Learning to be weird: an #educon reflection

Right before EduCon 2.5, Laura Hilliger facilitated a hack jam hosted in Drexel University’s ExCITe Center (where – you should know – they are making future clothes, among other things). I very much appreciated the way Laura drew our attention not only to the task at hand – creating hacks with Mozilla’s Thimble Webmaker tool– but also to the way she facilitated the session.

Many of us who were in attendance want to host hack jams and similar make/hack/play events in the future, so I am thankful to Laura for her decision to teach us the how she teaches. To introduce ourselves, Laura asked us

  • To tell everyone who we are.
  • To tell everyone what we do.
  • To finish this sentence: “If you really knew me, you would know that I….”

I love that last idea. I promptly stole it for the EduCon hack jam that Meenoo Rami ran the next morning. At the ExCITe Center hack jam I said, “If you really knew me, you would know that my real passion is making a video game about the lives of sandwiches.”

That is 100% true, but there are other things about me that make me the weird National Writing Project (NWP) teacher consultant and connected learning ambassador that I am, so here are a few other details:

If you really knew me, you would know that in the end I believe we will all meet together in a kind of everlasting education conference modeled after the final moments of the Lost finale.

If you really knew me, you would know that I read science fiction for the courage to change my teaching today. (I mean, if we’re going to wind up as distributed, interstellar intelligence-nebulae, who can even begin to care about standards and tests? Drop the mic.)

If you really knew me, you would know that I hand-draw nearly all my slides these days and would like to offer to do the same for others on some kind of mutually profitable basis (time bank?).

Here are the latest ones (which just happen to be from a Flying Schools session co-faciliated with NWP’s Christina Cantrill and Paul Oh – as well as with Laura and Chris Lawrence (from Hive NYC):


(With thanks to Mark Surman for the language on that last one.)

These are some of the deep and abiding weirdnesses in my professional and personal life. Increasingly (and as confirmed by Jeff Pulver), I believe that weirdness – insomuch as it belongs to us all – is vital and essential for authentic and democratic teaching and learning.

We thrive when we learn according to ourselves; we wither when we learn at the beck and call of others. We build community and sew trust when we protect others’ rights to learn as they are; we throttle community and reap mistrust when we insist that others learn as we do – or as we teach.

When we make with others we tacitly discover not only our own weirdnesses – and not only others’ weirdnesses – but also our ability to value ourselves and others for our weirdness and their weirdness.

Weirdness is a place we carry together, in idiosyncratic contrast and invitation to one another to appreciate, understand, and affirm how we learn and express ourselves. Appreciating and sharing weirdness is making stuff – including writing – with students. Appreciating and sharing weirdness is connected learning.

The most dangerous thing we do when we comply with the standardization of schools is to assume that we and our kids will survive it – that we can get through one more lesson. One more test. One more year. One more education. One more job. One more life.

We are not all of us one more life to get through. We are weird, until we are not. We can grow up to be ourselves, until we cannot. We can learn anything we want, until we learn to believe we cannot.

I don’t know what to do about failing schools. I don’t know how to argue someone who wants a standardized education for financial security and social mobility (even though that kind of education is not a guarantee of either anymore). I do know how to teach and learn as if what I want to learn will help me happily live the life I lead. I know that is a privileged stance, and I desperately want help in unpacking how it can become a universal one for all of us in all schools. If my privilege right now lets me make these wishes and do such work, then that is what my privilege should be for – for making it safe to be weird and alive and learning.

I’m at one of those points when I don’t know where such weird hopes will take me, but I know that tribes like EduCon and NWP and Mozilla – and ideas like #openschools and #demcomp and anthropomorphic sandwiches – will help them win out.

Let’s go make some slides and share in the weirdness of living and learning in 2013.