We live in times of radical change.
Values that seemed safe erode. We have many questions for the future and few answers. We find ourselves in a time that promises uncertainty. How will we work? How will we communicate with each other? How well will our social cohesion work, how will our democratic system based on tolerance and freedom prove its worth? How will we live together in a world in which self-interest and advantage, profit and growth, but also fear, belong to the pillars of the world view?
Where does it all start?
School is the core of society. But today, whether in the United States or in Europe, we are faced with 100 years of stagnation in the education system. The public school meets the requirements of the 20th century. It transmits knowledge by someone frontally sounding the pupils. Young people become fulfillers, they have to learn something. Filling in worksheets, the results of which can be found in the teacher's handbook. The complete understrain of young people's creativity and an overstrain with structure. Children who have been looking forward to school are disappointed, losing the natural desire to learn. Because schools today focus on selection and learning at the same pace, drilled, functionally formatted, for a job market that the industrial age at the beginning of the last century may have demanded.
School is the most powerful institution next to the family. It has a decisive influence on the mindset and attitude.
What we experience here as culture, fear or failure, we will always live as culture. This is where the inner images and patterns that accompany our lives emerge. This happens above all through the "secret curriculum", the culture lived in school. Is the focus on the human being or the processing of curricula? Is there a spirit of dignity and humanity or a spirit of deficit, standardisation and administration?
Creativity is the raw diamond in all of us. But as soon as school comes, it suddenly ends for most. According to a 2018 Forsa survey, 30% of school-age children in Germany are afraid. In times when heart formation, creativity, complexity and lateral thinking are important, the curriculum teaches fragmentation, thematic corset, hierarchy of subjects, step by step and everything in competition.
Lenny was a passionate teacher.
As early as 1990, when the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein founded the Bernstein Education Through the Arts Foundation, he knew that we needed people in the future who understood each other as networked individuals. He saw in each individual a human being who can and should make a difference, who should find out what she or he is in the world for, what she or he is the genius for. Lenny was convinced that we had more potential in us than school offers today, and he knew that the brain was not meant to learn by heart. After all, real learning takes place when emotions come together with experiences. This is what neuroscience shows us today and all this led to the transformative learning model Artful Learning.
During our work on a film about Artful Learning we were able to experience it personally:
Which creative forces and which great will to learn, which inspiring motivation and joy the school can unfold for children and teachers.
Willow Elementary School in Napa, California, is a community dedicated to academic excellence through the arts while awakening compassion, curiosity, and joy of learning. Here in California, as in 17 other schools in nine states, Lenny's idea of learning through the arts has been lived for many years. As a magnet school in the Napa Valley, the school program here focuses on Artful Learning, integrating the arts and artistic processes into daily teaching. The methodology uses an interdisciplinary approach. Overarching topics that raise important questions enable teachers to convey a broad spectrum of challenging scientific content.
Here one can experience how learning creates a deeper understanding and commitment among students. An education that contributes to unfolding the potential in each individual and supporting young people in their individual development, empowers and motivates them to act independently and networked, to break through patterns, to be creative and courageous, to take on responsibility and accept challenges.
At Willow Elementary School, we experienced something incredibly valuable that is not only a visionary model for the future and an important contribution to the current discussion, but actually exists and flourishes. Scientifically evaluated and proven, tangible and perceptible for every child and every teacher. This is impressive and gives great hope for the future.
Here in Napa, with Artful Learning, it becomes clear how urgently we need a new learning culture, a culture of appreciation of relationships, a culture of potential development. For the skills taught here, such as cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, coordination with others, creativity, critical thinking for complex problem solving, will be essential in the future.
The time for action is ripe.
Never before has the window for fundamental change been so wide open. The students are frustrated, the parents are overwhelmed, the economy is dissatisfied - many believe that something is wrong. Many feel our world and what it needs and the old school no longer fit together.
Artful Learning can make an important contribution to the development of education in Europe. This model, and above all the long-standing positive experience of schools in the United States, can contribute to the debate, set an example and close a gap in the debate on the future of education that we have to tackle in Europe today.
Future-proof societies need future-proof schools.
Our future depends on dreams and visions. Therefore from the bottom of the heart, thank you Lenny, because we need your vision today more than ever.
Special thanks to all participants, especially the students and teachers of the Heinz-Brandt-Schule Berlin, especially Miriam Pech, Alexandra Kersten and Thérèse Remus, the theatre and the debating club, as well as Nadine Roßa for her inspiring illustrations and Frieda Oberlin and ARRI Media for their great support in the realization of the project, Magret Rasfeld and Jamila Tressel and School on the Move (Schule im Aufbruch), Caroline Treier and ESBZ as well as Silke Friedrich and the Berlin Metropolotain School for their great support in researching the project in Berlin, and Pam Perkins and all teachers, students and parents of Willow Elementary School for the great collaboration, trust and partnership in Napa, California.