Linh's younger brother, Kien, walks into the house with his red backpack slung over his shoulder and the signature white iPhone headphones running down from his ears. He dances slightly to the beats as he drops his bag lightly onto the floor and takes one of the headphones out. I am sitting on Linh's couch working on another blog entry, but in about 60 seconds, Kien reminds me why I spend so much of my time working on things like the Creative Kid Project and the Brown Conversation, and I put the other post on hold.
"How was class?" I ask him, referring to the extra study class he just got back from (it's 8:30 PM).
"Bored." "Boring? What subject?"
"No, I'm bored. Math class," he grumbles.
"You should go Creative Kid Project on them and turn the place upside down," I say almost reflexively.
And this is why I do what I do. All around the world an incredible amount of time and energy is wasted in countless classrooms by students who don't want to be there -- and whose brains are working maybe at 10% capacity -- and by teachers who don't really want to be there either. Meanwhile, education policy "experts" write reports and ponder why graduates aren't creative enough or why they don't "think critically" or "outside the box." When class ends, the students go home and grumble or complain (understandably) about how they were bored, but they don't see any alternatives.
Unfortunately for me, one of the best lessons I've learned over the past 22 years (aside from learning how to do things like walk and talk, etc) was trademarked by a shoe manufacturer. Nevertheless, it seems like at least half of the things people complain about are just waiting for someone to step up, take responsibility for them, and do something about it. But to students, school seems like the most immovable institution...which is why it represents such a perfect opportunity to show students that the world is more malleable than they think and an opportunity to get them to start thinking differently, creatively, "critically," or "out of the box."
For me, the core idea of both the Creative Kid Project and the Brown Conversation is to get students to think of school as practice. School seems like the epitome of "do what you're told" (because it is in many ways), but if students can start to question what they're told (and be encouraged to do so), to be curious, to imagine better situations, to improve things, that's a skill I'd like to send them into the 21st Century with.
Thinking for yourself, not simply doing what you're told, and imagining how things could be better seems (from what little I know) to have driven inventions of everything from the wheel to the iPhone, social movements from the development of different religions to human rights movements, scientific research and great works of art and literature and music, developing new political systems, etc -- seemingly most of what people consider good. And the same idea is at the root of all of the hype about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the like, as well as the education rhetoric that seems to be the same all around the world (see the next post).
So how do you show (as opposed to just telling) kids (of all ages) that if they can translate complaints into constructive proposals, and that if they can start to envision new possibilities while being realistic about all of the various constraints, that people will listen?
Not everyone will be receptive, but you don't need everyone. If you are persistent enough (and actually listen and learn from people's responses or criticisms or reasons for why your proposal might not work as is), someone will be receptive. And that's all you need. (And the same lesson applies for cold-emailing people, which, I have found, works as well in Vietnam as it does in the U.S.)
We'll see how well we do with bringing these points to life. (Two weeks to go and we've got our team in place and all of our funding is locked in -- with many thanks to Camp Rising Sun/The Louis August Jonas Foundation, Brown's Watson Institute, Capstone Vietnam, and the VIG Group -- so the Creative Kid Project is actually going to happen.)