TED Conversations

Dominic Randolph

Head of School, Riverdale Country School


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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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    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.

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