The “what if” habit of mind for all.

I just had a fun conversation based on one of the old CPESS/Mission Hill “habits of mind”. We began by arguing about whether it’s really possible or useful to teach a “subject” called World History. How demanding can one be in such a course in honoring our First Habit: “What’s the evidence? And how credible is it?” Or, for the one I like best: “What if? supposing that?” I like that one because it forces us to at least pretend that things could have been different, that human will and opinion matters. It set me off on one of my favorite run of “what ifs”–what if we had not fought the Revolutionary War or if we had won it but ceded the south to Britain and then joined with Canada to create the USA? ? What if we hadn’t had the Civil War? What about if we hadn’t had World War I? The three together would create quite a different picture facing the 20th century!. Conquering Texas and southern California might also be skipped!

When folks argue about the need for a different kind of education based on the needs of the 2lst century I like to wonder, what if we had had a different kind of education for “the masses” since we started to imagine a universal system of public education a hundred plus years earlier? The debates about charters and small schools and choice once again expose our different way of imagining the education of some versus others–and why it’s no accident that meritocracy and elitism are related. Maybe it’s also an answer to my earlier post about integration. In our little separated domains we don’t have to ask: why me? why not thee?

Suppose we seriously wanted an intellectual (not necessarily “academic”) education for everyone–for their self-interests and for our own. Suppose we saw the two sets of self-interests as intricately and thoroughly connected???

“It could be a wonderful world.” (See the chapter on Academia in my book, In Schools we Trust (Beacon Press).

3 Responses

  1. Colleagues of mine at One Laptop Per Child (the NGO) used to engage in an interesting conversation around the question of, ”If we can only reasonably provide five years of high quality educational experiences for every child on earth, what would you include?”

  2. […] The “what if” habit of mind for all. is by Deborah Meier. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Teaching “What If?” History Lessons. […]

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