Everything is Education;
Everywhere is a Classroom
By Theodore Richards
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Reimagining the Classroom by Theodore Richards. Copyright © 2023 by Theodore Richards. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold. Click here to order your copy now.
A child sits alone, staring at a screen.
This is the enduring image of the pandemic: the sad and lonely child, learning “remotely.” It is the child who encapsulates this moment, the child who forces a reckoning with the world we’ve made, the future we’ve mortgaged, the cost of our hubris. It is perhaps then the only logical consequence of this system that our children should end up this way: alone, staring at a screen. This loneliness a manifestation of a deeper, cosmic loneliness, the spirit of rugged independence made flesh.
Its cost is apparent to any parent. Every gift of childhood – joy, exploration, play, wonder – sacrificed at the altar of the system. And so, it is also odd that our response to this crisis is a doubling down, a deeper investment in the very system that birthed it.
But there is a gift in this crisis, even if some refuse to see it. The pandemic has shown us so many things that we’ve been doing are perhaps worth rethinking. Why do we prepare our children for work that will surely no longer exist, for a world that will be so radically changed? It has brought our children’s schools into our homes, and we have been able to see just how impoverished their educational lives often are.
Obviously, remote learning isn’t ideal. But we also can see that our school systems – like many systems – were already problematic long before that pandemic hit. Our children’s lives were dominated by a narrow breadth of easily-tested skills and information. Our children were already spending their days on screens, already in the midst of a mental health crisis.
This book is an invitation to look to our children as a way to find hope in a time of despair. It offers a vision of how we might re-imagine teaching, learning, and parenting in order to create a space for our children to re-imagine our world. For the greatest mistake we could make right now (and this is indeed the mistake we are making with so many “remote learning” models) is to try to replicate the old way of doing things.
Let’s return to our child, the remote learner. One of my children (a seventh grader; the other two younger children are homeschooled) has been in such a program, so I can attest that the issue is neither the competence nor the effort of her teachers. The problem is that we’ve forgotten the key to education, to parenting and childhood – to humanity. We’ve forgotten that all learning, all growth, all life is relational.
You won’t find buzzwords or educational jargon in this book. Rather, you’ll find a lot of questions: you’ll be asked to reimagine your relationship to others, to the world as a whole. The crisis is making it apparent that some of the basic assumptions we’ve made about the world are worth rethinking. Foremost among them is our sense of independence and isolation – from each other, from the world as a whole. Our schools are rooted in the values of independence and isolation, and the consequence is that we are increasingly lonely. The crises we face, from the pandemic to climate change to the struggle for racial justice, all call upon us to think holistically and interdependently. You’ll find here a framework for re-imagining the basic narratives and metaphors upon which our schools – and, indeed, our civilization – are based, and practices that are rooted not only in my work homeschooling my own children, but also on decades of experience as an educator through the organization I founded.
My hope is that professional educators will use this book to reconsider how they are doing things in schools and that homeschooling parents will use it to create vibrant learning spaces at home. But I also hope that any parent or role model can use it to rethink the relationships they are cultivating in their homes and elsewhere. For among the many assumptions that the reader will be asked to re-evaluate in this book are the very notions of “classroom,” “school,” and “education.”
A classroom or a school isn’t merely a neutral space in which to perform the act of educating. The way it is shaped, structured, and organized are rich with meaning, and most of that meaning is unarticulated, often unconscious. If the purpose of education is to create a better world, it is this unconscious symbolism of the school and classroom that provides us with a vision for the world our youth might create. In other words, the classroom is a micro-cosm, a metaphor for the world.
We will not only challenge this understanding of the classroom and the school, but also seek to think more expansively of what constitutes those spaces. The world can be a classroom; and everything can be understood as education. It is commonly said, for example, that when a society invests in prisons or the military and divests in schools, it is taking money from education in favor of those other areas. And indeed, such decisions are a reflection of a society’s values. But another way to frame such a decision is to say that whatever we invest in is, as a reflection of values, an investment in some form of education. To invest in a prison – and to incarcerate greater numbers of people – is to choose that space as a classroom, a space in which many will learn their place in the world. To invest in the military is to choose the values and world- vision of the soldier.
Section I offers the reader a framework to develop vibrant and holistic learning spaces and processes. In chapter one, we will explore the problems with our current approach to teaching, parenting, and childhood. Specifically, the core metaphors and narratives upon which this system is based will be addressed and critiqued. Chapter two offers an alternative set of core metaphors giving the reader a framework from which to cultivate new kinds of learning spaces. Chapter three will describe a holistic process of inquiry and exploration, a pedagogy for reimagining our narratives.
Section II will offer examples of specific practices drawn from my experience teaching my own children and creating programming through Wisdom Projects, Inc. Each chapter is a reimagined subject: chapter four takes an approach to science and math that emphasizes hands-on experiences in nature, awe and wonder, all rooted in the universe story; chapter five focuses on the arts, including literature; chapter six describes practices in meditation, mindfulness, and rites of passage rooted in philosophical and cultural traditions from around the world; chapter seven offers hands on learning projects; and chapter eight integrates social justice and social-emotional learning.
We have lost our sense of place in the world. The stories we’ve been given have taught us that we are alone and, ultimately, lonely. We live in a time of unprecedented crises, an age that requires unprecedented changes, not merely in our systems, but in the very values, ideas, and narratives that give us our sense of who we are and our place in the cosmos.
But most of us are too deeply embedded in our worldview to even be able to grasp the urgency and immensity of the changes required. We often simply cannot imagine what doesn’t fit in our story. But there is hope. For there are people among us who aren’t as invested in the worldview that has led us into so much trouble: our children. Our work, as parents and educators, is to create the spaces and facilitate the processes that can allow them to teach us. Our children, unlike us, will not hesitate to claim their new place in the world, if we can only offer them the space to do it – and the humility to listen.
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