THE HEALTH OF OUR SCHOOLS TODAY
Director, Vicki Abeles made the 2009 movie, Race to Nowhere, after the pressures of school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities made her middle-school daughter physically ill. A decade later, the film still resonates today and, as David Gleason recent research confirms, the health of our schools is a growing priority for all of us. At what cost do we ignore this priority?

 

SCHOOL REIMAGINED: DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
In Michael Moore’s 2015 documentary, Where To Invade Next?, the filmmaker explores – in typical Moore fashion – places in the world that the US might do well to invade, so as to bring some enlightened social policies back home. In this clip, Moore finds himself in Finland and is very surprised by what he hears.

 

IT’S ABOUT HEART: THE PLACE OF THE ARTS IN EDUCATION
In the Academy Award-nominated 1995 film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, high school music teacher, Glenn Holland, struggles to realise his dream in a school in which the value of the arts is severely questioned and Holland finds himself marginalized in a world of traditional hierarchy. In this excerpt, the lead character – played brilliantly by Richard Dreyfuss – is tasked with the impossible challenge of saving Lou Russ.

 

THE INCLUSIVE SCHOOL: A TALE OF A JEDI KNIGHT
Inclusion is a vital part of the mission of a growing number of schools around the world today. How important a role can a true culture of inclusion play for a learner in their success, in their future? Most schools know how to support students with Dyslexia. But how about a young person who is socially and economically deprived, who contends with a very troubled home life? How can our schools help a young Jedi Knight who dreams of having a garden find a purpose? Meet the inspirational Keith Cook.

 

DESIGNING THE FUTURE: FINDING THE CREATIVE SPARK
A member of our film panel, Katie Martin, recently wrote: ‘Our changing world demands creative thinkers and collaborative problem solvers, but too often, schools stifle growth and discovery in favor of getting through the curriculum or preparing for “the test.” Learning opportunities and teaching methods must evolve to match the ever-changing needs of today’s learners. When we tell kids to complete an assignment, we get compliance. When we empower kids to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem solvers and innovators.’ So how do we help students to find this creative spark?” What choice do we need to make here? And do the learners get a say in that decision?

 

Cornelius Minor reminds us of what teaching must be. “It cannot,” he contends, “be orthodoxy that keeps us tethered to the earth.” We must go beyond the “savagely inequitable status quo” because, “we do not teach for what is. We teach for what can be.” Here’s to continuing to explore the challenges of Learning by Design: a celebration of those who give their best to students each day, a call to those who are brave enough to embrace the messiness of change, an open dialogue about things we assume cannot be changed, and an ongoing narrative about what can be.

With special thanks to the co-designer of this film event, Mary Jeanne Farris and our film panel: Emily Hinder, Jennifer Williams, Ewan McIntosh, Katie Martin, Mathilde Dratwa, Cornelius Minor and Niall de Burca.

Film Credits
Race to Nowhere. Directed by Vicki Abeles, Jessica Congdon. Reel Link Films, 2010.
Where to Invade Next. Directed by Michael Moore. Dog Eat Dog Films, 2016.
Mr. Holland’s Opus. Directed by Stephen Herek. Hollywood Pictures, 2016.
Role Models. Keith Cook. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DlSSh1E60s, 2017.
Be More Dog. VCCP, 2013.