As a faculty, we would earnestly ponder the question "what is 'it'?" With a follow-up inquiry of "how do we protect 'it'?" We knew that "it" existed. "It" was in the very DNA of our school. Somehow, it defined the unique characteristics of our daily enterprise. Kids valued "it." Adults within the school valued "it." It was because of "it" that parents elected to send their children to a magnet school beyond the borders of their neighborhood. We collectively honored "it." We were exceedingly proud of "it", and we understood that we had an obligation to make sure that no decision would have an adverse effect on "it".
But, what was "it?"
We frequently hosted visitors to our school. Inevitably, they would observe that there was something special about the climate and tone of our school. They would openly appreciate that whatever it was that they were observing was palpable and that it permeatted every corner, every classroom, every experience. They would observe that people appeared to be content, both students and adults, and that the degree of contentment translated to a recognizable equation of joy and satisfaction. (Not to mention high levels of achievement.) "What is it you are doing?" they would ask. "What's your secret?"
They were observing "it."
My last five posts have been building toward the revelation of "it." Using my illustrative triangle of the Relevance Triad, I have sought to describe the three essential elements of meaningful and quality instruction. With the indulgence of my readers, I post the triad one more time along with quick review.
The A/B line of the triad represents what children bring with them into the classroom. They bring experiences and data that are unquantifiable in their complexity and significance. Their perspective, influenced by the context of the A/B line will significantly define the degree of relevance that they will next experience: the B/C line. It is here that curriculum is taught, it is here that standards are addressed. It it here that standardized assessments will be proctored. It is the "B" point of the triad that reveals the intersection of the intended and unintended curriculum; as previously discussed, the intersection of a student's "lived world" and their experience in school, the "learned world." Both are viable and essential. Together, they define the typical American pubic education experience: You come, I teach, you test. Unfortunately, along with creating a non-relevant experience, it overlooks what my staff, my students and I knew: "it." Focusing solely on these two lines of the triad, A/B and B/C, shortchanges students and deprives them of the magic of learning.
"It", as we knew it and experienced it, existed within the context of what we can now appreciate as the "third space." We have come to understand that it is within this third space where relevant learning occurs. Here, what one brings and what one is taught, are combined in an invitation to explore, to adventure in creative inquiry toward the discovery of something new, something nuanced, while profoundly relevant to the interests and aspirations of the learner. It is this space, the third space, that allows students the license to explore and discover meaning to what they are learning. It is this space, the third space, that provokes student curiosity and innovation. Within this space, students are afforded the opportunity to apply what they have learned in balance with who they are. It is a creative space. It is a space that teachers, and learners alike, long for.
Sadly, it is this space, the third space, that is overlooked by the standardized interests and expectations of mainstream public education.
Our little learning community deliberately understood this third space (though absent this specific label) to be the very definition of "it." Our "it" was the intentional opportunity to take what one already knows, and what one has recently learned, and compound those perspectives toward the creation of something new.
I can clearly hear the skeptics of our enterprise: "Sure, your's is an arts focused school. Arts=creativity. That's not much of a stretch."
Hold on Aristotle . . .
Creativity is not confined to a specific discipline. Creativity is a human endeavor that can, and should, find a voice and a place in every area of study: mathematics, sciences, languages, history, humanities, as well as the arts. Every child should, and must, know the opportunity to be creative and to be honored for their unique creative endeavors within a third space: that space that is defined by what one knows and what one has learned, ignited by their personal interest. Every learner deserves the opportunity to express themselves in a third space. The opportunity to be creative in the pursuit of academic and intellectual understanding should be a foundational right for every student, regardless of their zip code or the educational setting they are assigned to.
That, my friends, is the critical and often overlooked experience and opportunity of "it."