The Future of Learning in Maine

For some time, we’ve been envisioning the next phase of learning in Maine. We’ve met a number of times, in different places, to try to capture our vision of the future of education. And we’ve done this while being surrounded by the pervasive disruption of our familiar ways of educating students.

When I’ve spoken at conferences in the US and Canada, there has been great interest in Maine’s leadership in education. I get asked, why? Why is it that Maine, a small state with a small population up at the northeastern tip of the US, so innovative?

I suggest it may be due to our resourcefulness in the early years, doing what was needed to be done to survive, but also aspiring to a high level of craftsmanship. Or perhaps the population of summer folk who came to Maine for a century of guided discovery of what the rivers and lakes and woods offered, made their contributions to our customs and culture. (And, in admitting I am a northern New Englander, but not a native Mainer, I claim my observations to be one person’s perspective, with one foot in each world.)

Why did Thoreau make such effort to come to the Maine woods to paddle and walk and find a middle ground between wilderness and cultivation with Joe Polis? Why did E.B. White choose to write about world war II from Brooklin Maine? Why did Percival Baxter choose an entirely new way of preserving Maine for future generations? Why were Louise Dickinson Rich’s stories of settling along the Magalloway River so popular? Why did Angus King agree with Seymour Papert that being connected to the world outweighs the challenges of sifting the destructive from the constructive aspects of this always-on extension of our senses.

Over the past months, I’ve gotten to know Erin Knight, a Mainer who has worked with Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation on the Chicago Summer of Learning, the Cities of Learning initiative, and the Badge Alliance. She has put forward an audacious vision that is actually not that audacious after all: to develop and support a digital platform that can represent the competencies that Maine learners demonstrate, from preschool to K-12 to college to professional development; in school, at home, in the summer, anywhere, anytime.

We held a kick-off session today, and I am convinced that this is a valuable missing piece in our vision to help our children, our friends, and our wisest neighbors — from here and away — to show our how important a life of learning, every day, is to all of us.

Maine is known for our innovations in learning, from the Maine Learning Results to the Laptop Initiative to proficiency-based high school diplomas. What’s missing is a way of capturing the learning we seek and experience all the time, in school and beyond.

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