Experience As Art

  • 2023
  • High School
  • Teachers
Andrew Gilbert, High School Humanities Teacher

“Experience in the degree in which it is experience is heightened vitality. Instead of signifying being shut up within one’s own private feelings and sensations, it signifies active and alert commerce with the world; at its height, it signifies complete interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events.” 

- John Dewey

Hello THS blogosphere! I hope you are all doing well, staying hydrated, and enjoying the first few weeks back after the Lunar New Year. In my classes right now, we are busy, busy, busy, closing out our term and gearing up for another.

As we robustly tread into the final term of the 2023/24 academic year, I have been engaging with my reflective teaching process, considering what my students have accomplished over the course of the first two terms of the year, and the value that has been generated from their experiences at our unique school. Another reason that I am reflecting is because this year I transitioned from just a teacher to a teacher mentor. Please, allow me to explain.

One of the courses I teach, Global Project Development (GPD), is all about using the lens of sustainability to address global problems. Once problems are identified, students are encouraged to actively participate in addressing challenges by creating a business, initiative, or campaign that they believe will impact societies, environments, and communities. In years past, students have built a school in Africa, started a fair trade coffee company in South America, and begun a recycling initiative for communities in need on a small remote island in Cambodia. This year, we have returned to education as a tool for addressing climate change and global inequalities.

So now that my student cohort has decided to become teachers, I have found myself becoming a teacher mentor for 9th through 12th-grade students. Not an easy task. However, and this is where the above quote from John Dewey comes in, they have an incredible model in our THS learning community and the mission and vision of this unique school.

Last week, I asked my students what learning looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Many of them (and this was early in the morning) had typical answers. Pens, paper, pencils, desks, teacher talking, students listening. Internally, I balked at this, only because I knew what was coming next.

Then I asked them, how many of them had cooked a meal as part of a lesson in one of their classes. At least five students raised their hands. Then I asked how many of them had built an object in one of their classes using our Foundry. All of them raised their hands. I asked how many of them had planted seeds, hopped on a boat, made a performance, started a campaign, picked up trash, worked with their hands, talked to a professional, spoke in public, and did something completely out of the ordinary from what school traditionally is. That is when they started to get it. Smiles erupted from their faces as they remembered cooking full meals for their peers in Dion Newsome’s class, building terrariums from scratch in Jane Wong’s class, and creating functional solar-powered ovens in Alex Mrkich’s STEAM Week class.

As my students realized what a special opportunity they have had as members of the THS community, their ideas for how to create learning experiences for communities in need started to breathe new life. They no longer thought about the curriculum they were developing for a struggling coastal community in Cambodia as based on pencils and paper, but as experiences and projects that could bring about experience and change. They realized that their experience was transferable and that the models were right under their noses for them to become progressive and impactful educators. 

As we press on with our current initiative, the students in my GPD course now feel more confident in their work. Using their experiences as a way to feel like participants in their world and feel empowered because they are now fully aware of the unique opportunity they have had as co-generators of their future. Experience is an art form because it allows those experiencing to be an integrated and active member in the shaping of their world.

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