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Examining Education at the Blue School

Aired March 18, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This school has been around for about five years now. It started as a play group and it developed into kind of a preschool and now to a bona fide school with a bona fide location that we're all happy about.

It was one of those things where when we started working on it, we realized we had hit a nerve because people came out of the woodwork, other families.

But teachers, educators in the field, neurosciences, and they said this is something that they've been thinking about and wanted to help us develop.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE NEXT. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Today, you're going to meet three agents of change who are challenging traditional methods of teaching kids. They've began an education revolution so to speak. Certain that nurturing the human spirit is as essential as learning to read.

These innovators opened "Blue School" where the emphasis on collaboration, creativity, and the curiosity that leads to adventure. So what makes them experts in the art of learning? How do they come up with the educational idea of a lifetime?

As you'll see, the inspiration and the name, they didn't come out of the blue.



AUDIENCE: Who is there?


AUDIENCE: Banana who?



AUDIENCE: Banana who.


AUDIENCE: Who is there?


AUDIENCE: Orange who.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Aren't you glad I stopped saying banana?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world that kids are graduating into now is so fast paced and changing that they actually need to be students of innovation. They don't necessarily have to be artists. They don't necessarily have to be inventors, but everyone needs to know how to get up on that wave and ride it as opposed to be knocked over by it.



MATT GOLDLMAN, CO-FOUNDER, BLUE SCHOOL: I'm Matt and we're three of six co-founders of "Blue School."

You know, the world is clearly neither sustainable nor harmonious at this point. It's really going to take us and everyone around today and the kids growing up into being leaders of the world to change our course.

PHIL STANTON, CO-FOUNDER, BLUE SCHOOL: I think to solve those problems from we have today and the future it's going to take a level of creative thinking that maybe education hasn't done the best job at in the past.

GOLDMAN: Innovation we believe is actually something that can be taught. It's something that can be nurtured. I think there are a number of reasons that have brought us and the other three founders to starting Blue School.

In some ways it felt like it was a reaction to the culture and what was out there or what was not out there. In another way, we felt as if creativity and social emotional learning and collaboration want to be folded into the education experience as much as any of the other academic subjects.

MOLLY DEGESERO, TEACHER, BLUE SCHOOL: I'm Molly. I'm a kindergarten teacher here at Blue School. This is one of the few places that I have seen, participated in where children are at the heart of the learning.

STANTON: What you'll see is a class will decide that they want to talk about the weather. As kids of a certain age always do, they get fascinated by tornadoes. From tornadoes you can go to so many areas. You can go to mathematics and other sciences. You can also go to geography. You learn that the only other place in the world where tornadoes take place besides the American Midwest is Mongolia.

So this is how you use threads to get into a place that they are excited by and artfully weave in all the other disciplines.

CHRIS WINK, CO-FOUNDER, BLUE SCHOOL: This school has been around for about five years now. It started as a play group and it developed into kind of a preschool and now it's a bona fide school with a bona fide location that we're all very happy about.

And it was one of those things where when we started working on it. We realized we had hit a nerve because people came out of the footwork, other families.

But teachers, educators in the field, neurosciences, and they said this is something that they've been thinking about and wanted to help us develop.

KEN ROBINSON, EDUCATOR: I'm Ken Robinson. I'm an educator, an author and I'm on the advisory board of the Blue School. I met Matt, Phil and Chris through the Ted Conference. They saw the talk I gave in 2006 on creativity and contacted me.

We arranged to meet for an hour for lunch and the hour turned into eight hours. I canceled the rest of the day because I just thought they were great. I loved them. I've just thought they were great.

I look what they're attempting to the school. I looked the way they're thinking about it, but I took an interest in it because I like to see schools trying to do something different.




WINK: The good news for us is we didn't have to invent this idea from scratch. There have been some incredibly innovative thinkers around the world working on these ideas, testing them.

And so we were able to reach out to these people, learn from them, connect with them, and employ those ideas in day to day curriculum in the classroom.

GOLDMAN: We had started a relationship with David Rockwell, famed architect. After having done the imagination playground, just 2-1/2 blocks away, he had spent the last five, six years of his life studying how children play and learn.

DAVID ROCKWELL, ARCHITECT: I think environment and space has everything to do with how kids perceive the world. While many playgrounds look different, and there's a lot of variety in how playgrounds look, the actual play value was quite similar.

So I started to research the need kids have for their own child to play. We realized there's this very interesting idea out there in the world that kids need to create their own world. They need to have risk.

They need to have the opportunity for failure, and they need to see what happens when they're creating something singular and they try and link it with the community.

I didn't go to the Blue School thinking that I was going to be the architect for this project. I went there as someone who is interested to see what they were doing.

