In the summer of 2011 I had a glorious trip to Rome. It was hot (I love it) and I was alone, so I got to travel in my preferred mode. I set out each morning with a vague plan and mostly wandered around searching for cool stuff.
I saw breath-taking historical sites like The Coliseum. I ambled through museums and art galleries. I saw incredible archaeological sites and ate great food. I discovered that I really like fountains :)
Once home, I reflected on the trip, and was surprised by how much time I spent in churches. Rome is full of amazing churches packed with renaissance art, and it seemed that around every narrow cobbled street corner was yet another undiscovered gem housing something by Bernini or Raphael.
I’m not a religious person so there was no spiritual dimension to this for me, but each day I found myself wandering church to church, slack-jawed again at the beauty, gazing at statues and madly reading the history of “St Somebody of the Something”.
I could easily understand the inspiration a believer drew from these incredible buildings. And I’m a jaded citizen of 2013 who isn’t impressed by much anymore. Casting back hundreds of years its easy to see why the church was the dominant institution of the time.
I pondered the power of buildings to inspire us and wondered what the implications of this are for education. People visit churches on vacation because they tell us about the places we visit, their history, culture and what they value. I wondered what our schools say about us and whether they too could be places of inspiration.
Typically schools are utilitarian buildings, “factory like”. Their function is to support the learning happening within those walls in the most cost-effective manner and facilitate the production of graduates who are ready to take part in society.
As society is rapidly changing so is the function of schools. The need for the standardized production of workers is fading. Increasingly schools are being asked to produce citizens who think creatively, know and follow their passion and change the world with innovative ideas. If the function of schools is changing, shouldn’t the form be changing too?
I’ve never heard of anyone travelling to Rome, or the other great cities of the world, and touring its schools. I’m a bit of a “school geek” and I’ve never done it. Why? Are there no great ‘Cathedrals of Learning’?
I don’t believe that. I think that there are beautiful, inspiring learning spaces in the world. Spaces that educators would see and know that this was the pinnacle, something to aspire to.
But where are they? Where is the Sistine Chapel of Education? The Blue Mosque of Learning? The St Paul’s Cathedral of Understanding?
I want to find them and hold them up as inspiring models. To show what’s possible in a learning space and encourage educators to think more creatively about the spaces we create for learning. I want to use them as we go forward and remake our learning spaces to better meet the changing needs of our students.