May 18, 2010


Could we relearn an important — perhaps vital — part of what makes us remarkable, even if it was the hardest thing we ever had to do? Or is what we thought was so remarkable about ourselves gone — and is what we need to learn something different, new, emerging, something beyond where we've ever imagined we’d go?

On May 18th TEDxAtlanta explored education through a cross-disciplinary lens, with the help of 10 live speakers and two TED Talks.

In retrospect, the answers to our questions were offered to us at the very beginning of the program by Billy McLaughlin, a virtuoso guitarist. The very fact that Billy was playing after his career was shattered by a rare neurological disorder nine years ago actually told us all anyone could ever need to know: We are capable of relearning, even when the odds feel stacked against us.

Our first session of speakers included Gever Tulley, Michael Levine and Anya Kamenetz. The thread through their talks was all too clear: Our notion of a “system” of education is flawed. And the system is not only failing, but self-destructing — which is actually the good news, since it is fragmenting into smaller, more nimble experiments.

The second session of speakers brought four school administrators to the stage for a series of quick talks. Bo Adams focused on the transformation from teachers and students to learners; Aron Solomon shared the Think Global School concept; Father Ricardo Bailey focused on the idea of relationship, and the need to meet students where they are; and David Fincher spoke on the rhymes in history that remind us we've been at this point before.

The mounting anxiety in the audience was then pierced by Vanessa Gallegos: a humble but empowered 17-year-old graduating senior whose early acceptance to Stanford with a full scholarship is an against-the-odds story that challenges any notion that the system is irretrievably broken. Her words echoed the message of Billy’s guitar: We are all capable of more than we’ll sometimes let ourselves imagine or believe.

Melody Moore Jackson, director of the Georgia Tech BrainLab, punctuated the idea that we can do more than we can imagine. She shared with us video of patients with locked-in syndrome using their brainwaves to control communication and mobility devices.

Billy’s return to the stage felt like the human spirit unleashed. There before our live audience of 150+ was proof that all we ever need to relearn is faith in our ability to learn.