John Thackara | Essays

In Praise of the Feral: Update on Xskool

Convention centres are expensive, filled with hard surfaces, and — unless you're in the convention business — somewhere else than the subjects discussed in them. Being separated from the thing itself, they tend to foster groupthink — and abstract groupthink at that.

A feral encounter, in contrast, is one that has changed from being domesticated, to untamed. It brings people into contact with the lived reality of a situation. It is guided by its context — not by an agenda, and not by a curriculum.

In preparing for the challenges ahead we need more of the latter kinds of encounter.

This is the main conclusion so far from the xskool story. As I wrote here in May, "x" means: “This place, this moment, these people. Breathing the same air. Shoulder-to-shoulder learning. The opportunity to be still. Only here, only now.”

Later, at Parsons in New York in June, someone said that “people don't want more messages; they want more interactions.” Our group in New York also responded positively to the idea of a school with no curriculum, no standardised process, no teachers, and no certificates.

During the past months, I've learned about numerous plans to set up next-generation universities, design schools, courses, camps, festivals, fellowships, journeys and institutes of one sort or another. Last month's Future Perfect Festival in Sweden was another cheering experiment. This diversity is heartening. It's been liberating to realize that there's no special virtue to being unique in the world. If a dozen or a hundred other groups are exploring ideas for new schools, then good.

This does not, however, answer the question we posed in January: Might xskool become an intentional part of the change we wish to see in the world'?

A clear-cut answer to this questions has yet to emerge. Xskool is a cross between a recipe, and a platform. It enables people to create unique events in which change-minded people participate, interact, and reflect. As a model it helps both its participants, and the host venue or project where they meet, to create new value, and to learn.

In that sense xskool complements, but does not compete with, mainstream institutions such as design or business schools. But because we also decided on a core principle — that people participate who should participate, not just those who can pay — xskool is yet not a sustainable business proposition.

What we do have is a clear picture of the capabilities needed to make an xskool happen. Someone is needed to:
• produce and co-ordinate each xskool journey and event
• be a host at the venue;
• cause the food to be amazing;
• facilitate meet-and-greet, Open Space, and other sessions;
• be a steward of the Xskool community to "maintain a drumbeat" between events
• be a storyteller, and collector-selecter of images
• look after a website, facebook page, carrier-pigeon, or whatever

So that's the xskool story so far. In January, when we started, I floated the idea of xskool as a kind of eco travel agency. It would help young designers, many of whom are keen to learn and contribute, to travel and visit places mindfully rather than, as happens too much now, blunder around insensitively in foreign places.

The xskool opportunity is real, and pressing. Every design school in the world could use its support. All that's missing is a framework and resources to make it happen as a distributed service.

Jobs | May 19