Last night I finished the culminating activity for the last course of my MEd program while Gilmore Girls played in the background. With such vibrant dialogue, every episode of Gilmore Girls plays like a soundtrack of rapid beats, fluid rhythm and pulsing energy.
As I was working away, I couldn’t help but make a connection (no pun intended) between the character of Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia) and my final MEd course titled The Connected Classroom with Dr. Paul Leslie. With this course providing a deep dive into theories of change pertaining to what school was, is and needs to be, I thought of Jess, students like him and the need to ensure that schools are places where students can actively learn, unlearn and relearn while in pursuit of their passions and interests as connected learners.
The Connected Classroom:
Through a deep study of theoretical principles grounded in experiential learning, community education and the transformational role technology can play to enrich, extend and deepen the student experience, the course provided a critical reminder that schools must be places where students are active partners in their learning. Within this context, knowledge is constructed, experienced and authenticated in a manner that transcends the traditional thinking of the classroom teacher as the holder and master of knowledge.
As noted in a course reading titled Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms, academics Jeff Utecht and Doreen Keller share that “knowledge therefore is not a set of facts but rather a learner’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn information quickly and be able to apply that new knowledge in an ever-changing information landscape.” They continue to share that “learning is the ability to discover something unknown. Unlearning involves critically analyzing and in some cases rejecting information or beliefs once held to be true in the presence of new information. Finally, relearning is the arriving at a new understanding, sometimes replacing perspectives that were once expected or believed from past experiences” (Utech & Keller, 2019).
For this learning, unlearning and relearning to occur, schools must be places where students engage in reciprocal learning that nurtures their ability as responsive and global citizens who can create, collaborate, think creatively and communicate effectively through the “new pedagogies” of today. As Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy note in A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, the ‘new pedagogies can be defined succinctly as a new model of learning partnerships between and among students and teachers, aiming towards deep learning goals and enabled by pervasive digital access” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).
This “pervasive digital access” has the potential to empower students in their ability to connect with “educators” outside of their school all while leaning into their sense of self. From connecting to experts via video conferencing to building a student learning network on social media, there is power in access and connection. As Fullan and Langworhjty note, students can leverage technology “not only to create new knowledge, but also to connect it to the world, using the power of digital tools to do things that matter beyond school (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).
As educators we must be active in our approach to create cultures where learning is about applying, reassessing, new understanding, reimagining and connecting with the goal to deepen the student experience. This is the case for students in the classroom, professional learners and all invested in education.
Equally, this is true for a student like Gilmore Girls‘ Jess, who reminds us educators that the classroom experience must be reciprocal and connected to who students are in school and beyond with the understanding that content does not equate knowledge.
Jess Mariano arrives at Stars Hollow in season 2 and not only creates upheaval for his uncle Luke but for Lorelia, Rory and most importantly her boyfriend Dean. A disenfranchised New York teen, Jess is shipped off to Stars Hollow by his mother in hopes that both her brother and small town life will help realign his path. Angry, sarcastic and underwhelmed, Jess is full of angst. Although, quite problematic for a number of characters, Jess is unique in that his rebellion seems to stem from being stifled as he struggles to find himself or find a way to be who he intends to be.
It’s clear from the onset that Jess is incredibly bright. Like Rory, he loves books, music and yearns for intellectual stimulation. However, unlike Rory, who is afforded the opportunity of attending a prestigious private school and has always been nurtured, Jess is unmotivated by his time at Stars Hollow High and the unfortunate realities of his personal experience. Looking to his early 2000s high school, Jess would have benefited from the connected classroom ideology that schools must be more than repositories of information. In seeing Jess fully, the potential to harness his passions and interests in an experiential way could have played an early role in dismantling his emotional and social armour. Thus, for Jess the issue is not so much a realignment of his path but fully understanding what speaks to him. He’s looking not to be fixed but rather seen and empowered.
Specifically, his passion for literature, music and culture is not leveraged as he navigates his newly found small town life. In fact, it’s quite clear that his contempt derives from a lack of deep engagement. This is reinforced in Season 2, Episode 16 titled “There’s the Rub.” In this episode, Rory’s quiet night at home is interrupted by both Paris and Jess who form an unlikely bound. As the three share in a meal and book talk, Jess begins to relinquish his armour. The kindness he typically reserves only for Rory is shared with Paris as she pushes him on the merit of poetry and he educates her on the worldliness of combining salt, pepper and hot sauce as a complement to French Fries.
Ultimately, this teen meal provides a window into what motivates Jess and how pieces are lacking from his current schooling realities and personal life.
Jess and Schooling Today:
This dinner scene reinforces that Jess and all students need something more from school than merely a textbook or lecture. For Jess, school needed to be more than just a place in which content as knowledge is shared.
Considering the dial up world of the internet at the time of the episode, Jess’ access to information was limited. However, in today’s world of Web 2.0 where students can access the same content as their educators, schools must be places where the learning journey is intentional in nurturing young people to be autonomous, self-directed, creative, critical, communicative, collaborative, innovative and responsible learners who are active partners in teaching and learning.
Imagine, if Jess had the access to the new pedagogies of today that allowed him to lean into his passion and interests. Imagine if he could create, curate and connect readily through digital & social media. Imagine, if Luke or his high school principal fully saw him and thus embraced his passion for books, music and culture. Imagine, if Jess was able to connect with other like-minded people regardless of his geographic location.
In fact, as Jess leaves Stars Hollow in season 3, he reconnects with Rory in season 6 where he is now in Philadelphia and thriving as a indie writer and partner in a small publishing house. In surrounding himself with people who nurtured his passion, his armour completely shattered. In fact, so many years later with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Jess visits Rory who finds herself lost in so many ways. For all of her higher education and childhood nurturing, Rory is not who she wants to be let alone where she wants to be career wise. However, Jess the high school misfit is exactly who he’s meant to me and is thriving.
Thus, as educators within a COVID reality with lockdowns and remote learning, we’re reminded that the experience can’t be where learning is associated with merely tests, quizzes and memorization of content. We’ve been tasked with something quite remarkable in that Web 2.0 has enabled a change in learning culture. Whether it be students interacting within a VLE discussion board or curating a digital learning portfolio, the culture of learning has changed even if some refuse such truth.
More now than ever, us educators have to provide students with the opportunities to create the doors that do not yet exist for themselves. For this to occur, students must be partners in change and they must be seen fully with a positive sense of well-being. As noted in What We Heard – Well Being in our Schools, Strengths in Our Society well-being is a “positive sense of self and spirit. It is reflected in the students’ sense of personal identity and self-worth, and an optimistic and hopeful view of life. Students told us that being connected, having a sense of belonging at school, and feeling like a respected and valued member of the school community are critical” (What We Heard, 2017, p. 3).
Jess deserved this. All students do.
Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (n.d.). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.
Utecht, J., & Keller, D. (2019). Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning
Theory to Today’s Classrooms.