September, 2022

The inaugural Deeper Learning Boston is here: a unique collaboration between Hale Education and Deeper Learning Global, an offshoot of High Tech High Graduate School of Education. When we began planning this event, my long-time colleague and dear friend Carmen Torres was excited by all that we could inspire and create for the future.

Sometimes when I hear my graduate students talk about deeper learning, I fear they think it is a new idea or a recently discovered phenomenon. However, we know that critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration, creativity, and content expertise (the pillars of deeper learning)  have always been indicators of a good education. How we can best engage young people in schools, center equity, and foster culturally responsive teaching and learning continue to be essential foci for our time. We are not there yet. 

Deeper Learning has its roots in the innovations of the 1980s and 1990s, a time of innovation and the advent of this current wave of high-stakes testing. Ted Sizer, author of Horace’s Compromise, Horace’s School and Horace’s Hope, and former dean of HGSE, founded the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) in the early 1980s as well. Deborah Meier, founder of Central Park East Secondary School and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, joined Sizer as CES co-chair. 

The Ten Common Principles of CES are the antecedents of the current Deeper Learning movement: depth over breadth, student as worker; teacher as coach and graduation by portfolio and exhibition. One of the most fundamental principles of CES schools was democracy and equity—specifically, they sought to address how schools embrace the cultural, racial, and linguistic backgrounds of students and how teachers and students can be key decision makers. Questions of curriculum and assessment were considered the purview of those closest to the students: teachers. Collaborative decision making was also considered a key to a healthy democratic school.

Vito Perrone, author of Letters to a Teacher and senior faculty member at Harvard, guided many of the schools that adopted the CES principles. He was more than a professor, writer, and philosopher: he was a doer. He visited schools; he brought his students to revamp run-down libraries and shelve books; he sat on school boards and cajoled superintendents to listen to school leaders. He was an early opponent of high-stakes testing and an early proponent of the ways in which schools and communities could work together. He honored the work of families and encouraged schools to respond to their interests. For decades, he presided over the North Dakota Study group and helped found the Center for Collaborative Education, a regional CES center. In his writing and his actions, he supported hundreds of schools. 

For many educators of the 80s and 90s, Ted and Vito were inspirations. The late Carmen Torres, my colleague for over four decades, talked about Ted having bifocal vision: He could see just about everywhere. Carmen also learned to deeply look at student work in seminars with Vito. She talked about how students’ words were more important than their standardized test scores. Carmen embraced what we call “knowing the whole child.” She referred to Vito and Ted as her philosophical parents, which is why we chose to honor them both when we co-founded the Perrone-Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership (PSi). She helped bring PSi to Hale Education, and she would be enormously proud of this conference today.

I hope as we celebrate deeper learning, we don’t forget how we got here.  We remember Ted, Vito, and Carmen, all of whom are no longer with us. We also celebrate many others who are still out there doing the work—people like Larry Myatt, Gloria Ladson Billings, and Pedro Noguera. The list goes on…

I hope that history will kindle our drive to take the bold actions required to improve our schools and communities. Our young people deserve nothing more.