The Teacher Gamer Revolution is on!
The “future of education”. What does it look like? Everyone in a box on their devices taking classes from teachers dead or live in a box somewhere online in the world… somewhere? Those who can afford them, learn and teach in larger boxes? The most famous of them give master classes and the rest have subscriptions to intellectual property hubs and knowledge databases like YouTube, Netflix and Disney+?
Some would say, “Bring it on!”
Others would say, “Bleak!”
I am kind of like that Lorax fellow (although my friends might say my hair is bigger!) who says, “Well, what about public education? Who is going to speak for the billions of children born into this world which may soon look like a combination of The Matrix and Idiocracy?”
We are in an existential crisis as social media, global internet access, and education are colliding. Which is happening — right now. We need a practical solution in schools that helps youth gain perspective — in real time — to their rapidly changing and evolving lives.
Students need a break from screens, phones and computers that actually interest them and work on them at the same time. With youth access to the internet and social media’s presence ballooning in their minds, the need for more life-skills is absolute. Generally, on the fringe of public education, and in many private schools, life-skills classes are coming — if at all— in the form of mindfulness, personal budgeting and wilderness education. And yet, we need more. We need something that is happening in the room — not just inside the student in stillness, online in a bank, or outside in the forest. And we need it soon as part of the main curriculum.
I have seen nothing hold learners attention off screen longer than role-playing games (RPGs). And my classes are 4 hours long minimum.
Parents try to put me off and say, “Yeah right, my kid can’t be without her phone for more than 15 minutes.” Those same kids don’t want to leave after the 4 hour class, lunch break and after school hours.
Educators know that nothing moves fast in curriculum development, but when a wave builds and enough people get behind it, something new can happen. This is RPGs in Schools. This is regeneration, but not the Swamp Thing or Wolverine kind, this is the plant trillions of trees and nurture them kind of regeneration. And kids are resisting moving as fast as we are anyway. They are happy to be in the present moment and be part of something growing inside them and outside.
Their way of letting us know we don’t get it? “Ok boomer.”
When my own teenager shot back at me in a sudden triggered rage the other night that the “Earth was for rent”, I remembered saying the same thing to my parents in the late 80’s. Part of what saved me then were RPGs, but they were fringe and no one could conceive of how to implement them in schools. Well, life has come back around and more teachers are reaching into their passions and bringing them into the classrooms with the consent of parents and administrators doing anything they can to keep learners engaged as more charter schools, homeschools and alternative schools pop up each year.
We need places for students to fail and succeed, but not where their grade point averages (GPAs) and social status are on the line. This is what schools are struggling with all over the world. In some nations or school boards, they clamp down with an iron fist and run their schools like penitentiaries. All this accomplishes is sending suppressed young people out into the world and the workforce with broken identities conditioned to doubt themselves and seek external validation. We reap what we sow.
We need to plant different seeds in schools and in teachers. Role-playing games are seeds that have the DNA of full-blown world building. Teacher-gamers are figuring out how to pass on wisdom, how to be the RNA, so to speak, of modeling and developing life-skills. We are working out how to be the messengers between making connections to the students’ full potential and
1. unfolding narrative elements
2. understanding character relations and story arcs
3. unpacking conflict
4. negotiating meaning so that perception is aligned
5. witnessing both failure and success as valued experience
6. learning how to play (games) as an adult*
* “playing” and “playing games” may seem like something people know how to do, however it is not a given. Being a “good sport” is not in everyone’s DNA and there are so many factors for why people are ‘poor losers’ or disrespectful winners. With the amount of communication and collaboration that is required to play this game, one goes on a journey of social discovery and navigating relationships that changes them forever. That is another reason why teaching role-playing games is teaching life-skills.
If discrete games, drills and assignments that work on the content of a class are flowers, bushes and vegetables in a garden, then trees are our living databases of knowledge upon which fruits and nuts they produce fuel our minds, projects and future. When learners are nourished by what they produce and realize, we see wisdom reflected in their eyes — they are happy, inspired, and satisfied. How do we keep them coming back, excited to dig deeper roots in the garden, to really take ownership of the orchard? This has always been the question for educators, curriculum builders and education philosophers. And we have tried many approaches.
Now with the internet and the ability to share styles, results, findings, research and educational methods, globally, we are all still trying to find the perfect curriculum. However, there is no silver bullet, because of three complex reasons — economic, political and cultural — that mandate any given society’s public education model.
The first reason is economic, because whatever that society uses as its labor, manufacturing, services and trade models, considers education as a means to attain its economic goals. There is so much interest in what suits the job market, that students are funneled through an educational system that depends on money to turn the economy. This becomes political, because education is funded through public taxation and therefore the over-arching political system dictates or democratizes the direction of curriculum. And finally, the cultural outlook of the society, with its superstitions or lack of religious dogma may or may not affect censure and who can go to school in the first place.
What better place to explore and appreciate the above three conditions of education in society then in a role-playing game that simulates a fictional society where players are urged to consider the implications of, and can pull the strings of, economic, political and cultural qualities. In this sense, role-playing games allows you to investigate how society works without any real-world consequences. Risks and consequences are all played out within the game.
We are at the cross-roads of the future of education.
If we dump billions of dollars, euros, yuan and rupiah into EdTech and AI, it is more than likely that student class sizes will increase, more students will study online and humans will rely more on machines to assess, partition and “teach” students. If EdTech and AI fall into weaponizing human talents, the future itself may come to look like Cyberpunk 2077.
However, if we poured a significant portion of that education budget into training more teachers, having smaller class sizes and developing life-skills programs using role-playing games, we would run the chance of developing stronger teacher-student relationships and deeper bonds between kids and their parents. The future is hard to imagine, but hopefully we can clean our act up to the point that we enjoy being a multi-planet species, with cities that look more like global expos of entrepreneur pavilions, sustainable communities, spacious schools connected to well-being sports centers surrounded by agro-forests. How about simulating that in RPGs in Schools?
#teachergamer #wildmindtraining #rpgsinschools
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Zachary Reznichek is a life-skills trainer and teacher-gamer running courses between North America, Europe and South East Asia.
For more on teacher-gamers visit www.teachergamer.com or write to firstname.lastname@example.org