Students Deserve More Magic Moments

The Pantheon is the oldest temple in Rome.  It is surrounded by a cobblestone plaza filled with restaurants, gelato stands, and souvenir shops.  My wife and ate a great dinner there this week with good bread and wine while a young folk signer strummed a guitar a few feet away.  The air was cool, the sky was clear, it couldn’t get any better.
But then the folk signer packed up and left.  A young man walked to the center of the square and unceremoniously deposited a boombox in the middle of a milling crowd.  When he launched into an aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto, a circle cleared.  By Puccini’s Tosca, a crowd of 500 had joined us in the plaza.  The young tenor filled the plaza and the acoustics couldn’t have been better.  His karaoke CD played through what was probably Bocelli’s opera album.  It could have been the Montepulciano, but I’m not sure Bocelli would have been better—at least not any more authentic.
Magical moments take a synaptic short cut to long term memory.  Music, emotion, effort, and context can all strengthen the imprint.   Isn’t it odd that we remember every word to the soundtrack to high school but little of what we read?  We remember first dates more than historical dates, last second shots more than science, projects more than problems, experiences more than invocations.
There should be more magical moments in education and we should be more intentional about creating them.  Not every young person can study in Italy, by every student could visit the Pantheon (and Pisa, Parthenon, and the pyramids) in virtual environments.   Every student should be engaged in meaningful projects.  Every student should find an emotional connection with music.  Every student should be immersed in unfamiliar worlds, learn to persist in struggle, experience success, and know what it feels like to be an expert.
Every student should be able to assemble engaging rigorous relevant learning experiences with the assistant of a skilled advisor.  There’s just no excuse for the boring batch-processing approach we call school.  Starting next month, students deserves more magic.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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