Is this a lecture or a conversation?

How can we design a space for conversation instead of transmission?

I’m a freak.

My mom asked me lots of questions as a kid / and tried to teach me to think for myself. She says I asked so many questions that I nearly drove a few people insane. I like questions, but I also like answers.

Then she put me in a series of interesting schools. Her friend was the principal at “The Gifted Preschool,” - so - I’m not sure if that means I’m gifted, the preschool itself has gifts, or if my mom’s friend just snuck me in: but it was a great school.

From there, we tried the standard public school for kindergarten, but it didn’t seem to fit. So, she found an alternative school (at the time called “The Alternative Program”) and I switched over. Uh oh… this is already just sounding like a lecture… hang in there…

Some might say - that there isn’t enough time to deliberate - and question everything / because things need to get done.

(maybe you can’t tell - but this outdoor area is huge. Probably 100x more space than our child has at her school now)

Alternatives

My best guess (since there’s little evidence of it / given that it was before the internet) The Alternative Program was a group of ex Waldorf or Montessori teachers who wanted to take the best parts of those programs and put them together–and somehow they got Skyline Elementary to let them try it in the corner of the otherwise ‘regular’ school. (I was a little kid… so, of course, I’ll be wrong about some of this stuff)

Classes were grouped with a few years together. This way, second-graders who were a bit ahead could work in the same class as third-graders who might be a little behind (of course there’s really no ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ - but you get the point). On top of that - we also had a close relationship with what was called “Special Education” at the time, which afforded us the opportunity to work closely with children of special needs.

I enjoyed a charmed collection of wonderful teachers and friends from 1st to 4th grade.

The students were already from diverse backgrounds (the pedagogy would later be coined ‘global education’) (something about their charter was able to gather diversity - even in San Diego) - but the added connection of children with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, down syndrome, autism, and processing disorders was key to my development as a human - and key to my ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I enjoyed a charmed collection of wonderful teachers and friends from 1st to 4th grade. We moved as a single class from grades to grades. I wasn’t always a good kid… and a couple of us were trouble makers… but all of the wonderful educational tools and materials, and my stories - are for another time. This school was amazing. They were able to share a deep love of learning and helped me believe in myself and those around me.

“Normal”

I’m not sure what happened… but I didn’t get to have the cool hippy guy–who played guitar at the Friday sing-alongs–as my 5th and 6th-grade teacher. Maybe the program got too big and split… or maybe it lost funding - but a new class was formed - and a new teacher came along. Miss Lawson was great, however - things were different.

With the new class came some new students. These were students from the “normal” school. Some of them were great / but others were jerks. They had grown egos out there in the real world. They teased other kids - with venom / and not just some mild insecurity. They played football. They had brand-name t-shirts. They called each other names. They pushed each other on the field. They figured out what they wanted - and fought until they got it - with no care for anyone but themselves. It leaked out all over the place. Maybe that was what we needed - to get ready for ‘regular’ Jr. High school. In some ways, it was inspiring to see their autonomy. Our little Eden transformed.

Some might say - that there isn’t enough time to deliberate - and question everything / because things need to get done.

Things do need to get done

But getting things done, doesn’t have to be the only goal.

I wrote this article this morning. I had a goal to write an article. The artifact is complete. The article is written. However, the question can live on. The answers can stay in flux.

I was taught to: ask questions, to listen to people’s ideas and feelings, hypothesis, determine appropriate actions to test the hypothesis, take action, see what happened, collect results, and share our findings with the class - so that we could inform the larger conversation.

Most kids learn about The Scientific Method (those steps I just explained) - but few learn to apply it to real life.

I don’t know anything about snails.

I don’t race snails for a living. I don’t breed them or care for them, but as my science partner, Gilberto, and I worked on our project together in 3rd or 4th grade - we learned how to have a conversation. Yes, we raised the snail. We raced it, and we measured its speed, and learned about the scientific method - but “getting it done” wasn’t the point.

A teacher can’t “teach you” that stuff. They can only create a scenario where you can have a conversation. They can only point the way - and arm you with the tools. Experience and understanding cannot be transferred from one to another. It must be lived and shared. Sometimes a lecture is part of the sharing - but it’s the conversation that it creates - that matters. We’ll have to ask lots of questions! That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to take any action.

I don’t know anything about snails. But - I remember Gilberto’s laugh, and I remember helping him open his locker every day in PE in Junior Highschool, and - that conversation is a part of my life - every day.


So - it’s up to you to decide, if this is a “Lecture” - or if this is a “conversation.”

There’s a comment section for a reason. Maybe I can get substack (this writing platform) to change that comment section title to: “continue the conversation.”

I have ways of getting things done.