Rambling – Part Three: DML, LA, & LA

Lesson 3: Rules are for squares.

Beyond the amazing Indian food, disconcerting sights at Venice Beach, and finding our way into a speakeasy, DML in Los Angeles was a pretty overwhelming experience. Walking in, I thought its theme, Equity by Design, references the conversation of equalizing access to platforms; more of the tech-y nuts and bolts of building networks for connected learning. Instead, the talks were nearly all centered around social equality, and the focus was on the people and communities that make up the networks we use to learn in meaningful ways. Even though the material was heavy, it was a really pleasant surprise; I find personal stories far more compelling than purely research-based presentations, and DML had no shortage of diverse and inspiring speakers sharing their struggles and successes in opening up the world of connected learning to their respective communities.

 

Faced with all this information about how cultural and societal structures limit our ability to make progress, it’s easy to feel like all your efforts mean nothing. I don’t say that to sound nihilistic, but it’s the truth. So many of the presentations talked about challenges in education originating from crime, poverty, and violence that all stem from larger injustices, and much of the work being done by non-profits and other educational institutions are (essentially) a series of workarounds* of existing, flawed systems.

 

 

(*which is not to say that people aren’t completing significant, game-changing work. They are, and it’s important.)

 

There’s a notion that numerous small changes will always lead to a few bigger, more systematic changes. I don’t know if I can say this is true, but from the words and insight of those who presented at DML, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the numerous small changes are desperately needed in American school systems. Impassioned teachers in our country are up against pretty huge odds in terms of having the freedom to break out of the traditional classroom and give their students an experience beyond the rigidity of an 8-period school day. Common core, state-mandated trainings, and the hijacking of teacher work days seriously compromise the time and energy teachers can devote to creativity and deviance in the classroom. While the innovative educators who presented at DML are well-connected and supported by their colleagues, it also seems as though most are aware that they’re holding candles in a huge and lightless room — and it’s only when two, or three, or more candle-bearers find each other in the darkness that the light begins to penetrate the deeper black.

On a related note, I noticed that the seemingly biggest presences at DML were the grassroots-based activists: Harry Potter Alliance, The Dinner Party, Dream Defenders, Roadtrip Nation, to name a few. Organizations that came together from their schools, churches, and the umbrellas of their shared interests to pursue goals of bettering their community. These groups weren’t ordered to do anything, their missions don’t stem from a 20-year plan laid out by a larger organization — their calls to action were inspired by passion and a commitment to making change.

 

Forgive the language, but my takeaway from DML was this: screw the rules. Genuine change can only be accomplished if, in addition to furthering one cause, opposing causes and obstacles are actively resisted. The current state of education in this country is discouraging — it’s restrictive, bureaucratic, and too focused on maintaining the status quo instead of evolving (fear of growing pains?). The people who are making change in their communities are doing so in ways that defy the rules and flagrantly say “so what?” to practices institutionalized education systems would deem inappropriate. Letting kids make art with curse words, violence, and genuine expressions of fear or grief? Providing university students with experiences in civic engagement that force them to re-evaluate the fact they might’ve been raised in a bubble? Pardon me, but hell yes.

This isn’t a PSA to be reckless or selfish, but really — the adage of begging forgiveness vs. asking permission has some merit. Not just pushing for change — but taking initiative and doing it — resolutely, without apology, and even without approval can make change happen, even if you have to apologize for it later.

Bearing candles in the lightless room can only get you so far anyway… after a point it makes more sense to throw every candle together in a bonfire and burn the roof off the whole house. It might be the only way to let the sun pour in.

Addendum: This trip marked the 2/3rds point of the 21,549 mile trek. A word of advice to all: When you travel from Richmond to LA for a 5-day stay, don’t get on a plane 5 days later and make the same trip for a different working meeting. Your body will hate you, and it will not be shy in letting you know.

best,

E

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