“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
Ralph Waldo Emerson has long been lauded as America’s great champion of individualism and nonconformity, but this mantle may now be passing to Adam Grant, Wharton School business professor and bestselling author.
In his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant argues that educators neglect one of their most important duties: encouraging students to think for themselves. If we want our children to grow up and change the world, he says, if we desire that they resist the “groupthink” that too often infects the classroom and—inevitably—the workplace, we should give them genuine opportunities to take more control of their learning and challenge the status quo.
For Grant, college admissions offices are as much a part of the problem as our secondary schools. Instead of exploring their interests and pursuing innovative ideas, students enroll in test-preparation classes and follow conventional paths designed to help them build impressive resumes. A better approach, he thinks, is to include a creative portfolio as part of the admissions process. He even floats the idea that a policy of random admissions might encourage students not to focus so much on checking all the right boxes.
Interviewed in a recent issue of The Atlantic, Grant responds to Jessica Lahey’s question about how teachers can best introduce what she calls “novel, research-based approaches” without creating chaos in the learning environment. Among these approaches, she includes “student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning.”
Grant acknowledges the potential for chaos when students are given more responsibility for their learning. He recommends that teachers offer a variety of pedagogical approaches. For example, he suggests alternating short lectures (10 minutes maximum), student-led activities using small-group jigsaw strategies, and tutorials designed to help students develop good questions. This combination will nurture curiosity, creative thinking, and confidence—qualities that can lead to success in the classroom and in the workplace.
The interviewer described these strategies as “novel,” which may come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who are familiar with the Paideia program. First introduced by philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler in The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982), Paideia (from the Greek paidos: the upbringing of a child) remains a powerful, innovative approach to educating all students to develop intellectual skills and to think critically and creatively. The National Paideia Center serves these days as a hub for all things Paideia.
Notice how closely the Paideia instructional scheme— represented by their Three Columns of Learning—resembles the one recommended by Adam Grant:
Key to the continuing success of Paideia is the fervor with which its practitioners have embraced new technologies to increase student involvement and academic skill development. For example, in Long Island City, New York, students at the K-12 Queens Paideia School use laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets to target content knowledge (Column 1) and intellectual skill development (Column 2). They also use—and learn to think critically about—multiple social media tools and apps. The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia, provides 1680 computers and 930 iPads for its 956 students.
The research on Paideia is clear: the combination of these innovative strategies and technologies fosters student inquiry, original thinking, knowledge, and independence. As a result, students develop the competence and the confidence needed—as Adam Grant’s title says—to move the world.