Building readiness

by Chad Sansing

Dissident students

Kids have to own learning. To hold on to it, to connect it, to love it and launch from it – they do. Learning without love isn’t learning; it’s production. It’s not freedom; it’s indenture. It’s not an awakening; it’s a sedation.

I have this kid. He’s wicked smart. Kind to his friends. Can be a little sharp otherwise. Inventive. Gifted in all sorts of ways. When I start proposing project ideas, he interrupts to improve them. He knows more about making and applied materials science than I ever will. He categorically denies being a reader. He isn’t confident in his writing, but he is attempting more and more of it and accepting more and more help with it this year than in years past.

I am confident he will make it with our without college. As often as we find common ground – and as much as we value our work together in different ways – I have the distinct feeling that he has prioritized things in his life and school, in general, doesn’t top the list. Maybe in assessing his own reading and writing habits against whatever he’s internalized about school – including college – he’s determined that there isn’t a place for him or that all the reading and writing involved – while (painfully, perhaps) doable – isn’t worth his time in the same way his other stuff is worth his time.

I experience ambivalence here. He does work outside of school that I can’t do. His ideas and inquiries don’t fit into what we teach or how we teach it as a county, commonwealth, and country. I’m not sure what to think, especially given how problematic higher education seems to me at present – how culpable it is in producing the K-12 status quo it derides in its “these-kids-can’t” codespeak.

However, I know this: he is more ready to succeed in a life of his choosing than I ever was with all my academic fiddle-faddle (and how I did love it!). I’m just not sure that we, college, or old-economy careers can see it, and that’s a shame. If we could see it – or if we could act nimbly on seeing it – then as a system we could develop more public schools that matter to kids like my student – and, in fact, to all kids.

Anyway, here is the latest piece of evidence that has me convinced we are misappropriating our time and our kids’ time whenever we focus on solely print-based assessment (and related curricula and instruction) in our atomized content classrooms.

MC Cabinet Desktop 1

MC Cabinet Desktop 2

MC Cabinet Guts 2

MC Cabinet Guts 1

This kid is building a fully-functional Minecraft arcade cabinet/controller using a school laptop, cardboard, an orphaned Wacom tablet, a MaKey MaKey board, tape, and tin foil. He’s practicing industrial design for a peripheral for one of the world’s most popular games. He has agreed to write out his process and publish it when he’s finished. It would not be difficult to move from this to wiring an Arduino or other processing board between his computer and controller with batteries, wires, resistors, and all the math and spatial reasoning necessary to let the project stand alone and apart from the MaKey MaKey board.

This kid is building life readiness in a new economy by remixing a wildly popular commercial game with handcrafted recycled cardboard and material computing. He’s demonstrating a set of skills – as a precursor and compliment to authentic writing – that we don’t recognize as part of our curricula.

How are we building our career’s readiness to recognize what he’s doing and to make a space for it in our schools and practice? How can we build our own capacities to see and help students articulate the opportunities for learning that suffuse games, inquiry play, and projects? Setting the system aside, can we protect time for work like this in our classrooms for 20 minutes a week? A day? What can we do this year to help our kids understand that there is a place for all of them in the work that we do together?