In his keynote address at Deeper Learning 2015, Luis Del Rosario offers a case illustration of deeper learning—self-directed, driven by interests and passions, facilitated by expert mentors, and transformative. His learning proceeds stitch by stitch, mentor by mentor, venue by venue. His course of study turns traditional structures and subject matter inside out, calling into question conventional notions of rigor.
School as “a place where you were just forced to go,” and where the curriculum consisted of “numbers, facts, and memorizing answers,” didn’t work for Luis. What did work for him was a place where educators asked, “What is your passion?” and, as a matter of course, helped him pursue that passion in the world beyond school. What did work were the training in innovation and entrepreneurship, the internship with a costume designer, the long hours he spent perfecting his craft, the talks with his advisor, the college courses, the 3 a.m. bus rides to New York, and the conversations with experts in the field.
This is where rigor resides—not in complexity of prescribed content, or persistence in meaningless tasks, but rather in the moment-to-moment decisions students and teachers make, and the dispositions and relationships they develop, as they pursue their interests and passions in the world. Luis and others like him challenge us to develop a new set of rules for rigor:
No rigor without engagement
No rigor without ownership
No rigor without exemplars
No rigor without audiences
No rigor without purpose
No rigor without dreams
No rigor without courage
No rigor without fun
When we learn—really learn—we transform the content, the self, and the social relations of teaching and learning. We develop internal standards and align these with the world in the interplay of passion, mentoring, inquiry, and creation. A rigorous enterprise, yes, but also a joyous one, and venerable—happiness in the pursuit of excellence, as Aristotle might say. Or, as Luis would say,
“think big and always keep going—that’s the purpose of an education.”