The most important education book published this year!

“I think Invent to Learn is the most important education book published this year, offering not just a vision of how “making” and “tinkering” could transform classrooms, but a practical guide for how to move school in a more constructionist direction – how to design better learning environments and projects, how to foster wonder and build capacity in children (and adults), and how to combat the drudgery of a standardized-test-obsessed school system.” – Audrey Watters

My jaw literally hit the floor when I read this. Well, maybe not literally, but I’m from California and that’s how we talk out here. I thought I was reading a review of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, but Audrey hijacks her own review of Reign of Error to talk about our book, Invent To Learn. After all, the post is called, “Technology, Progressive Education, and Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error” – I didn’t expect to read about our book!

Most of the review is about the Ravitch book, which takes on “the hoax of the privatization movement” and dismantling the fear-inducing “schools are broken” narrative that is driving many so called reforms that deprive schools, teachers, and students of agency over learning. But as Audrey astutely points out, challenging the “schools are broken” mantra doesn’t mean that you are a defender of the status quo. There is another way forward.

That’s where Stager and Martinez’s book Invent to Learn comes in as a manual for educators (and parents and principals) – one that could help reignite the progressive education movement and shift school into the hands of modern learners. That makes the book incredibly political, mind you, but the transformation it calls for isn’t simply at the level of policy. The change is pedagogical; the change is technological.

People may not think of the Maker Movement or making in the classroom as a political stance, but they both are. Politics isn’t only about who gets elected, or the day to day “action” on Capitol Hill, it’s a negotiation of power in any relationship – who has it, who can use it, and over how many other people. The Maker Movement is about sharing ideas and access to solutions with the world, not for money or power, but to make the world a better place. It’s about trusting other people, people you don’t know, to use these ideas for good. Making in the classroom is also about power and trust, and perhaps in an even more important way, because it’s about transferring power to the learner, our students, who are the ones who will take over the world in the not too distant future. And in giving the learner agency and responsibility over their own learning, they gain trust, not just our trust, but trust in themselves as powerful problem-solvers and agents of change.

It is a political statement to work to empower people, just as it is a political statement to work to disempower people. That holds true for all people, not just young people. Being a helpless pawn in a game controlled by others is disempowering, whether you are a teacher, student, parent, or citizen of the world. Deciding that you trust another person enough to share power, or even more radical, give them agency over decisions, is indeed political.

Making is not only a stance towards taking that power back, as individuals and as a community, but also trusting ourselves and each other to share that power to create, learn, grow, and solve problems. Empowering students is an act of showing trust by transferring power and agency to the learner. Helping young people learn how to handle the responsibility that goes along with this power is the sensible way to do it. Inspiring them with modern tools and modern knowledge needed to solve real problems is part of this job. For education to change, it can’t just be tweaks to policy, or speeches, or buying the new new thing — teachers have to know how to empower learners every day in every classroom. There is no chance of having empowered students without empowered teachers — competent, professional, caring teachers who are supported in this goal by their community.

I’m glad Diane Ravitch’s book is getting the attention it deserves. We have to have a national conversation about what’s going on in education in the U.S. so perhaps this is the catalyst. I hope that if people pay attention we can turn the tide before too many years go by and learner-centered education is such a dim memory that it’s too late to revive. But what I see in so many schools committing themselves to new makerspaces and making in the classroom initiatives is that it’s not too late. There are so many of these hopeful signs. If our book is helping, then that’s a great satisfaction.

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