Plenty of educators and policymakers have big ideas about how to innovate and transform America's education system to meet 21st-century needs, but have you ever asked yourself what the school of your dreams looks like? It's not an easy question to answer, in part because it's tempting to start making a mental list of all the reasons—lack of funding, school district bureaucracy, political bickering—why change can't happen right now. But at a recent conference in California, world-renowned creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson had no hesitation about sharing his vision for a dream school with representatives from a middle school press corps.
To start, the teens took the money issue off the table by presenting Robinson with a hypothetical blank check—which they promised to sign after he answered their questions. Their first question was pretty easy: What would he call his school? Staying true to his belief that the purpose of education should be to explore ideas, Robinson said he'd name it "Explore Academy." As an advocate of intergenerational learning, Robinson also said his campus would be open to students of all ages.
Although Robinson believes great teachers are important, he would also bring artists, scientists, and business leaders into the school to teach students and learn new skills from each other. "A really great school would be a mix of all the elements you'd find in a good community," he said.
Instead of the typical 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekday schedule, Robinson's dream school would be open late into the evenings and on Saturday, and would feature a wide range of learning activities, including increased time for dance, theater, and other art programs. The students appreciated Robinson saying he isn't an advocate of piling on homework because he believes it’s important for students to have a break from their studies. He added that he'd scale down the importance of testing in favor of more practical applications of knowledge and skills.
Sure, some of Robinson's ideas do seem like a dream. For example, it's pretty tough to imagine a school staying open till 10 p.m. in an era of draconian budget cuts. But one of most valuable parts of his approach is his insistence that things don't have to be a certain way just because they've always been that way. If people in a community decide they want something, they should band together to make it happen. If we don't all do a little dreaming about what our ideal schools would look like, we'll end up with a model of education that nobody really wants.