As I sat in my grandmother’s dining room table, I knew that there was something very different about the evening’s events. There wasn’t going to be a rousing game of cards or a big football game to watch. There was something much more subdued going on that was difficult for my 6 year old brain to put together. At one point, my aunt came out with these buttons that had a big red circle with a line going through it. The drawing of what they were against was ominous but entirely unfamiliar, though, so I asked what was happening.
My mother told me that some people wanted to put in a trash incinerator near my grandmother’s house and that a few people were going to get together and talk about how they could make them stop. She said that they were wearing those pins to show that they didn’t want the incinerator. Immediately, I wanted to wear a button too. In my head, I imagined the trash burner being right next to the bedroom I slept in while I stayed ay my grandmother’s house every December. I did not want to smell burning trash as I was going to sleep.
I wanted to start my own 6 year old’s crusade throughout Chillicothe, Ohio. I knew nothing about the political, economic, or social underpinnings of either side of the argument, but because my family was against it, so was I. And we would have buttons to prove it.
That was the first time I saw how a single idea could be so universally understood as to have everyone immediately on board. The framing of the problem was simple. The answer to the question of “Do you want burning trash next to your house” is always going to be no. The other side doesn’t have buttons. Their case can only be made with cash in hand. The only way incinerators are built near housing is by way of compensation to the local government and the residents. It is a harder case to make, even so. There is no community that is going to stand up and fight for their right to burn trash. There are no after dinner meetings with concerned citizens who discuss ways to get more incinerators to be built in their community.
And yet, none of the things I believe in are causing people to get together in living rooms and make buttons. There is no big, anti-busywork campaign that has children and adults alike in an uproar. There is no one beating the collaboration drum from dawn until night so that we make sure that tomorrow is filled with more ways of connecting with one another instead of less. There is nothing so concrete as an incinerator to rally against, no symbol of everything we do not want. There is no image of a child sitting in his bedroom playing with his toys and being overrun with the smell of burning trash and the possibility of being consumed by the fire itself.
But, perhaps there should be.
All we would need would be a few people to frame our debate so that arguing against it would inherently be corrupt. We would need to break down our arguments for authentic learning and networked spaces into something that a 6 year old could understand and promote to all of her 6 year old friends. Most of all, we need a story that can be told on a button, not by simplifying it beyond all recognition but rather projecting a haunting image.
If I were starting a homegrown organization to sit around dinner tables and talk it would be called something like, Inquiring Minds for Learning Reform
If I were making buttons for that organization, here is what they would say:
“What do you want to know?” – An image of an inquiring mind would be opening up to a world of possibilities.
“Did learning happen TO you today?” – An image of an inquiring mind would be forced to sit in a seat.
“Tell me a story.” – An image of an Inquiring mind would be listening to people all around it.
“Let me Google that for you.” – An image of an inquiring mind with a smart phone, googling a current event
“Who is in your learning network?” – An image of an inquiring mind being networked to other inquiring minds that have different hats on representing all of the things that can be known through networked learning.
“Did you stop learning after Graduation?” – An image of an inquiring mind pushing away a laptop with Wikipedia up.
“Inquiring minds unite!”- An image of a locked inquiring mind with a big red circle with a line through it.