What Are We Going to Learn Today?

I just finished reading “What Are We Going to Learn Today? How All Children Can Become Enthusiastic Lifelong Learners” by Anne Cummings Jacopetti. Get a copy; read it; pass it on to teachers, parents, students, community members, and anyone interested in what schools and classrooms could be (and should be) at their best, as well as the challenges we face as we continue the struggle to create meaningful educational experiences for all children and youth.

“What Are We Going to Learn Today?” is an illuminating read, filled with hard-won wisdom from a lifetime of teaching. Jacopetti writes beautifully, and her stories are packed with wisdom about the power of dialogue and questioning, curiosity and first-hand experiences in teaching and authentic learning. She urges us to release our wildest imaginations as we nurture a tolerance for improvisation, confusion, experimentation, perpetual uncertainty, reciprocity, spontaneity, uniqueness, and flux.

And she helps us understand the terms of resistance: education for free people is powered, after all, by a particularly precious and fragile ideal: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a work in progress and a force in motion, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and creative force, each born equal in dignity and rights, each endowed with reason and conscience and agency, each deserving recognition and respect, and a dedicated place in a community of solidarity. We resist anything that dehumanizes or thingifies human beings, all the mechanisms to indoctrinate, inspect, rank, appraise, censure, order about, register, sort, admonish, and sermonize. And we recognize, further, that the fullest development of each individual—given the tremendous range of ability and the delicious stew of race, ethnicity, points of origin, and background—is the necessary condition for the full development of the entire community, and, conversely, that the fullest development of all is essential for the full development of each.

Jacopetti gets it: learning is an entirely natural human pursuit, and we are learning all the time. Curiosity is inherent, living in a wildly complex and diverse human community is all the motivation we need to keep growing and learning.

Wherever and whenever questioning, researching, reimagining, rebuilding, pursuing authentic questions and interests and experiences, and undertaking active work in the community is the order of the day, a spirit of open communication, interchange, and analysis becomes commonplace as an expression of love. In these places there is a certain natural disorder, some anarchy and chaos, as there is in any busy workshop. But there is also a sense of joy, and a deeper discipline at work, the discipline of getting things done and learning with one another and through life. We see clearly in these cases that education at its best is always generative, for teachers and students alike.

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