The End of School?

For one week each October, Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) brings together some of the world's most outstanding speakers to present their ideas and inspire the innovations of tomorrow at 80+ sessions across the city of Chicago. CIW aims to be the platform for sharing big ideas and making big things happen.
“It’s a building that contains all of the information and you go to it, you get it, and then you’re full.”
Oh no. Another outdated description of the library. 
Well, almost.
This was actually Sandee Kastrul, co-founder and president of i.c.stars, introducing Education: The End of School, part of Chicago Ideas Week. The conversation, featuring five panelists promoting the benefits of experience-based education, encouraged the audience to reconsider traditional learning models and to look ahead to future directions for education.  
Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, focused his presentation on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves through play and exploration. Gray’s research suggests that children are biologically designed to learn through play, questioning, and exploration, even in the absence of formal education systems. The anthropological research that informs his work shows that even in modern hunter gatherer cultures, children play at activities to learn and their play inevitably leads them to some of the hardest, most difficult to learn, and most essential skills that they will need to work as adults. Gray’s work has also focused on the Sudbury Valley School model, where students, aged four to sixteen, participate in a democracy that governs the school and where they are allowed to do what they wish at the school, including following activities and play that reflect their interests. Among the lessons Dr. Gray shared from his research:
  • children benefit from unlimited opportunity to play, explore, and pursue their own interests;
  • children need opportunities to play with the tools of their culture;
  • children need access to helpers, not judges;
  • and children benefit from immersion in stable, moral, democratic communities.    
It was almost impossible not to consider how libraries play a role in this line of thinking. Libraries provide spaces for exploration and questioning and our professional values encourage users of all ages to pursue their interests and to seek the guidance of helpful librarians who can provide information without judgment. Libraries are also moving to provide greater opportunities for users to play with the tools that will shape the future, through computers, internet access, maker spaces, and lendable equipment. Whether or not we believe in this direction for education, it is good to know that our spaces, people, and values provide the flexibility to accommodate these new styles of learning.
At the opposite end of the education process was Victor Saad’s talk about his initiative, the Experience Institute. Saad’s twelve month higher education program grew out of his own experience in his self-made Leap Year Project. The Experience Institute helps students learn with host companies through apprenticeships, self-guided projects, meet-ups, and coaching. The inaugural 2014 class included five students focusing on experiential design, social entrepreneurship, writing, organizational strategy, and sustainable design. The 2015 class includes twelve students. What was perhaps most impressive from Saad’s talk was the Institute’s curriculum, which includes self-awareness, storytelling, operations, community building, and design thinking. 
Again, it’s hard not to see how libraries might help support this new model of education. But the more challenging process might be in thinking how libraries and librarians can learn from these models. Several of the Institute’s core competencies have already been identified as skills that our best library leaders possess, including storytelling, community building, and design thinking. Libraries will likely continue to learn from and explore the competencies and models proposed by these and other higher education initiatives (check out Stanford2025). And if these trends in higher education continue to play out, we will likely benefit from the graduates of these programs as they come into our organizations and help us change towards new futures.   
If you'd like to learn more about Chicago Ideas Week and their programming, consider following them on Twitter (@chicagoideas or #CIW) or check out some of their videos from previous events