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The Global Search for Education: New Film Focuses on How to Get Thinking Back in Classrooms

“The fact that we even have to make the argument that thinking should be the most important aspect of school culture proves that we have gotten very far away from teaching young people how to become successful adults.” — Rachel Ferro

RE:THINKING is a thought-provoking new documentary film about learning that looks at innovative education approaches practiced by three public schools in the United States (Green Hills School, Bard High School/Early College, and Lehman Alternative Community School). Co-Director Rachel Ferro says she hopes the film might be the “beginning of a movement to get thinking back into classrooms.”

Creativity and how we construct meaning from knowledge are competencies that are highly rewarded in today’s world. So, what happens when teachers and students are “empowered to build knowledge instead of memorize information?" Ferro and her co-director Deborah Hoard focused on U.S. public schools which seek to create a “culture of intellectual life” and to respect “the whole child as a learner and as an adult in training.” Rachel Ferro joins us in The Global Search for Education to talk more about RE:THINKING.

Rachel, what inspired you to make RE:THINKING?

Deborah and I were inspired to make this film for different reasons at first, but as time went on we realized that the inspiration came down to the need for hope for the future of public schools. I myself had a very unfortunate middle and high school experience. I was one of the kids who fell through the cracks and barely earned my diploma. I felt I was not seen or known by the majority of my teachers. Deborah had a different experience. She knew how to “do school.” She earned good grades and was therefore recognized as a “good student.”

When I first started working on this film I didn’t have any children. I was moved by Deborah’s story about her five-year-old grandson who at the time was being disciplined for not being able to sit still in kindergarten, but my own perspective was limited. Over the four-year process of making the film, I became a parent. That is when my perspective drastically changed. I now had a son who would eventually go through the system. That was extremely energizing and powerful for me.

Your movie discusses the importance of raising citizens. How is citizenship education defined by the U.S. public schools you studied? Do you think they have a model that other schools can learn from?

The future of our society depends on the creativity and competence of the young people who are currently making their way through our public schools. Being an informed and active citizen is crucial when it comes to the future of American democracy. We certainly believe that other schools can learn deeply from all three models.

Green Hills School is a K–8 school in rural New Jersey that is doing exceptional things with teaching meta-cognition using a systems-thinking model known as DSRP. When students at a young age are learning about how they think, they are able to think in more accurate, creative, and systematic ways.

Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, New York bases its culture in democratic education, which sees young people as active co-creators of their own learning rather than passive recipients of knowledge. Rather than being the product of a system, they are valued members of a vibrant community.

Students at Bard High School Early College are doing college work when they reach 11th & 12th grade age. They are encouraged to question assumptions, engage in debate, and value their own voices as well as those of their peers. The ambition of these students is taken seriously and their courses nurture critical thinking through writing, inquiry, and discourse. They graduate with an associate's degree from Bard College which includes 60 transferable college credits.

What do you believe being “good at school” means today and what do you believe it should mean instead?

We believe being “good at school” means knowing how to play the game of school. This teaches young people that if you just follow the rules you’ll be successful. We think being good at school should mean asking questions instead of memorizing answers, following through with a thought until you’ve exhausted all possibilities, understanding how you think about things, and using that knowledge for the purpose of building new knowledge rather than just consuming information.

Artificial Intelligence is changing the world. Kids need to be creators of knowledge versus consumers of information. How do the teachers in these schools handle this shift?

The teachers in the three schools featured in RE:THINKING are very aware that there is no way to predict exactly what students will need to know, but what they are also aware of is that they will need to be flexible, able to work collaboratively, be comfortable with experimentation, and able to embrace and embody what it means to be a lifelong learner.

A child in your film notes, “When we are adults we’re going to be different from the adults we know now.” Do you believe children should have more say in their learning?

We absolutely do believe young people should have a say in their learning. Students are motivated by what interests them. We of course need to make sure education is well-rounded, but not to the extreme of depriving students of learning about the things that truly inspire them. The film talks about “transfer of knowledge” and how valuable it is when a student can take what they learn in science and apply it to their social studies class or their math class. When a student is used to being meta-cognitive, they can take ownership over their own learning process. That alone is extremely empowering and leads to much deeper understanding of whatever it is they are learning about.

“You can change a lot with one idea” – that’s very true but often the real challenge (especially in education) is in scaling a good idea. What lessons have you learned and how would you suggest this is done?

We are filmmakers and not educators, but what we’ve learned over the course of making this film is that in this country, a traditional education does not encourage thinking, instead it encourages conforming to a system that doesn’t value the individual child and completely misses the point when it comes to learning. The fact that we even have to make the argument that thinking should be the most important aspect of school culture proves that we have gotten very far away from teaching young people how to become successful adults.

Thanks Rachel.

(All Photos are Courtesy of RE:THINKING)

C. M. Rubin and Rachel Ferro


Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.

The Global Search for Education Community Page

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.

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