From 11-16 June 2012, Scotland’s Colleges are organising a Festival of Dangerous Ideas. To quote the blurb on the website:
“The aim is to re-establish the importance of dangerous ideas as agents of change in education – to shift the axis of what is possible!”
The Real David Cameron summarised this nicely along the lines of ideas that appear like heresy now which could eventually become orthodox or common place. Gever Tulley, author of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let your Children Do), also commented:
“It seems that most new ideas are seen as dangerous right up until they become common place – this is an almost necessary aspect of the evolution of any idea.”
By its very nature, the education sector is largely a conservative bunch. We do not like to rock the boat because of the direct impact this can have on children and the potentially adverse effects of experimenting. And therein lies the first dangerous idea: Educators must be risk takers. In order for us to develop personally and professionally we have to channel our obsession with all forms of risk positively and productively as typified by this anonymous quote, which I do believe is applicable to our profession:
“To laugh is to risk appearing the fool, to weep is to risk appearing sentimental, to reach out for another is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss, to love is to risk not being loved in return, to live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure, but the risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live. Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave. He has forfeited all freedom. Only a person who risks is free.”
The end of this quote leads into the second dangerous idea: Educators must think and act from a position of professional freedom not fear. We are all responsible for our thoughts and feelings and therefore each and every one of us can make a conscious decision to do this. When a person or government tells us to do something that we know is not going to make a positive difference, then we need to be able to articulate our thoughts and act in the best interests of the children we serve. We must not be intimated by misguided or misinformed legislative practices.
A recent example of this comes from Deborah J Stewart who writes the blog, Teach Pre-school. In one post she blogs about introducing a rope to her children who used it to make an obstacle course. One comment informed her that in terms of her State’s legislation, she would be allocated the lowest rating on their scale for assessing the quality of her pre-school because the rope was longer than seven inches. Deborah simply replied, “my preschoolers would wholeheartedly disagree with that rating!”
Deborah’s approach also exemplifies the third dangerous idea: Educators must be prepared to break rules and regulations. This is not a sanctioning of recklessness and irresponsibility. It’s about each and every one of us realising when a directive is inappropriate and having the courage to follow our beliefs and principles. It’s about us recognising the unsaid or hidden social rules which hinder or hamper a learning ethos within a school. It’s about being highly tuned in to the needs of children in our class and how to meet them.
All of the above take courage, commitment and bravery from every individual educator. Perhaps it remains a dangerous idea the thought that each and every one of us really can fundamentally shift education through our own beliefs, thoughts and actions.
Finally I’d like to suggest that we actually need more risk within the activities we offer children. A dangerous education, some might say! Again, Gever Tulley summarised this nicely:
“Seems to me we should make a distinction between “dangerous ideas” and pedagogical methods that incorporate danger. In the latter case, I say that there is value in projects that contain an element of risk. For example, it is my experience that kids work harder, pay more attention, and put more thoughts into projects like sailboats, go-karts, and tree-houses. Part of this effort surely comes from the fact that their lives depending on the outcome. In this sense, the mathematics that we incorporate into the project experience prove the old adage that “algebra will one day save your life.” Somehow, the result of a difficult equation is so much more interesting when you know that getting it right is the difference between sailing and sinking. So, my thought is that an element of risk is a necessary part of meaningful learning. It helps children become creative, confident and in control of the world around them.”
I’d be interested to know your thoughts about this. Gever can be seen giving a TED Talk about 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do. Is this still too radical for our education system to consider embedding these ideas and principles? If so, then it truly is a Dangerous Idea!