Public Education: Start Again

If you could start from zero, what would public education look like?

Archive for the ‘Action Steps’ Category

The New Home For Self-Directed Education

Posted by Stephen Dill on July 5, 2017

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE) was formed in 2016 to bring together the many people and organizations who espouse the belief that children are manifestly equipped to educate themselves. From the website,, we read:

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to informing people about the benefits of, and methods for, allowing children and adolescents to direct their own education. The Alliance’s ultimate goal, its vision, is a world in which Self-Directed Education is embraced as a cultural norm and is available to all children, everywhere, regardless of their family’s status, race, or income.

For many who have been in any way involved, the recurring, exasperated wonderment persists: why there are still so many forced to learn things they will never use, and so few taking advantage of the ever-more readily available learning environments? And yet, from certain vantage points, it is clear that the population of self-directed learners is growing quite large. And data is finally being collected to document their lifestyles and outcomes. And it’s good!

So that is what the Alliance wants to amplify. There is a reason to hope. The possibility exists in our lifetime to see lifelong, self-directed education become the norm. The movement is real, and it’s time to collect the converted and bind them together. That is the role of the Alliance: collect the disparate and provide the support they need to offer their children and themselves the opportunity to pursue their own passions and interests.

Join the Alliance today and become a part of the active forums sharing questions, experiences, and resources. Support the Alliance and feel good about being a contributor to one of the most important improvements to life and mankind currently underway.

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Alternative Education In A Public High School

Posted by Stephen Dill on May 26, 2013

Alternative education lives – maybe next door!

One of the best reasons to attend the AERO Conference is to meet the people who are pushing the boundaries of alternative education. Some are actively offering it, others defining it, others discovering and sharing it. Charles Tsai grew up in East Africa with a brother and not many other children to play with. I met Charles after the keynote by Dr. Peter Gray as I was helping Peter with a book signing. Charles mentioned that he had created a video of a student-directed school within a public school in Great Barrington, MA and I was struck with how close that was to me and that I had never heard of it.

Charles’ video is well done and has messages to restore the faith of those who think the teens of the world are without innovative spirit, encourage those who feel alternative options could never co-exist in public systems, and wake up those who think that alternative education is not real or valid education.

If students designed their own schools… from Charles Tsai on Vimeo.

Upon further reflection, what struck me is the power and potential for this model, and how unknown it is just to the east of Great Barrington. Many thanks to Charles for his finding and documenting it. The challenge – for this and all similar efforts on the edge of mainstream – is to get the word out. Please share this post and this video if you are at all concerned for the future of learning and global intellectual awareness!

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We Knew What To Do About Slavery, Why Not Public Schools?

Posted by Stephen Dill on February 29, 2012

To appreciate how people could be so willfully blind as to permit such a ubiquitous malevolent presence as slavery, one needs only to look at American public schools.  The analogy between public schooling and slavery is presented solely to demonstrate that both are socially destructive institutions that are sustained by the belief that oppression, when it is even acknowledged, is necessary and beneficial.

Cevin Soling takes an opportunity to guest post in a friend’s column in Forbes to pose a very provocative question: most knew that slavery was not right, and yet it took much too long to swing public opinion to create the legislation to outlaw it. Public schools are based on outdated methods and needs and are doing great harm to the cognitive skills of entire populations, why are we not abolishing them, too?

Reading the comments that are mounting up beneath this article you get the feeling that some people think little of children’s ability to guide themselves, have personal interests (much less passions), or even to want to learn new things. Emotional responses, I suspect, but prevalent enough to convince me that Cevin is right in the parallels he has drawn to slavery. As he cites in the article,

The prevailing myth was that slavery not only enabled the cultural superiority of the South, but also the institution benefited slaves who were not morally or intellectually fit for the freedom they found in the North. …  The danger of negating tangible, albeit specious, benefits in addition to suppressing the expressions of support for tyranny by the oppressed is that it prevents us from recognizing institutions of subjugation within our midst.

We are all survivors of public schools. Rarely can anyone point to their years before college or entering the workforce as the years when they were encouraged to find and pursue their passion. Most have memories that are anything but supportive and nurturing. If we all took necessary the time to reconstruct the feelings generated by those years even the least scarred among us will characterize those years as learning how to conform, how to get by, how to suppress their preferences and real interests, and a period of waiting for freedom to do what really interested us. As Cevin says, ” It is remarkable that parents voluntarily subject their children to conditions that would be considered war crimes if they were enemy combatants.”