Every part about it seems spontaneous and wonderful and the kids seem great. It's thrilling to be part of seeing it evolve.

ROBINSON: I hear all kinds of people say to me that they are not very creative. I think they are mistaken about it and the reason is, they are naturally creative. It's like people are born with a natural powerful languages.

If you were born into a home that spoke five languages, you'd learn them all, but if you were born into household where one language spoken, you learn that one and then you struggle a bit later on to learn a second language.

So you have a capacity for it. Whether you realize it's a different matter. By the time most people, in my experience, get to their education, they start to think that they are not very creative and the reason is they have not developed the abilities to go with it.

The problem is (inaudible) education systemically they are routed not in the 21st Century but the 19th Century. The way you improve it as a system is not to standardize it, but to customize it, to personalize it because in the end every kid has their own story.

WINK: The kids and the teachers having a dialogue together about what they want to learn and the kids feeling like they're owning some of this direction, but the teachers artfully, definitely selling into those subject matters.

All of the things that kids need to learn of the different ages to reach all of the benchmarks, to satisfy all of the people out there that want to make sure that kids can read and do math, but if you can get that in, nested within an adventure.

DEGESERO: For me, co-construction is all about trying to find all of those pieces and fitting them together to be a community of learners.

My first year at Blue School when I arrived, and I watched a child in my classroom create a catapult out of Legos and launch a little Lego across the room and watch the entire class turn to the child and say, you made a catapult.

That was my click. That was a child bringing a simple machine into the classroom. From there, we launched a whole catapult unit where I had children, age 5, talking about pivot points and fulcrums. That for me was that click when said this isn't just a theory, this isn't just a philosophy. This is what education should be.

STANTON: Why now has to do with things we know now that we didn't know. You know, there have been so many recent discoveries in the area of neurosciences. We know now that you can actually change your brain by the focus that you put on your brain, by learning how to think.

You can actually learn divergent thinking. At Blue School, we feel like that part of this worldwide movement that understands the importance of knowing how your brain works. So we intend to really take advantage of that new knowledge that just, you know, in the last couple of decades.

WINK: Whether it's the school or the new material that we're putting in Las Vegas or these other things that we're working on now where we can sort of just create these experiences outside of our theatre.

In every case, we're trying to establish something that explodes with energy. That's the life for us, had a playfulness to it, a lightness to it, kind of celebratory effect. There's also kind of shown that curiosity.

That desire to learn and finally it's about that connection. And that's allowed us to do things that look a lot different than our work in the past, but still had that same DNA.

WINK: Hi, I'm Chris.


STANTON: I'm Phil and we're the founders of Blue Man Group.



GUPTA: Over the past two decades, the Blue Man Group's exciting brand of unconventional theatre has grown to span multiple cities and even stretch across the Atlantic.

After 40,000 performances, finding ways to freshen the groundbreaking work may prove difficult for anyone else, but for founders Matt, Chris and Phil, they are just getting started.

Playing on concepts of communication, connection and culture, they are building a brand new show for the Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas with all the trappings of Sim City's dazzling displays blue man-style.


WINK: The first time we got into the character, started walking around, it started as a project for us, kind of a weekend endeavor, kind of a social experiment. It was great to see people's reactions and that's what we were living off of.

People would scream. They would ignore us. They would get angry. Sometimes we would get a free drink at a bar just because it was novel. Keeping the show fresh has been always something that's been important to us because it as if the Blue Man has come to not only our area, but our time.

There are two dimensions of the show. There's one that is kind of ancient, primal, tribal, a little bit of timeless and that's the stuff that doesn't change, but there's a whole other area of dimension that is kind of topical, pop culture technology.

It's always been very important for that part to keep up with the times. So just when we first opened there's a show on virtual reality and there was one on (inaudible). Now, we have tablets. There is discourse about the interaction and the amount of time we spend with our digital accessories in and out of two dimensional space and into three dimensional space.

So we always have to keep that part fresh and up to date and have kind of also an element of the spectacle, the stage craft to keep up with what is available.

STANTON: We always like to go into a theatre and kind of look at its size, its shape even sometimes and fit the material for those spaces. So within the U.S., you'll see a range of different material because of the cities and the space they are in.

WINK: We're spending a lot of time in our workshops working on new material for the Vegas show when we move into the Monte Carlo in October. There are a lot of technological elements that go into the show that we have to work out here.

We've got robots and we've got a lot of digital multimedia elements that we're working on. Our interest in collaboration has reached a new level now because we've been able to reach out past our own company to some of the extraordinary designers and artists from around the world, such as Michael Curry, who is an extraordinary designer who worked on the puppets on "Lion King."

