As already established under the Current Problem tab: “The majority of schools work on an annual calendar that was driven by the needs of an agrarian society. The curriculum still largely reflects the needs of the industrial age.” But there’s more! I posit that the roadblock to developing anyone’s individualized education plan is the very funding mechanism of public education: the public! Inherent in the school laws from the very start of this nation is the concept that the collected opinion of the residents of any town, state or nation—otherwise known as government—would know what you the individual would need to know throughout your life. And while that mandate to provide teachers for small communities and grammar schools for larger communities was a great step forward for the progress of mankind, there was never an assessment process put in place to make sure the system was relevant and in step with the times.
While appropriate for its day (and the three centuries afterward), the inexorable inertia of that concept has burdened society with a financial commitment the founders could never have foreseen and put those who are aware of poor results of the “one size fits all” education system in a rather daunting predicament. How DO we alter our education system to address the needs of the individual?
Try this on for size: what if education of the public was a private matter? Not privatizing public education, but disassembling public education and turning it over to every citizen. What if the only “public” piece was the online infrastructure that allowed every parent, child, young adult, and adult to research, find, and schedule learning experiences?
While I have been thinking about this for years, a Facebook note from Chris Brogan pushed me to get this out to the rest of you. Lifelong learning, a core concept behind All New Public Education, is a highly individual experience. As Sugata Mitra has proven, when given the chance, every single person is going to follow a unique path to learning. What the current system institutes beyond grade 12 and age 18 (two archaic frames of reference) could actually occur much earlier (or later), and should be encouraged to happen throughout life: we each are willing to find and pay for our individual education. We are long past the mass education that Frank Feather speaks of elsewhere in this blog. It’s time to put in place a system that allows for the changes in course that all of us go through in our lives.
Recent discussions with Michelle Rhee and other educators on this topic reveal that most people in public education feel strongly that there are core subjects that everyone must be taught at an early age. For example, from Ms. Rhee:
I agree that not every child learns in the same way, and great teachers are able to individualize instruction to address those differences. We also need to make sure kids have real world skills when they exit the system, and should definitely be ensuring that children get outside the classroom and take advantage of all kinds of learning environments throughout their years in public school. But I also believe in teaching the core skills you mention below [I had cited history, arts, language, and science], and believe they can be taught in the classroom.
Is it just me, or do others hear this as the response of someone convinced that government must pay for education, and as a result, must test and grade as proof of money well spent? If education is about learning what a person is passionate about, and that changes throughout their lifetime, then the only one who determines if they have learned enough is the student. Eliminate the government funding and you return the responsibility for personal education to the person. If every course cost you money, would you have bought some of the topics you were forced to (presumably, temporarily) learn throughout your public school years (or private school, for that matter)?
I hear the exclamations now: “You’d let a child decide what they want to learn and when?!?” Yes, and no. Children will be part of a team; no one should have to operate in a vacuum. That team will be a fabric made up of parents, relatives, neighbors, and teachers the parents have learned from themselves or otherwise identified as being well suited to facilitate in children the realization of how to learn. This is society as humans once knew it, extended ‘families’ of mutual support, the trappings of which are still practiced in some of the least modernized nations. Imagine bringing the technology of interconnection into such a social fabric! Now the fabric includes people in locations dispersed throughout the world, relationships forged by mutual interests and experiences. There is the best spend for public funds: the network of resources and the process to take advantage of those resources. Can you imagine how different life would be if our property taxes didn’t have to support education?
As Ms. Rhee and a few others have pointed out, this sounds more like a philosophical discussion than education reform. Not being clairvoyant, I cannot say what the future holds, but I can only hope that other dramatic cultural and societal change has come to the world from asking a similar question: if we could start all over from scratch, what would it look like? If so, that means there is hope that such history will repeat itself and we will see a world of lifelong learners. Until then—or at least for the next 70 years or so—I will keep asking the question. Will you?