Draft Intro for Book of Learning Stories

Democracy, Learning, Voice

For anyone interested in learning a bit more about what the book will look like . . .
This is a book of different people’s stories.
Some are about teachers who changed their students’ lives. Some describe the moment when a person first discovered how to ask the right questions, or found what they were most passionate about.  Others are about making art, or going on a challenging hike, or studying everything from Morse code to Macbeth to Kung Fu. But all of the stories in this collection are about one central thing – learning, and what it feels like to discover one’s purpose, passion, and capacity for greatness.
The 50 stories gathered here, along with hundreds of others, were submitted as part of the Rethink Learning Now campaign, a national grassroots effort to change the tenor of our national conversation about schooling by shifting it from a culture of testing, in which we overvalue basic-skills reading and math scores and undervalue just about everything else, to a culture of learning, in which we restore our collective focus on the core conditions of a powerful learning environment, and work backwards from there to decide how best to evaluate and improve our schools, our educators, and the progress of our nation’s schoolchildren.
In sharing their stories, our authors – who range from students to social workers to the Secretary of Education himself – were responding to one of two simple prompts:

  1. What was your most powerful personal experience in a learning community – regardless of whether that experience took place inside or outside of school?
  2. Who was your most effective teacher, and what was it about that person that made him or her so effective?

The purpose in asking these questions was twofold: First, to give people an opportunity to reflect on what they already know to be true about powerful learning and teaching – rather than tell them what some “expert” thinks it is; and second, to use the insights of these stories to help people see more clearly what a powerful learning environment actually looks like – and what it requires.
Based on those insights, the stories in this book are divided into five sections – challenging, engaging, supportive, relevant and experiential. As you read them, imagine how the insights they provide might be used to strengthen the learning cultures of the schools in your neighborhood. And rather than viewing each story as a “best practice” that should be replicated and scaled up, think instead of how these authors’ collective wisdom clarifies a “best question” we should ask whenever we want to improve our schools: “How can we best support educators in their work to create schools that are more challenging, engaging, supportive, relevant and experiential?”
Now, more than ever, our country needs these sorts of schools. Unlike any other pillar of our society, public education is the only institution that reaches 90% of every new generation, is governed by public authority, and was founded with the explicit mission of preparing young people to be thoughtful and active participants in a democratic society. And as these stories illuminate, the business of improving our schools doesn’t need to be a tiresome, desperate, and futile task; it can be a collaborative, risky, and deeply fulfilling journey that results in us better understanding ourselves – and each other.
So please, enjoy the stories that follow. Consider which of the recommendations we provide might be worth putting into action in your community. And take the time to share your own story, and read the stories of hundreds of other fellow citizens, at rethinklearningnow.com.