Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tony Wagner’s “Creating Innovators” doesn’t go far enough

In his recently released book, “Creating Innovators” Tony Wagner speaks about the five essential differences between schools that he calls innovative versus the culture of schooling in most classrooms. From my perspective as an innovative educator, I don’t feel his essential differences are all that innovative or go nearly far enough. When I speak to audiences and write about innovation, I enjoy pushing readers/listeners much further.

Here is my critique of one of these differences.

Collaboration Versus Individual Achievement
Wagner indicates that innovators collaborate yet school rewards individual achievement offering few meaningful opportunities for genuine collaboration. I’ll give him the fact that there’s not genuine collaboration in schools, but there’s not much of anything that is genuine in a school world that looks nothing like the real world in which young people live.

When it comes to collaboration however, I’m not sure if Tony has spent a significant amount of time in public schools lately. It’s all about...

  • Collaborative groups.
  • Work in teams.
  • Sit in 4-desk pods.
  • Never have a moment to be alone.
  • Never have time to think critically and deeply.
  • Groupthink, groupthink.
  • Get grouped with other people who happen to be share your birth year and geographic location, rather than group yourself, if you choose from others in the world, not just your classroom.

The collaboration aspect Wagner says is missing in schools is NOT what it missing. Collaboration is needlessly forced upon kids whether they want it or not and they are made to work with others whether they want to or not.  Wagner says that innovative school programs understand that collaboration is essential for innovation and every class requires teamwork and collaboration. Is forcing teamwork and collaboration innovative?


Here’s what’s innovative...
Respect the individual’s desired work style. An innovation leader knows that many successful innovators became this way because they had a chance to work alone, independently, without interruption, then...when they choose, they may decide to collaborate in their way with the people they feel will best help them achieve their goals. These often aren’t the kids that happen to be sitting in your classroom. What can innovative educators do? Empower young people to build their own personal learning network which they can call upon to learn, grow, and innovate as well as learning when it makes sense to do so.

The next example Wagner gives is that at High Tech High, students develop a new business concept and plan and present their plans to a panel of business leaders that assesses the students. Is that innovative?


Here’s what’s innovative:
Stop treating youth like people who are always in state of preparation for life rather than a state of living life. We need to stop wasting time "preparing" kids to do stuff and instead let them do stuff like they do with Big Picture or Nuestra Escuela schools. There, kids are supported in figuring out what is is they love and then supported in doing it.  

As Grant Wiggins explains in his recent piece, (Everything You Thought About Curriculum May be Wrong. Really), performance learning is where it’s at. To take that a step further we need to look at Kiran Bir Sethi and Angela Maiers who teach us that when it comes to learning, what is most powerful is that we tell young people that “You Matter” and are capable of doing work that is worthy of the world.  

I’m not the only one speaking and writing about this. If you want to read more about fostering innovation by getting away from collaboration and groupthink read:
The Rise of The New Group Think - New York Times
The Six Lesson School Teacher - John Taylor Gatto (Lesson 6)

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