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Comments by Copthorne Macdonald about Stephanie Pace Mitchell's book

Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life

     Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life

by Stephanie Pace Marshall
Jossey-Bass (2006), 243 pages
ISBN: 0-7879-7501-X

Among the many achievements noted in her staggeringly impressive bio, Stephanie Pace Marshall is the founding (and current) President of the world-renowned Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy — a college-preparatory institution for talented grade 10-12 students created in 1985 by the state of Illinois. For more than 20 years she has been deeply involved in the evolution of that school's innovative problem-centered, inquiry-based and integrative instructional programs. Emerging from this rich background of experience with beyond-the-norm educational approaches, and deep personal insights, is her brilliant and compelling book THE POWER TO TRANSFORM: Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life.

Marshall points out that the model upon which most of today's schools are based reflects society's present priorities of practicality and immediate usefulness. Children are looked upon as beings with innate learning deficiencies, and the job of education is to fill their minds with facts and attitudes that will be useful in present-day society. This approach does not equip today's children for the world of tomorrow. As Marshall put it, "A world dominated by excessively competitive and acquiring minds who cannot think holistically, systemically, long term, and wisely is dangerous. ... Exploration, creativity, imagination, passion, wonder, and awe lie at the heart of life and learning. They must also be at the heart of schooling."

"What would it take," she asks, "to create a generative and life-affirming system of learning and schooling that liberates the goodness and genius of all children and invites and nurtures the power and creativity of the human spirit for the world?" She calls this, "the question the book attempts to answer."

The remedy that Marshall proposes is to use the principles of living systems as design principles for creating a "new [educational] story" — creating "learning communities" that are "naturally autonomous, open, creative, self-organizing, connected and adaptive." Rather that trying to pour dry facts into the heads of bored, disengaged children, the approach is to excite and enthusiastically engage them by having them explore real world issues and problems — "problems that matter." In the process, the children gather the facts they need, and are receptive to learning new skills (reading, 'riting, 'rithmatic, and more) because they realize that they need these tools to analyze, solve, and report on the problems they care about.

Focusing on real-world problems has another advantage: most are inherently multidisciplinary. To deal with them students must delve into a variety of disciplines and come to understand the "patterns of knowledge" within each. They must then integrate what they learned into a problem-relevant big picture, and doing this helps them to develop skill at multidisciplinary analysis, understanding, and pattern making,

"Great questions" are another focal point in Marshall's approach. She calls them "portals to a future of unknown possibilities." Her advice to students is "Ask questions that matter. Ask questions that make a difference. Ask questions you love so that as you live your life seeking the answers you will find joy." She lists 28 "big questions for deep learning" that relate to her four pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.

Marshall stresses that this new approach does not abandon standards, formal curriculum, instruction, evaluation, measurement, or assessment. But old approaches to these matters have been transformed into ones that reflect the changed values which underlie the new schema.

This book is rich and deep, and almost every page had me saying, "Yes, yes, of course!" Marshall ends the book with the following call to action: "Please do not wait for others. Courage is the capacity to claim what we imagine. If you are carrying this new story in your heart, now is the time to step forward. There is a place in the world for your unique voice, and it carries a message that must be heard. Start anywhere, but begin the conversation, and tell the new story that brings learning and schooling to life."


You will find more information about the book at:
Stephanie Pace Marshall's web site, the Jossey-Bass web site, and

For book purchase information, click the Jossey-Bass or links above.