I Think Louisa May Alcott Might Have Dreamed Up the First Genius Hour

Angela Maiers is one of my real-life heroes, with her advocacy for passion-driven education, the You Matter Manifestoand the Choose 2 Matter campaign.  (Don’t forget to check out her recent interview with Brad Waid and Drew Minock on the #2GuysShow.  It is fabulous and motivational!)   But long before I encountered the works of Angela Maiers, I ran across the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott – all of which included main characters who became teachers.  Each fictional teacher contributed to the teacher I am today, for they all shared one characteristic – they cared deeply about their students.

I have been re-reading Alcott’s Little Men (the sequel to Little Women) with my daughter.  In this novel, Jo, the vibrant tomboy of the first novel, opens up a boarding school for young boys, most of whom are homeless.  Now that I am reading this book as an adult, I am struck by the teaching methods that Jo and her husband use – a mixture of traditional and uncommon techniques that surely would have been considered highly unusual during Alcott’s life-time.  The compassion that Jo feels toward her charges is evident in every decision she makes.

In one chapter, a prodigal has returned to the school, and his fierce devotion to everything outdoors spurs Jo, her husband, and “Uncle Teddy” to give all of the young men a space to display their collections of rocks, bugs, and all things “important.”  (I still remember one of my own teachers who offered us each our own space on the classroom bulletin board to exhibit whatever we desired.  It remains one of my educational highlights to this day!)

Once they open their “museum”, the boys are urged to not only show off their collections, but to learn about them as well.  You can see below where I started getting goosebumps as I made the connection to our class Genius Hour.

From: Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott
From: Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott

I could be wrong, but I think, just a couple of pages later, Alcott might have also proposed the original version of TED Talks and the precursor to e-portfolios…

From: Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott
From: Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott

The point is, I think we all know, deep in our hearts, that one of our jobs as educators is to help our students to pursue their passions.  Even fictional teachers from the 1800’s understood the importance of letting people know how much they, and their interests, matter.

(To see some more of my real-life education heroes, please visit my page of “Engaging Educators.”  And, for more about Genius Hour, you might want to take a look at the Genius Hour Resources page.)

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