Lynda Barry, Cartoonist Turned Professor, Gives Her Old Fashioned Take on the Future of Education

With col­lege tuitions bal­loon­ing to the point of implo­sion, and free edu­ca­tion­al con­tent pro­lif­er­at­ing online, the future of edu­ca­tion is a scorch­ing hot top­ic.

So where are we head­ing?

Cours­era and Khan Acad­e­myVideo game-based cur­ric­u­la? Expe­ri­ence-dri­ven microlearn­ing?

Or school build­ings that moon­light as can­dy?

So sug­gest­ed one of the younger par­tic­i­pants in a work­shop led by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin’s Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Cre­ativ­i­ty, car­toon­ist and author Lyn­da Bar­ry (aka Pro­fes­sor Long-Title).

Barry’s mes­sian­ic embrace of the arts has proved pop­u­lar with stu­dents of all ages. When the university’s Coun­ter­fac­tu­al Draw­ing Board Project invit­ed fac­ul­ty, staff, and oth­ers to con­sid­er what the “appear­ance, pur­pose, atmos­phere and com­mu­ni­ty of the cam­pus” would be like in 100 years time, Bar­ry delib­er­ate­ly widened the pool to include chil­dren.

Yes, their inno­va­tions tend­ed toward vol­cano schools that erupt at dis­missal, but pre­sum­ably some of those same chil­dren will be in the van­guard when it’s time for ini­tia­tives that seem unimag­in­able now to be imple­ment­ed. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.

Or as one gim­let-eyed youth put it, in a hun­dred years “the teach­ers will all be dead.”

No won­der few adult par­tic­i­pants can see past a but­ton-dri­ven, her­met­i­cal­ly sealed, dig­i­tal future where­in every stu­dent has a chip implant­ed in his or her head.

Bar­ry, no stranger to depres­sion, man­ages to laugh such gloomy fore­casts off, despite what they por­tend for the tac­tile, hand­made ephemera she reveres. A sense of humor—and humanity—is at the core of every edu­ca­tion­al reform she prac­tices.

Rather than rip each other’s writ­ing to shreds dur­ing in-class cri­tiques, her stu­dents call each oth­er by out­landish pseu­do­nyms and draw med­i­ta­tive spi­rals as each oth­ers’ work is read aloud. Every read­er is assured of a hearty “good!” from the teacher. She wants them to keep going, you see.

Sure­ly there are insti­tu­tions where this approach might not fly, but why poo-poo it? Isn’t fuel­ing the cre­ative spir­it a prac­ti­cal invest­ment in the future?

“It’s there in every­body,” Bar­ry believes. “You have to give peo­ple an expe­ri­ence of it, a repeat­ed expe­ri­ence of it that they gen­er­ate them­selves.”

Maybe some­day, some kid who hasn’t had the love of learn­ing squelched out of him or her will apply all that cre­ativ­i­ty toward cur­ing can­cer. That’d be great, huh? At worst, that care­ful­ly tend­ed spark can give solace in the dark days ahead. As fans of Barry’s work well know, art exists to car­ry us through times of “sor­row and grief and trou­ble.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry Reveals the Best Way to Mem­o­rize Poet­ry

Join Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry for a Uni­ver­si­ty-Lev­el Course on Doo­dling and Neu­ro­science

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