Utopia? A discussion of the past(s)

Pleased to share a podcast discussion I took part in at the Central Branch of London Library last Monday evening (January 15th, 2018):


Can young children benefit from independent study in history?

Yesterday I had the privilege of guest teaching a course entitled “Historians, Communities and the Past” which is taught by my good friend Tim Compeau, PhD at Huron University College here in London.

Over the course of 90 minutes we engaged in a Socratic discussion about the question: “Is it responsible to allow grade school children the option of self-directed learning in the field of history?”

The conversation was very engaging in no small part because we reflected on whether one of the chief problems in educating children and young adults is that educators, policymakers, teachers and parents become focused upon names and disciplinary boundaries at the expense of allowing for interdisciplinary discovery, exploration and problem-driven learning. Or, to put it another way: at the expense of creativity.

Here is a scenario:

Imagine an 8 year old student who has become fascinated by schools; she is interested in the schools built by pioneers and how people in earlier times were educated -especially in rural and remote communities- in one room school houses. She decides that she wants to learn everything that she can about one room school houses. After talking with her teacher and her parents, she decides that she wants to undertake a project (independent study) to learn everything that she can about how one room school houses came to be; where they were pioneered; why they have persisted; how they work. She visits museum exhibits, watches movies, reads books and even talks with people who have knowledge of, or personal experience with, being educated in one room school house environments. She is then allowed to undertake her project.

To my mind, a series of questions arises from this hypothetical:

1.) If this project were a school project, what discipline would this child be studying? Do we simply call it social studies, or can we say it is history, sociology, education and economics?

2) Can this project be accommodated as a primary/elementary school classroom project?

3.) Is a teacher/student relationship required here?

4.) If we do not allow the child to undertake this study are we hindering her education?

5.) Is it inconceivable that an 8 year old child could do this or have a desire to do this?

6.) Is this student actually developing an interest in sociology, education and economics (as well as history) by her choice of this project? Does subject (academic discipline) in the conventional sense even matter in this case?

As you might imagine, this type of scenario prompted much discussion. I leave it to you to decide how you might answer these questions or think about this matter.


How does a city see itself?

I have become immensely interested in how cities see themselves.

The first step is determining who is city? Perhaps a great place to start is to begin with youth. How do they see, experience and conceptualize their city? If London, Ontario, for example, could see itself as young adults see it, what would the city see?

I am looking to find out answers to this question: stay tuned.

London Oral History Project

I am very pleased to announce that I will be partnering with the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) to produce a youth-led and researched oral history of London, Ontario.
The project will involve fourteen 2 person research teams, all of whom being young adults, who will fan out across London’s 14 Wards. Each team will be composed of persons who live in the Ward where they will be working. The goal is to have each team interview 5-10 persons/families. The project is intended to tell many different and diverse stories about our city much the way Studs Terkel did when he researched and wrote “Division Street America” about Chicago, Illinois back in the mid-1960s.
There will be an editorial staff working with the research teams to transcribe and then publish this study in book form. We will also have a Project Manager, an Assistant Project Manager, and a Historical Consultant. The final manuscript will be pitched to Canadian publishers with an intent to reach a broad reading public. I can only imagine how a work like this could appeal not only to Londoners, but also to artists, social scientists, local businesses and anyone who wants to learn something about this growing city that sits midway between Toronto and Detroit.
The best part is, all participants will gain writer/editorial credits and research and publishing experience. This project will be researched and assembled by London youth. An undertaking of this nature has never been done before. While putting the design together, it was my intention to produce a project that could reach out to people from all walks of life: gender, racial, religious, socio-economic, ethnic and linguistic in order to offer the researchers and eventually readers, a slice of the complex and fascinating dynamics shaping London’s social geography. Best of all, the interviewees will get to decide what stories and ideas they wish to share. This book will be Londoners speaking on their own behalf while taking to young adults.
I am more excited than I can possibly express right now. This has been an evolving dream of mine and the first major step to making it happen was approved this afternoon. Please stay tuned. London Oral History Project