TED Conversations

Dominic Randolph

Head of School, Riverdale Country School

TEDCRED 100+

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How can we teach young people the mindset and skills to be effective social innovators, and therefore, change schools for the good?

If we want students to be better thinkers, better ethicists, better scientists and better historians? To what ends?

It would seem that having students understand the ways that change can happen and be managed in order to improve the place they live in or the broader global community must be an essential element of a good education.

I wonder if we can better define the mindset (a la Dweck) of the mindset of great social innovators, assess those capacities in formative ways and construct educational experiences in schools that will lead to the development of these mindsets in ALL children.

Having students understand that they can be changemakers as Ashoka Youth Venturers do and the students at Kiran Sethi's Riverside School in India understand would be an amazing goal for all schools and universities? How can we get this to happen more comprehensively and force change on the educational system?

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    Mar 3 2011: Everything in existing school systems pushes chldren to conform and to average out. We need to start educating individual people and understanding their abilites rather than telling them what they must be. We now know that people are born with distinct abilities and it is through recognizing those strengths and weaknesses that we can empower people to be what they are designed to be by their brain endowments and interests. When we embrace computerized classrooms (virtual reality) where kids can follow a Montessori like path that they initiate and follow we will find that innovators spring up fully formed. Most kids have their interests ignored as they walk lock step into a future that does not consider them as real people until they can vote. 'Kids are our greatest resource' needs to be more than a platitude. We squander our collective societal wealth by allowing only wealthy kids with engaged parents to get the education that we now could deliver to all through computers. Time to initiate a better way where every child's question is answered every time and that can happen through computers.
  • Mar 2 2011: Dom, great questions. I'm answering down your list.

    If we want students to be better... To what ends? As an educator, I don't know that's what I want. I want my kids to have curiosity, passion, interest in their lives. I hope that it will drive them to great heights because it fulfills them - they want to achieve. And I think their contributions will be decided afterward. But at the end of the day, I just want them to be happy - does it matter that they're the best? Not to me, no.

    Understanding change in the community or global context is an essential element of a good education: agreed. And I would add that it's not just understanding (I think that makes for a good planner), but it more begins with empathy - relating. Showing them how this affects them, how some situation across the world is just like home. How we constantly change, but are not so different.

    Definition of the mindset of great social innovators: for sure. And as mentioned above, I believe it starts with curiosity, an interest in one's personal life, before finding others are interesting as well. It's finding passion. It's the feeling of fear, but knowing you can overcome it. Students I think need to learn attitudes that will let them succeed, and the experience of emotions and how to gain meaning from them. And of course, after that, they also need the skills to analyze, and the knowledge just as general background.

    Changemakers as a goal: I believe in this 100%. Hong Kong has "MaD": Making a Difference. It's basically a TED format for youth, and with tons of gov. funding it works. There is so much energy, so much passion, optimism. It's inspiring. Yes, I think the educational systems need overhauls - but before that happens, let's bypass the system and create spaces for youth to explore, ask questions, connect, and get fired up. And it's amazing where they'll take it.
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    Feb 26 2011: You are asking something impossible, students have no choice in what they are learning because they do not know they have a real choice. In order for significant change to happen, speaking for America, a total reform of education must take place. Where philosophy (morals, ethics, skepticism) and psychology (understanding of self, others, and environment) need to be entwined into all the subjects of education.

    Students would be thinkers if we taught them to be, they would be creative if we gave them artistic test instead of academic test. Teach them to question, they will question is what I am saying.

    Anything an American can learn in school today can be taught from a search engine in minutes instead of years. American education is something comparable to day care.

    You want to change the mindset of students, that is impossible, you have to change how and what they are learning first. Their mindset will follow.
    • Mar 2 2011: Nic, I don't think it's impossible. I think there are teachers out there who want to truly empower and educate their students. I also think there are students out there brave enough to contest their systems - and also tenatious enough to thrive despite oppressive school systems (if they happen to be in one).

      I agree a huge education reform must take place. However, that argument doesn't provide insight into how that would happen. If we simply keep on saying that, then it's an excuse to not act now until the time is right. A friend of mine said the time is never right - just act now. I agree with him. Feminists fought when the time wasn't right. The gays. The blacks, the minority groups. They created movements precisely because the time wasn't right, and would never be right.

      I think you also underestimate students in saying that we must give them artistic tests to train artists, or that they will only blindly question everything if we teach them to question. You're not giving individuals the credit of being able to absorb concepts and reapply them in new and innovative ways. Artists precisely draw on the diversity of their experiences - in fact, I would argue that in order to be a great artist, you have to have a great sensitivity to life, or a diverse background. Otherwise there is nothing to inform the art.

      I would agree with you that changing what they are learning is a key step. But what they are learning is also learning techniques. That's possible to change in little ways in the classroom. I'm a teacher, and I have to teach my students RWI phonics. I'm supposed to follow the handbook - when I'm observed I do. It works, but it's boring. So most of the other times, I think up other games for the kids to learn the phonics. When they get stuck on a hard word, I explain to them why I am challenging them - because I've given them the tools already, and they can solve it. Kids don't get it right away, but somewhere along the way, they do and they will.
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      Mar 2 2011: I do agree that without a "culture of permission" or democratic systems in schools that allow for students to take charge of their educational experience, then any significant reform would be thwarted; however, I do think that it is possible for schools to be filled with permission.

      Nonetheless, unless students have developed the capacities to understand how change happens and what one does with change, I also believe that any reform will be doomed. I guess I do not see us developing an innovator's/entrepreneur's mindset in our children yet in deep and broad ways in schools, but I hope that we are starting to aim in that direction.
  • Feb 26 2011: Over a period of time, transit form the failing, rule-based, compliance, feedback systems of late modernity to the consent-based, democratic, open systems of post-modernity.

    In late modernity, enablement comprises prerequisites of empowerment. This reflects top-down reformist technocratic/meritocratic expert-based elitist systems in which reality both scientific and social is understood in terms of rules. And more rules. Do as we say (comply) for ten or fifteen years and we might let you have a life. Modernity is not democratic - it is legalistic.

    Place empowerment before enablement so that processes of enablement are shaped by the empowered.
    Democratize schools. Completely.
    • Mar 2 2011: Eric, from an academic perspective, I would contest your notion of modernity because there are so many modernities out there. Not all of them are democratic. Asia grapples with the negotiation of modernity - is it technological advancement, economic growth, an emulation of the Western capitalist democratic system? Is it something else?

      I think you have to be much more specific with what you mean in terms of the democratization of schools. What do you mean by that? Do you mean more student input? Do you mean more integrated learning? Do you mean an overhaul in the grading system and curriculum? Why do you think democratizing schools will equal immediate empowerment? If we were to look at democracies today - are all groups empowered very simply because they are in a democracy?

      I'm not arguing against the idea of democracy, nor the idea that there is a great gap between the way our societies think and operate now than 100 years ago. However, I'm just challenging you to define exactly what you mean to answer the question above. What would EXACTLY would you do?