Day 204: Learn, Teach, Lean

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July 22, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

Over the past year, essentially since I began contemplating the end of my long career as a student in the conventional sense, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about education.  Now that that career has come to a close, with my degree in hand, I’m more aware than ever that being a student isn’t something that ends when the mortar boards are thrown.  Life is learning, or at least a good life is (…or at least, my idea of a good life is).

I’m not a historian of education, but I can give you my perspective as someone who’s spent a lot of his own history being educated in a way that’s been copied and pasted in classrooms across the world for generations.

Learning in a classroom is something the developed world is proud to do, and we’ve been doing it for quite some time.  [Students] + [Tools] x [Teachers] = [Education].  This equation is fundamental, but those variables are a lot more variable than much of the industrialized education model is able to conceptualize.  Educational administrators seem fearful of change or new ideas – they hide behind convention and tradition and cautious inaction, rather than risking the education of our children (our future) on new ways of teaching.  That’s not an unreasonable position in and of itself – education is important enough to warrant thinking seriously about how not to get it wrong, but there’s a denial underlying that sort of mental paralysis – a sense of “if it ain’t all the way broke, it ain’t worth trying to fix.”  Well, education may not be “all the way broke”, but it’s not as good as it could be or even should be.  With every kid that falls through the cracks, a little piece of the future falls with them.  The right teacher can make a student out of anyone, and the right student can become a teacher in their own way to continue a glorious cycle.  Today’s project wants to help the current of that cycle flow stronger by helping teachers teach teachers about teaching.

The Odyssey Initiative is exploring America’s best practices in education.  Later this year, three teachers hope to embark on a cross-country journey to identify, examine, highlight and share the most successful education programs (and the many creative, brilliant and inspired teachers behind them) in America.

On September 4th, 2012, three experienced teachers will launch The Odyssey Initiative, an expedition across the 50 states to observe, document, and share what is already working in American schools. For 35 weeks, we will visit America’s best schools, interview America’s best teachers and observe their best practices to create a free and open educational resource for everyone to use and to improve education for all children.

The cycle won’t end when they make their way back home – these teacher-students will use what they learned along the way to establish a new public school in New York that will serve not only the students working their way toward graduation, but the students who want to help them graduate.

I’ve been lucky to have some amazing teachers throughout my career in academia.  I’ll be lucky to have amazing teachers as I continue my education throughout my career outside of classrooms.  We’ll all be lucky if this project can inform and inspire amazing new teachers to make new teachers to make new teachers.  The cycle doesn’t move forward without creative, bold and brilliant people, and you and I have a chance to support them all by backing this odyssey on Kickstarter before July 28.


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