Interdisciplinary Work and Real World Learning

          We see an increasing need for generalists. What is your vision on schools/education to meet that need?

          I got this question from Arnold Beekes of the Society of Creative Generalists after posting something on their webpage (, and interestingly it jives in some ways with a conversation we have been in at my school regarding what kind of education we need to provide our students given what we know about the fluidity of the socio/economic/political/ globally-connected world that awaits them, given the remarkable tools made available to us through technology, and given the myriad demands placed upon us by families, students, and communities.  

          We say too often that education is at a crossroads.  I started teaching in the late eighties, and according to the rhetoric of the profession we have been at a crossroads each of the twenty-three years since I first stepped into the classroom.  A constant crossroad isn’t a crossroad—it is a parking lot.  In actuality, the pace of change in schools is staggering though it cannot be fast enough to keep up with cultural and technological change, so as a result we feel that we are persistently at a crossroad when indeed the truth is that we have moved into an age when steep change is the constant.  The goal of great schools, however, should be to make progress, not simply change, the constant. The crossroad metaphor is dead. 

          In order to make sustainable and relevant progress, we must see beyond the silos that traditionally separate academic departments and programs, and faculties must model the ability to think beyond the confines of individual academic departments.  That is not to say specialized knowledge and a deep immersion in the esoteric language of our respective academic fields is suddenly irrelevant.  On the contrary, it is the deep learning in specific fields that most often leads us to discover the connections between the staid constructs of academic departments and allows us to bridge the space that has strangely divided them.   In short, we need hearts and minds that are immersed in our fields AND that seek to make connections between that content specific knowledge and other areas of learning. Thus, our alignment needs to tilt toward interdisciplinary work, which strives to knock down departmental walls and hang curtains where they once stood.  In so doing we may indeed go a long way in equipping our students with the wide-ranging skills and flexibility of mind that are requisite for the world they will enter.

          Beyond what we can accomplish with an interdisciplinary mindset within the confines of our classrooms, we also need to create opportunities for students to meet real world challenges outside of them.  Such experiences rarely fit neatly within the boundaries of a single academic discipline, and they do not obey the rules and regulations of traditional academic schedules, yet I believe they can be constructed to fit within a school’s offerings if we are willing rethink how we use time in our curricular programming and daily schedules.  In order to stay relevant in a world where our schedules and requirements look more and more anachronistic each year, we cannot make necessary steps forward for our students without looking outside the traditional classroom and into the community.  Our students demand relevance, and they should.  The vessel that our old and rigid scheduling models provides does not set us up for success in providing the most relevant or the most engaging education.  In order to create a progress-culture in our schools, we must find ways to be lighten on our feet in creating curriculum, programs, and schedule, so that we can create the opportunities for wide-ranging, engaged, and deep learning that our students deserve.   

2 thoughts on “Interdisciplinary Work and Real World Learning

  1. quantumprogress September 14, 2011 / 3:03 am

    Have you read the blog Re-educate Seattle? It's by a teacher at a very small (38 students), extremely progressive school, Puget Sound Community School . I discovered the blog last month and am finding it to be a fascinating profile of a very different school. Just read how they schedule classes: The Scheduling Circus

  2. Ross Peters September 14, 2011 / 11:14 am

    Thanks for this, John. I will check out the blog.

Leave a Reply to Ross Peters Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s