We are in a period of unknowns unlike any in a generation or more. As educators, we need new pathways and ideas that can help us educate children for the world to come.
Reimagining the Classroom:
Creating New Learning Spaces and Connecting with the World
Ours is a world in crisis and transition, which offers us an opportunity to rethink how and why we do what we do. It’s a chance to reimagine how we live as human beings in community, and to begin with the cohort with the most to offer: our children. For educators, this is the time to reimagine every aspect of the classroom and school day and to ask profound questions. Why do schools focus on training our children in skills and knowledge that may soon be obsolete? How can we address the anxiety and depression in our children is its own epidemic? What is the purpose of an education anyway?
Theodore Richards’s provocative book asks us to reconsider some of our basic assumptions about the world, our relationship to it, and our relationships with each other. It helps educators question and recast these assumptions and practices in order to consider how an educated person might not merely attain personal success but find a deeper flourishing and create a better world. And it provides practical steps and examples parents and educators can use to begin to create new learning spaces, approaches, and outcomes.
Many of the challenges we face in today’s world, he argues, can be attributed to the way we educate – and it isn’t merely about the ideas and skills we convey in the classroom. Indeed, the assumption that a school’s purpose is merely to provide skills to compete in the global economy is part of the problem. An education consists most profoundly of the unspoken values conveyed by how we educate and by the deeper narrative being passed on through the learning process.
The book is divided into two parts. The first offers the intellectual framework educators are seeking; it identifies specific problems with current approaches, offers an alternative vision and set of narratives, and then offers a new pedagogy to satisfy this vision. In other words, it provides accessible, fundamental ideas that educators will understand, and establishes a foundation for effectively using the ideas in part two.
The second part of the book moves from the theoretical to the practical. Dr. Richards offers specific practices, activities, and ideas drawn from his decades of experience teaching children through the organization he founded, Wisdom Projects, Inc. Individual chapters address science and math; literature and fine arts; spirituality and mindfulness; practical arts; and justice and social-emotional learning. In each, Dr. Richards provides specific curricular examples – but more importantly, provides the steps and processes educators can use to create their own lessons.
Ultimately, Dr. Richards suggests that it is not merely the educational content that matters. Rather, we teach most profoundly by creating a space that serves as a metaphor for the world – a metaphor through which our values are expressed. A critical look at our education reveals how impoverished our lives – and the lives of our children – have become: We are educating our children to think of themselves as mere consumers rather than creators, to beware of the world rather than behold it, to think of themselves as isolated individuals rather than participants in communities and in the broader web of life.
But our children are a pathway to reimagining our world. This is done not by telling our children what to think, but through a process of shared inquiry and exploration rooted in a renewed emphasis on our relationship to one another and the planet. This book explains why, and demonstrates how.
Praise for Reimagining the Classroom
“Reimagining the Classroom offers a radical vision for education in a time of crisis and transformation. In addition to providing hands-on ideas for educators and parents, it presents us with an entirely new way of looking at learning spaces and practices, ultimately taking the reader beyond the confines of the traditional classroom and offering a pedagogy for transforming our world.”
– Arne Duncan, Chicago CRED
“Theodore Richards is an inspired educator and artisan of cultural regeneration, a visionary activist. In these gem-filled pages, he reimagines the fundamentals of education – the art of becoming fully human – supporting us all to enhance the health and diversity of our endangered Earth communities. Essential subversive reading for twenty-first-century change agents.”
– Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., author of Soulcraft, Wild Mind, and Nature and the Human Soul
“An ambitious – and needed – goal appears on the opening page of this book: ‘That we might reimagine teaching, learning, parenting to create a space for our children to reimagine our world.’ Ted Richards, educator, parent, writer, delivers on that ambitious promise. We will all be the better for it if we take his proposals to heart. He dares to address how children and those who love them can best navigate the despair and chaos hanging over our apocalyptic time of history. He offers practical and tested possibilities for moving beyond the classroom as we know it serving the deadening stories of Modernism with its accompanying eco collapse and rise of totalitarianism to taking on a new cosmic story that can re-inspire our species learning to live in co-operation, not competition. There is much to love about this book, the author’s love of learning and children comes through on every page. A new future is possible.”
– Matthew Fox, author of The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human and Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet
“Reimagining the Classroom is an inquiry, an inspiration, and, perhaps most important, an invitation to dive into the wreckage that surrounds us, and swim as hard as we can toward a fresh approach to teaching and learning, parenting and mentoring. Theodore Richards is a perfect guide: experienced, wise, and courageous. He foregrounds relationship-building, sees the young not as targets of instruction, but as three-dimensional creatures on an immense journey of discovery and surprise. Teaching becomes, then, not an act of transmission, but a transformative voyage for everyone involved. This is an essential book for these times.”
– Bill Ayers, educator, author, and podcast host