Wondermill Powered Schools

Over the last few years, I’ve started to re-organize my thoughts to better communicate concerns about the modern education system, and what I see as a better and more hopeful way forward. This comes down to recognizing that we have built much of the modern education system upon the persistent values of the industrial revolution:

  • standardization and uniformity,
  • mass production (and products in general),
  • efficiency,
  • quantification,
  • centralized power / authoritarianism, 
  • mechanization,
  • and applied scientific knowledge (also referred to as technology).

I don’t argue that these are bad. In fact, they bring about much good in the world. As good and useful as they might be, they make for a poor foundation upon which to build a deeply human and meaning-rich learning community. As such, I began to propose that we consider replacing these 7 priorities with alternatives:

  • adventure,
  • agency,
  • compassion,
  • experimentation,
  • mastery,
  • meaning,
  • and wonder.

There is nothing definitive about this list of 7. There are plenty of other worthy, meaning-rich, and more deeply human options. Yet as I seek to offer an alternative to the 7 priorities of industrial education, I’ve come to believe these these are a promising starting point, and each one has particular power in transforming the way that we design learning communities and learning experiences.

Consider the last of these seven words. To experience “wonder” is to have this combination of surprise and admiration. It also has a way of leading to any number of positive thoughts and experiences: humility, delight, curiosity, heightened attention, long-term memory, and even a propensity toward generosity. Now that is a powerful experience in a learning community. That is something upon which to build a rich, robust, vibrant learning experience.

Driving past a windmill recently while thinking about the power of wonder in schools, I made the connection with wonder. Wind is necessary for the windmill to accomplish its purpose. We are harnessing the power of the wind, converting it into something else. That is precisely what could happen if we sought to re-imagine our schools around an ideal like wonder. A Wondermill powered school is one that harnesses the natural energy in wonder, converting it into curiosity, interest, and learning. It is readily available to any person, school, or learning community, and it has the potential to generate better results than so many of the compliance-fueled practices of the modern education system.

In this sense, wonder, while currently considered a nicety but not a core ingredient, is all around us, but rarely harnessed to its full capacity.

Yet, the 7 priorities of the Industrial Age persist and demand our attention. I’m not suggesting that we remove them, only that we move then down the list a bit, starting with something more appropriate to a deeply human endeavor.

With this in mind, consider an experiment. Choose the most seemingly boring and mundane topic that you had to learn in the last year or two. Now challenge yourself to turn it into a wonder-filled experience. What would it look like?

Once you try that experiment, consider doing the same thing with an important but monotonous part of a modern school curriculum.

Then take it to the next level. What would it look like for “wonder” to be a basic part of lesson planning or learning experience design? Just as many educators are asked to begin with a set of learning objectives, what if every lesson or learning experience design started with a plan for how wonder might be conjured?

Now go another level. What would it take for students to learn how to conjure their own wonder?

Finally, imagine an entire school powered by wonder.

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