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Archive for July, 2012

Infinite schools

When people ask me for book recommendations, the first one I always suggest is Finite and Infinite Games, a little philosophy book by NYU professor emeritus James P. Carse.

Here’s the entire first chapter: “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other, infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

Society is set up like a finite game, with winners and losers. The point of this game is to climb the social and economic ladder: get rich, marry well, accrue power, then raise kids who will be even more successful than you.

So we create schools that will train people to succeed in this finite game. We give kids test that they either pass or fail, we rank students by grade point average, and we help them win a spot in an exclusive university.

But what about those “infinite games,” the ones we play just for inherent joy they bring? Playing hide-and-seek with your 4-year-old daughter. Going on a road trip with friends. Playing fetch with your dog. There is no winner and loser in these activities, but these are the moments that bring the most profound sense of joy to our lives.

What if we created infinite schools? What if, instead of correctly answering a question about the Civil War, the point was to have a discussion that leads to tackling ever more complex questions? School districts all have as their goal “creating lifelong learners,” but they disrespect that notion by treating school as a finite game to be won or lost.

What would it mean to re-imagine school as an infinite game?

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