Mark Wonnacott is the debate coach in the Upper School and also teaches statistics. Before joining CDS, Mark was in a PhD program at the University of Kansas, where he taught various communication studies courses and coached their nationally competitive debate team. He published several works on public address, and presented at national and regional speech conferences. Mark also started a digital marketing company, wrote grants for education-based non-profits, and wrote speeches for the head of an investment company.
Get to know Mark Wonnacott:
In what ways can you teach/engage children at CDS that you couldn't at other schools? “Because the class sizes are so small and the students are so motivated, CDS encourages us to focus on project-based learning. Since the courses I teach are sort of methodologies for thinking, students can choose subject matter that interests them, which really promotes buy-in and engagement. It also lets me see the wide variety of incredible interests these young people have.”
What do you like most about your job at CDS? “I get to spend my day arguing with bright young people about subjects they're interested in. There's no part of this job I dislike.”
In your opinion, how does the CDS community inspire students to be courageous and curious, wonder about things that they don’t understand, try new things, and develop individual passions? “Because it's such an inclusive, welcoming community, students don't have to fear their academic interests are "too weird." Want to talk about horses and their influence on human civilization? You can find someone who'd love to listen, provided you're willing to hear them nerd out about superconducters and the next phase of technological progress. Those aren't random examples, either. Those are conversations I've overheard students having in the hallways!”
How would you describe your classroom? “A public forum that encourages students to treat ideas experimentally. The only way you fail at an experiment is if you don't learn anything from it.”
What books and authors inspire you, your curriculum, and your classroom? Why? “I’m a book addict, so there’s a lot of turnover on this list. Paulo Friere and Michael Apple are very important to me from a pedagogical perspective. Power structures that inform the classroom space are often a barrier to learning. Educators need critical tools to reshape those structures so they can be a resource for inclusivity and learning. Philosophically, Donna Haraway’s interesting blend of skepticism and feminism is currently on top of my stack. For lighter reading, the work of William Gibson is wonderful. He inverts the narrative of scientific progress and asks all kinds of interesting questions about what it means to be human.”
What is your favorite quote about education, mentorship, children, and/or learning? "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world"- Paulo Friere
How would you describe yourself and/or your approach to your job in 10 words or less? “Points students toward interesting questions and lets them run.”
Which classroom projects/events are you known for? “Students always love the "argue with a kindergartner" lesson. In debate class, we take arguments about a resolution of political or moral philosophy, and translate them to make sense to a kindergarten classroom. Not only does this lead to some priceless moments in rhetoric, but it also shows the power of audience adaptation. A good argument is one that works for the audience you're trying to reach!”
What personal passion brings balance to your life?
“I have a Cattle Dog/American Bulldog mix named Kili who reminds me that simple things in life- like food and playtime- really matter. I also hike the beautiful trails surrounding Asheville, and write speculative science fiction when it's too nasty out to hike.”
Is there anything else we should know about you and your work? “I hate the answer ‘because teacher said so.’ I will never accept something as true just because I happened to say it!”
How is CDS different from what you experienced as a child in school? “I love the unstructured time that CDS builds in to student schedules. When I was in high school, the only time I had between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. that wasn't a class was a 25 minute lunch period. CDS students have at least an hour built in to their days to explore things that they're interested in, whether that's starting a new student club or reading a book. That kind of exploration time is so helpful to children in finding out who they are and what kind of adult they want to become!”