Is this high school?

I’m standing in the corner of the classroom, just aside from the door.  There are about 30 students sitting in desks that are more haphazardly arranged than in rows — that haphazardness exceeded only by the varying positions of the students, who seem to have more joints than I do.

Beside of me is the principal of the school, who actually looks a bit young for his age (more than 20 years younger than me).  He yells out to one of the students, in a way that would seem disruptive in most high schools, but interestingly seems matter-of-fact here.  A young, very tall (6’4″?), very dark, and very lanky (to the point of seeming to have no joints) youngster lumbers back.  His face can only be described as blank and is crested by long unkempt hear that looks more like a black, half blown dandelion. 

The principal asks, “do you know what Ms ????? told me about you?” 

The face that was blank, suddenly becomes an arrangement of hard angles.

“She told me that you have the highest average in her math class!”

Angles amazingly melt into a smile that could only be loved, revealing a very handsome young man.

Educon 2.0 Logo -- designed by one of SLA's students This is a high school in inner city Philadelphia, that, at a glance, looks very much like a high school.  The building is actually three joined city store buildings.  The classrooms, conference rooms, and labs have been carved into the space that seems to have been carved into the city, and there is a lot of math, science, history, literature, and art going on — and sports being talked about.  But there are some pretty dramatic differences that you have to spend some time here to see. 

In the short time that I have this morning to write, which I have just spent, the best thing that I can say about the Science Leadership Academy, is that on several occasions during our walk through, I had to ask Chris Lehmann, the principal, “Student?”  “Teacher?”

I have never gotten such a sense anywhere as much as at this school, that learning is at the center of what’s happening, not teaching.  ..and everyone whom I met, mostly students, seemed to possess, more than anything else, a responsibility for learning.  It’s hard to describe, especially in a brief writing, but you have to walk out of this school with more optimism about education than you walked in with.

The Science Leadership Academy is the site of the first Educon 2.0, a conference and unconference about 21st century education, letting go of the old school, and inventing the new.  If you aren’t going to be there, you can pay attention at Hitchhikr for aggregated blog entries, Flickr photos, and YouTube videos, or just search Technorati for conversations tagged with Educon20.  I’ll be there for only one day, but hope to see some of you then.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.