Why Innovation Unit is a partner in Whole Education

April 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

By Alec Patton

In 1994, Montezuma, last emperor of the Aztecs, went on trial for mass murder. The trial took place at a school in Takoma Park, Maryland, and I led the prosecution. Our case rested on the argument that while we acknowledged the integral role played by human sacrifice in Aztec law, there was no case for cultural exceptionalism if even a small percentage of his victims were not willing participants in their own execution. We secured his conviction, despite the fact that my closing statement was a complete and utter train wreck that haunts me to this day.

The trial went on for several days – it took place during the morning, while Spanish Conquistador Henry Cortes was tried by different students in the afternoon.

The judges at our trial were our English teacher, Jon Greenwood, and our History teacher, Marty Creel. The trial was the culmination of an interdisciplinary unit built around Jamake Highwater’s novel, The Sun, He Dies, about the genocide that ended the Aztec empire. Our English and History lessons were back-to-back, so they could be collapsed into double periods for the trial. They had this flexibility because they were a part of the Eastern Middle School Humanities Magnet, a three-year programme for grades 6-8 (years 7-9).

This story leaves me with one burning question: how can we help make school like this for everyone, all the time? It’s a question that drives the Innovation Unit (it’s also a question that preoccupies Marty Creel – now director of the Department of Enriched and Innovative Programs for the Montgomery County school system).

Unfortunately, institutions like the Humanities Magnet tend to remain ‘islands of innovation’ – their work rarely spreads to the wider system. We have seen (and been a part of) many attempts to take innovation ‘to scale’ so that it catches on throughout the education system, and there have been some notable successes such as Musical Futures.  Because this is an ongoing concern for us, we have partnered with 12 (and growing) other organisations who share our desire for radical educational change.

These organisations, several of them natural competitors for funding, have joined forces because each of us recognises that we are stronger together than apart, and that what we are trying to accomplish is bigger than any of us.

We urge you to visit the Whole Education website, where you can find out more about stories and examples of Whole Education in action, as well as how to get involved.

Finally, we invited you to come see for yourself what Whole Education looks like at one of our regional EXPO events, ‘one-stop shops’ for education innovation. They will be in Newcastle on 8 June, Manchester on 24 June, London on 5 July, and Bristol on 12 July.


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Innovation Worldwide.

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