Schools Must Be Grounded in Thriving Relationships: New Narratives 1 | Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. | 13 Min Read

July 27, 2022

Quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote, “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” I think the same can be said about what we look for in our students, it’s all about the questions we ask.

When you pose the question “What are the skills and mindsets that students need to thrive in our ever-changing world?” you’ve already framed the answers. I’ve gone through the portraits of a graduate of dozens of schools and it seems like they all drew from the same hat of fewer than 20 words. A graduate should be some combination of resilient, adaptable, responsible, a learner, an effective communicator, innovative, collaborative, creative, a critical thinker, ethical, a global citizen, etc. I’m sure these schools all went through a rigorous process of engaging community members in discussion to come up with their vision of which “knowledge, skills, mindsets, and literacies [are] essential for 21st-century student success.” So did all the schools that have portraits but don’t call them such, schools that want to cultivate the 4, 5, or 6 Cs that are just the same story. I use the term portrait as a catch-all for competencies and characteristics sought out in this vein.

Several things strike me about creating a portrait. First, a portrait is fixed. It doesn’t take into account what happens the moment a student leaves school. A portrait is static and draws on the past, not the present. It tells us nothing more than what we want to believe is permanent but is not.  A portrait doesn’t consider that humans are becomings, that is, that our futures lie ahead of us and we flow into them. Of course, we can make predictions based on patterns of the past, but patterns and portraits are different things. All the more so when we seek to make everyone look the same by making one portrait for everyone.

Second, many of the skills that a portrait paints feel like they’re about getting students “work ready.” I’m not suggesting that this isn’t important, I’m just noticing and asking myself whether making sure kids are prepared for the professional world should be the main purpose of schools. You could make the argument that each of these skills is important in day-to-day life, but if we zoom back, we notice a pattern that most of these mindsets and…

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Benjamin Freud, Ph.D.

Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Coconut Thinking, an advisory that supports schools and learning organizations to co-create, co-develop, co-stress test, and co-implement ideas that nurture the conditions for emergent learning. Benjamin is also the Head of Upper School at Green School, Bali. He was previously the Whole School Leader of Learning and Teaching at Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Thailand. He was the Academic Coordinator at Misk Schools, one of the most prestigious and high-profile school in the kingdom. In 2018-2019, he was also the Head of Upper Primary and Middle School at Misk. Prior to this, he was Vice-Principal of the Middle School and High School at the Harbour School in Hong Kong. He holds a Ph.D. in History, an MSc in Education, an MBA, an MA in International Relations, and a BA in International Affairs. Benjamin was born and grew up in Paris, France. He moved to the U.S. when he was 15 and spent 11 years there in different cities before living in the U.K., Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and now Bali, Indonesia. He started his career in consulting for Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, working with people whose ambitions were no less than to change the world. This experience had a profound effect on Benjamin's outlook on education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.