You will see over the next few months a range of posts about Legacy. The impact that children can have on the world around them is a topic that intrigues me. I will be sharing my emerging understanding of what Legacy means to me and the relevance to education and society more widely. I suppose this is the first of those posts.
Richard Buckminster Fuller was an American author and designer, architect and systems theorist. As an inventor and visionary he dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity. Something that is remarkable about his life was his staunch belief in the generalist approach. “Fuller did not limit himself to one field but worked as a ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ to solve global problems surrounding housing, shelter, transportation, education, energy, ecological destruction, and poverty.”
Creating silos in schools, through subjects or career pathways, is not likely to foster the thinkers we need. Fuller grappled with complex problems in a holistic manner. He chose to be interested in many areas of study encircling the problem. I always find stories of multidisciplinary teams or mindsets hugely encouraging. These are stories we need to pay more attention to in education.
During an interview for Playboy back in the early 1970s Fuller outlined a simple metaphor for the impact we can all have on the world.
Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, “Call me Trim Tab.”
There is great ambition in these words, a message of hope that the individual within a system can make change. Fuller believed we can start with the self, to make changes and build momentum there. The ripples of our impact will soon happen.
I’m positive that what you do with yourself, just the little things you do yourself, these are the things that count. To be a real trim tab, you’ve got to start with yourself, and soon you’ll feel that low pressure, and suddenly things begin to work in a beautiful way.
This will form the basis of a longer post in the future, but it is worth mentioning here in the context of Fuller’s challenge for us all. I believe we need to spend more time considering the design of ambitious learning. To help the youngsters we work with develop the capacities aligned with Fuller’s metaphor. To design the opportunities in school for learners to push out against the world and maybe make it a little better.
In many ways this ambition is subdued by the knowledge that through learning we are developing the individual child. But it is the more outward looking, more ambitious holistic design of learning that maybe needs more attention.
What do you mean? I hear you ask. I suppose I think of the examples of school based work that I have been lucky enough to take a small part in over the last few years. Instead of just pretending to do a TEDx event, a primary school we worked with ran the first official event of its kind run by 7, 8 and 9 years olds. Instead of just creating new ideas for the Space Gallery at the British Science Museum one school invited the Education Officers to visit and pitched them.
The list goes on of little Trim Tabs in our schools.
Where do you go from here? Learning projects or units of work do not always have the opportunity to have a vast, far reaching impact, so just remember it all begins with yourself.
- As educators we can make small changes in how we think about learning.
- We can consider how ambitious we have been in our design of learning.
- We can foster a creative mindset that starts to believe in the impact we all can have – especially our students.
- Whilst we might not be able to change the system, we can help our students see that little changes count.