MICHAEL CURRY, PUPPETTER AND DESIGNER: I'm Michael Curry. We're here at Michael Curry Design, my studio in Scappoose, Oregon. We're workshopping with Blue Men joining my specialty, which is scenic design, character design, puppetry and kinetics with their work, which needs no explanation for me.

WINK: I think when it came time for reimaging our Vegas show, we were going with such large scale things and wanting to push out into some new areas and actually enter into the casino and into Las Vegas beyond the theatre walls.

Once we were going to out of the theatre. We knew we were walking into Michael's wheel house. Today, we're working on a procession that is going to leave the Blue Man Theatre in Las Vegas to the Monte Carlo, walk around the resort or on to the strip. So it's very important that it's mobile, energetic, and it feels like an organism. CURRY: Processions have a beginning where you're seeing it coming. It's exciting and then when it's going beside you, it's right on top of you as another layer and when it leaves you, you want to feel like you fall in behind it and it's a pied piper. We're trying to make it an organism. We're really thinking that it's a character. It has a head and a tale.

WINK: Unlike the New York show, which is all about intimacy, Vegas for us has always been about not just the ethos of the town, which is glitz and spectacle, but also just the size, the space of the desert.

And so we always look to create large-scale work that takes advantage of that space. The Blue Men interacting with robots on the stage is a nice way for them to take a look at how we are using technology and how it's using us.

STANTON: It's not really about this cold machinery. It's ultimately about how can we use the robots to show something about the human spirit really. We think the Blue Men can go into cultures abroad around the world and really collaborate and find ways to really get in and understand that culture and find what resonates to them. So that's part of our future that we really look forward to.




GOLDMAN: The Blue Man is a sociologist. He's observing this culture and that's why the Blue Man is not American and he's not African, Asian. He's sort of from wherever he's from, he's just a cultural observer.

We've particularly connected with the audiences in Brazil where over the last few years we've had the opportunity of being exposed to huge population over there and be a part of their carnivals and just working ourselves through their pop culture.

STANTON: We want to kind of establish ourselves as this creative, collaborative entity and we hope that that cultural collaboration will grow some other parts of the world.

Because we feel that the Blue Man really is a character that should go in and understand not only the way we've done here, but going into other cultures and really try to get into the cultures and collaborate and create something new.

GOLDMAN: We're excited to see and experience the Blue School approach in other cultures because it's two way responsive.

STANTON: We want to see how it works in other people's hands and work from that and have that come back to us and have it change here and go back and forth. We're very much interested in that kind of an open dialogue with the rest of the educational world. DEGESERO: I think the key to Blue School is that we are all learners together. I think teachers forget that. I think they think they have to be the ones to deliver the answers all the time.

If we can really hone our understanding of being an inquirer along with our students then we can bring a little bit of blue into every other school.

ROBINSON: They are passionate, they're practical, and they're inspiring and that's the kind of -- you want in any great school. They have the professional and other resources to at least make it.

When they started out, they hadn't anticipated just how complicated and demanding the journey is. But the great thing about them is that their passion is completely and it has grown by the day and they are problem solvers.

So each time they encounter the next problem, they engage it and try to find a creative way to do with it.

WINK: One thing we've never done that I think we would like to do is a theme park attraction that was outrageous and extraordinarily rich experience, Blue Man-style.

Another thing that we've never done and probably for good reason is a restaurant. The Blue Man restaurant where the food is flying by you and you have to move your head quickly to eat it. I have a couple of recipes like that I've been working on at home with my 4-year-old, by the way, but so far nothing is really stuck.

STANTON: I always like to go back to the four creative impulses that we've identified for ourselves and think of them what it is to live a full human life.

We want to express life for us, we want to feel life, we want to remain curious, continue to explore no matter how old you are. We want to find collaborative relationships.

We want to have relationships and we want to be playful. And if you can find something that expresses all four of those at the same time, that's pretty good.

I think the hope is that by having those creative impulses, the work can go far beyond the three of us and that can be something that exists and lives and grows long after we're gone.


GUPTA: From the first brilliant Blue experiment on the streets of New York to successful shows across the globe to a school championing educational reform, Blue Man Group has find a way to consistently innovate by looking at the world as it is and realizing it as it could be both through the eyes of their unique characters and the minds of young children.

They are agents of change in every way, building upon the bedrock of their success and encouraging growth through humor and the art of play.

For more on this episode and other agents of change, please go to You can follow us on Twitter @cnnthenextlist and on Facebook at

Also, don't forget to join me on my live stream at Thanks so much for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. See you next Sunday right here on THE NEXT LIST.