Encouraging Students to Imagine the Impossible

Choice appears to be the key to the success of genius hour and other self-directed learning. When I spoke to these teachers and visited their genius hour blogs, they all recommended the same book: Daniel Pink's Drive. Pink's book is dedicated to the study of what motivates human beings, and his TED talk, "The Puzzle of Motivation" has been viewed almost 6 million times. Pink points out that rewards offered for results actually harm performance, while projects driven by intrinsic motivation are the most successful. He posits that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the three keys to success, and while his focus is the business world, the message rings true in education as well. The Future Project recognized the logic of Pink's argument, and today, Pink serves on their Advisory Board.

Our educational system could use a few more dreamers like Tim Shriver and Daniel Pink, people who understand that grades and test scores, the traditional carrots and sticks we employ in education, are poor substitutes for the true learning and intellectual growth that results from autonomy, mastery, and purpose. At the very least, the education reform debate, reeling from the citywide conflicts and high-profile cheating scandals that have dogged the tests-and-incentives movement, might benefit from considering what a motivation-driven approach has to offer. In The Future Project's short film, "I am a Dreamer," New York student Iltimas Doha defines a dreamer as, "a person who can look at a situation, no matter how bad or good, and say 'we can do better than this.'"

"I Am a Dreamer" from The Future Project on Vimeo.

Doha and the other dreamers have their work cut out for them. They are going to have to look at "this," the current state of American education, and come up with a new way of educating future generations that's better than what we offer up now. If The Future Project, Daniel Pink, and Google are right, and the future of education will be the product of autonomy, mastery and purpose, we could do worse than to ask a simple question of every student that comes through the schoolhouse door: "What's your dream?"

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Jessica Lahey is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and an English, Latin, and writing teacher. She writes about education and parenting for The New York Times and on her website, and is the author of the forthcoming book The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

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