Recently I came upon a post in my twitter feed from the Chronicle of Higher Education and written by guest blogger and University of Maryland professor, Jason Farman (Coincidentally I attended the University of Maryland in 1988 for one year and took a fascinating course in American Studies, the department where he now teaches) Reading through “A Manifesto for Active Learning“, I found abundant interesting material there that merited further reflection but over the next consecutive days my mind came back to one particular subheading and section of the blog entitled “The Classroom is not the Classroom.” For some reason it reminded me of René Magritte’s painting called “The Treachery of Images” pictured here below.
Belgian Surrealist René Magritte’s painting of a pipe with “This is not a pipe/Ceci n’est pas une pipe” written below it holds a message for educators seeking to showcase what is happening inside our classrooms.
My question is what happens outside of our classrooms? Because, surreal as it sounds, we now know that the classroom is no longer the classroom.
Magritte’s painting has been interpreted to mean that the pipe pictured here merely represents the actual object and is not the object itself hence the title -“The Treachery of Images,” which implies that images are deceptive. In a similar vein, Jacques Derrida believed that words and signs can never truly articulate what they mean. Some people may interpret these artistic and philosophical expressions reflective of a pessimistic or nihilistic view of the world, but I beg to differ, and would like to extend the analogy one step further.
Back to the classroom. If the signs and words (exercises and curriculum included) we use to describe the classroom/learning process are simply images that don’t truly represent the classroom/learning taking place, where is the classroom? The classroom is out there in the world.
Lamentably, most K-12 or university classrooms are still physical spaces where tasks are assigned, lectures given, tests taken etc… But what happens with the information garnered in the classroom and the interaction that ensues outside of the classroom via face to face as well as socially networked interactions? And how are students able to broadly apply the skills and knowledge that are cultivated in the classroom to improve their lives and the lives of others? Wherever that happens, now that’s the classroom.
For all our love of rational measuring and metrics, the classroom and all it entails can’t be measured or captured within the walls of a little red schoolhouse or in any building for that matter, and similarly I think that is the essence of what Magritte and Derrida were getting at in their own way with their art and philosophy. Learning and classrooms have grown weary of being imprisoned and need and want to tear down the four walls of space and the prescribed curriculum that are holding them in. They want to merge with the world where openness and connectivity reside.
However, that means changing and making more flexible learning spaces and school hours. It means blended learning, multi-age classrooms, PBL, personalized learning, inquiry based learning, autonomy in learning, and relaxing our national obsession with data as well as hundreds of other changes, connections and openings.
Are you ready to break down the classroom walls and let the world in?
Check out Kyle Pace’s Presentation on “Breaking down the Classroom Walls”