On how educators can help young people become critical thinkers

I went to very traditional public schools all through K-12. I felt like a cog in the machine, and they were just moving us along. When I went to college at MIT and studied computer science, I was completely blown away by how much more self-directed students were, how comfortable they were diving into complex, abstract projects. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I could follow the rules and fill in worksheets, but I didn’t feel prepared for this bigger, broader problem-solving.

I thought, what else could school look like, so that students could experience more of this at a younger age? As we see the world shifting to gig economies and more dynamic problem solving with climate change and globalization, how do we prepare our students to step into these challenges and be excited and have some sense of agency?

So, I started The LIFE School in downtown Atlanta, where we’re trying to completely redesign and transform the high school experience. Then, early in the pandemic, we launched a primary program, Zucchinis, which was really driven by the community. Families have been so passionate about it that we’re going to bring it into the fold of The LIFE School and go from pre-K through 12th grade. Zucchinis has 15 kids now, and we’re looking to expand to up to 45 next year. The high school will grow from 65 up to 100 kids. We want to design a program that’s more culturally relevant, more identity-safe, and more focused toward families of color.

We didn’t want to design a school to control and manage students. We wanted to create an experience where students learn to manage themselves, build more intrinsic motivation, self-control, and self-care.”

At our schools, we believe IQ is a number or a metric, but intelligence is much more complex. Even in our staffing, we don’t just say, this is a math teacher, or this is a science teacher. Our math teacher loves outdoor adventure and plans all of our hiking and archery and horseback riding. Our science teacher loves music production. We have a mini music studio at our school, and we’re excited to build an audio engineering program for the students.

So, the kids see our staff and don’t just think, “I’m a tech person, or I’m an art person.” You can explore all of these different aspects of who you are and embrace that complexity for your identity. You can develop your full self, and bring all of that to school because your teachers are also bringing all of themselves to school.

We didn’t want to design a school to control and manage students. We wanted to create an experience where students learn to manage themselves, build more intrinsic motivation, self-control, and self-care.