Our best schools are states of play.

More and more are coming to believe that education and imagination are not gulags of labor, but places to play. Announced yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, GLASS Lab—a project by Institute of Play in partnership with EA and the Entertainment Software Association and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—aims create games that are specifically oriented to the youngest generation who, naturally, are in a constant state of play with the digital media and technology strewn about our country like a messy toy room. According to the press release: 

GLASS Lab is based on the understanding that video games and simulations can validate student learning and provide feedback for teachers and parents on students’ progress toward established learning goals. Unlike traditional measurement tools, video games are by nature designed to measure progress since learning is happening, and is captured, in the gaming experience itself.

It’s reminiscent of edutainment of the ’90s, but with current techonologies, GLASS will probably start to see games as an end in and of themselves, rather than games that simply put a cartoon bear on the screen in order to get kids to do arithmetic (Love you, Stickybear).

Perhaps to no surprise, the sentiment is echoed and elaborated with child psychology and a Field of Dreams reference in a recent NY Times Column by David Brooks called “The Power of the Particular.” 

My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call ‘paracosms.’ These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.

We carry this need for paracosms into adulthood. It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes. Millions of people around the world are ferociously attached to Tupac Shakur’s version of Compton or J.K. Rowling’s version of a British boarding school or Downton Abbey’s or Brideshead Revisited’s version of an Edwardian estate.

Millions of people know the contours of these remote landscapes, their typical characters, story lines, corruptions and challenges. If you build a passionate and highly localized moral landscape, people will come.