On November 18, 2010, I attended my first TED conference, TEDxPhilly. While I was prepared to be blown away, I was not prepared for the level to which this would occur. Although, each and every one of the speakers helped me look at the world just a little bit differently, I would like to highlight the talks and speakers who truly resonated with me and spoke to those ideals I am passionate about.
The last talk of the day was not a talk, but a performance by Ursula Rucker. She is a poet and performance artist. Her work is visceral, raw and emotive. She understands what it’s like to grow from adversity, as a woman, mother, and African-American. She doesn’t sugar coat reality. She expresses herself in a very real, powerful way. The last song she performed, “What a Woman Wants” is not yet released, however, through YouTube, you can experience how incredible her work is.
Stanford Thomson & Tune Up Philly
The performance by Stanford Thompson’s string students from Tune Up Philly not only brought a standing ovation by the audience, but an overwhelming sense of emotion for me. Witnessing these new string students (they have only played for about two months) express themselves through music demonstrated how empowering this program is. His program is based on the El Sisterna music program from Venezuela. While I was watching his students’ faces and listening to the music they were playing, I thought of my own son, who is also a string student, having played the cello and now the viola. I was reminded that music holds no boundaries. It is something that can bring people together no matter how different they are or the backgrounds they come from. Here was a group of inner city Catholic School students who cope with a much more difficult reality than the middle class students from our schools. Yet, they played the same music that our own string students start out playing. I got the same thrill watching and listening to them as I do when I see my long-haired, skater boy and his friends perform in Orchestra. By putting instruments into the hands of inner city children, Stanford Thompson is providing an experience which may change the trajectory of these children’s lives. There is no price that one can put on this truly inspirational work.
Those of you who really know me, know how invested in public education I am and just how passionate I am about the experience of education. Much of this has come out of my own frustrations in dealing with the schools and witnessing both experiences which desperately need to be changed as well as those that the schools are getting right. It is my belief that public schools are failing in meeting the needs of our students and preparing them for the future. While schools have never fostered creativity the way they should, it is getting worse (Newsweek, 10July10 “Creativity In Crisis”). We are raising a generation of workers, not doers, leaders, or great thinkers. Standards have been dictated in such a way that educators feel they must teach to the test. What this provides is the opportunity to memorize information, often viewed as useless. It is not meaningful and therefore, once a test is over, that knowledge is not owned by the student, and is usually forgotten. That is why I was both intrigued and energized by Chris Lehmann’s and Simon Hauger’s talks.
Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia. Through project based learning, the students in his school learn to think critically. He explained that classes should be lenses of information, not silos. They should provide “meaningful experiences.” It is about teaching kids to “learn how to live.” Within SLA, they are encouraged to ask questions, seek out answers, build real stuff that matters and share it. This is a simple yet oh, so powerful concept. This is how you get students to own knowledge and ensure you are educating the next generation of leaders and great thinkers.
Simon Hauger was educated as an engineer and decided he wanted to do something that mattered and thus became an educator. He founded the Hybrid X Team of West Philadelphia High School. His after school program has allowed students to express their creativity and has provided the space necessary to solve problems. His team of students have built several hybrid cars that exceed the mpgs of hybrid cars manufactured today. They are the only inner city high school team that has gone up against top engineering universities and professional car companies in this challenge. When students are allowed to pursue their interests and passions, we all become witnesses to innovation.
Lehmann’s and Hauger’s philosophies on education resonates with me as I have been a longtime advocate of project based learning. I knew there were programs incorporating this style of learning, however I did not know that this was going on locally, within the Philadelphia public school system. Great kudos go out to Chris Lehmann and Simon Hauger for their notable programs. Hopefully, we will begin to see project based learning become more acceptable as a way of educating all students within the public school system. This type of learning meets the needs of more students. It can aid in the process of children becoming life-long learners.
Overall from each and every presenter at TEDxPhilly, there was a consistent theme of passion and energy. If you have never attended a TED conference, I urge you to put it on your list of things to do. Visit the TED site to view great videos. Your life will be touched in a way you can’t even begin to conceptualize.YouTube