A Duckworth Daydream

After reading Duckworth’s essay “The Having of Wonderful Ideas”, a overpowering drowsiness overcame me and I drifted off into a deep sleep.   As I slumbered, a dream faded into existence.  It was a dream of a school.  A school of ideas.  Where children went not by compliance but rather by curiosity.  For this school was a laboratory of learning, with eager, knowledgeable teachers standing by to help guide students on their journeys of personal inquiry.  For the most part the teachers remained relatively quiet, smiling and nodding.  The students, on the other hand, were always talking, verbally working through their own wonderful ideas through a vocal blueprint.

Then, at the precisely right moment when the child posed a question, a teacher would ask a guided question of the student.  The effect of this question was that of a rare candy on a Pokémon, propelling the student to a sudden evolution, jumping to a new stage in learning.   The astounding part of these “lessons” was the immense confidence of the student.  For as soon as an idea escaped a student’s lips, he or she would dive into the materials and books around them, testing out the idea immediately.  And as the student pursued a novel thought, the teacher would follow right along, offering new tools and resources along the way.

As the day continued, the wonders never ceased to amaze me.  Not only were the teachers helping the students pursue their inquiries the teachers themselves were learning along with the students, even taking personal notes about the discoveries that both student and teacher made.  It seemed as if the teachers were not only accepting of the student driven path, they were actually embracing the unanticipated!

Sometimes, students would arrive without a specific question.  In response, teachers would direct students’ attention to a pile of materials on the floor, or an interesting feature in the school yard.  The students were then asked to develop a problem to asses! How different this model than the traditional answer location and regurgitation of a traditional school.

In addition to using the materials in the building, the teachers also encouraged the students to access background knowledge.  For instance, when a student was studying properties of a puddle of water, the teacher reminded the student of the towel he left on the poolside that became totally soaked even though just a corner was in the pool. “Wait!” cried the teacher “Maybe the water climbs up the towel, just like a prince climbing Rapunzel’s hair!”  “That’s a wonderful idea”, cried the teacher, “What else can water climb up?”.

At the end of the day, when the final bell rang, it was nigh impossible to remove the students from the school premise, many of them begging for just one more hour or two.  Although I was only there but a day, I was sure that these students would graduate from the school and unleash their intellectual curiosity upon the unsuspecting world.

Duckworth, E. (1972). The having of wonderful ideas. Harvard Educational Review, 42(2), 217-231.


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