The ideal classroom, like the ideal museum, is a two-way street. It is a place where individuals are given agency in their own education; where they can co-create their own experience, collaborate with others, meaningfully contribute, and carry their experience into the future.
The problem is that very few ideal classrooms, and even fewer ideal museums, exist today. Genuine visitor participation is necessary if museums are to remain relevant. I firmly believe, however, that participation should never end at the exit doors.
This belief is shared by Stephanie Ratcliffe, Executive Director of The Wild Center. A strong advocate of education over preservation, The Wild Center provides visitors with an incredible, albeit unique, participatory experience.
In my interview with Stephanie, she pointed out that participation is less present in the Center’s exhibit halls than in its efforts to involve visitors. Visitors are not just educated; they are invited to become contributors in a larger effort to coexist with nature.
In its approach to participation, The Wild Center places a large amount of trust in its visitors. The institution purposely limits its role to that of facilitator, providing a forum for education and discussion, but leaving the final product decidedly open-ended. Here, true participation requires commitment, responsibility, and action well after the visitors have left.
The Wild Center is not a place that makes decisions for its visitors. It is a classroom where individuals are empowered to decide for themselves. And even if it does not yet reach the ideal, it’s a big step in the right direction.
By Alex Dubois