Cevin Soling has spent a considerable amount of his most precious resources—time and thought—on this issue. Do not think for a moment that the ideas of this article are illogical or shallow. I have had the pleasure of working with Cevin for a year now and I know that this man’s mind is working in a constant metacognitive state (thinking about his thoughts) to ensure that he is not missing anything or basing his positions on fallible data.

I found great resonance in his closing statement about what to do instead of public schools,

The insistence that alternatives to public schooling must be presented in any discussion that attacks public schooling is a diversionary tactic that need not be entertained.  Abolition of slavery was not postponed until there was a clear vision for how to integrate millions of former slaves into society.  Mass recognition of the fundamental evil of the institution demanded immediate action.

That speaks to the premise of All New Public Education. We need to create a new system from square one, but we do not have to wait for that system to be designed, tested and delivered to every living soul to make the most important first step: dismantle the inept system that is currently an anchor around our collective necks. It is holding back our progress as human beings.

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Education Is Unique To The Individual

Posted by Stephen Dill on June 2, 2011

So if education is unique to the individual, why is it that most students are forced to learn what all their peers are learning at the same time? And why must they learn it in the same way as everyone else? And why must they be tested in the same way as their peers, and be judged as having learned the topic only if they can recite as much or more of the facts than the majority of their peers?

Alfie Kohn, long known as an advocate for the rights of the student, has carried on a lifelong effort to eradicate the stress of homework and AP testing. In a panel discussion held in Atlanta after a showing of Race To Nowhere, Kohn and others on the panel point to the flaws of the current education system for all the reasons most ANPE readers are familiar with: high-stakes testing, homework before high school, imperfect college admission measures, and more.

Kohn also gives advice to parents who are looking for solutions to support their children’s inner urge to find their passion, or at best to cope with the environment that they are submersed in today. [Since first posted, the referenced video has been removed and cannot be found elsewhere. Instead, I offer this Alfie Kohn video for those who are unaware of Alfie’s viewpoint on public education.]

And while on the topic of Race To Nowhere, the creator and director of the movie, Vicki Abeles, is in the process of collecting stories for a book. If you have a story to tell, go to the RTN site and share it with her. Keep us posted if you have something accepted for the book! Below is my submittal:

For so many reasons well documented elsewhere, public education in the United States and around the world today is a highly unpredictable system. We cannot expect consistent results in one school over 5 years, much less the entire nation. What if we started over? What would it look like?

My 150-year goal is to be the catalyst to bring about that discussion and the design of a new education system. One that recognizes that education begins at conception and continues after death as others learn from our examples. Education that is natural and exciting, customized and managed by the individual, always a part of our lives—either as students or teachers.

As described in more detail on, youth education is seen as a family function, augmented by a volunteer force of seniors, retirees, and experts available in the immediate and adjacent communities performing the roles of teacher, coach and mentor. Such an individual education is an individual’s obligation to society, advocated by federal law, supported by employers, communities and families.

Such an individualized system will probably not be public, as so much will change and move away from centralized buildings, busing, chronologic and geographic groupings, and all the trappings of the industrial-age society that created it. Instead, education will  leverage technology to connect students with common interests across any and all boundaries when they are ready to learn or teach a subject. Learning happens in life: in the workplace, the libraries, on the farms, in the factories of the immediate and adjacent neighborhoods. Education is not seen as a formal stage of life, instead a life-long habit of reading, reflecting, exchanging and growing.

And with a new system, we need to accept that “success” will not be determined by test scores. Not all those individuals are going to want to study languages, math, science, engineering or art—at least not at the exact same time as everyone else born the year they were born. They may not test with their peers, ever. They may outshine their peers, or lag behind, but they will be creative individuals, leaders, innovators guiding their own lives at their own pace. When the individual exhibits enough maturity, progress is self-determined, self-monitored, and presented to the relevant communities for input and use by others.

I have a dream for my kid’s kids to live in a world where education starts at conception: parents are taught how to parent and raise a world citizen. Education is a daily occurrence for everyone in this world, for everyone is a student and a teacher, as soon as they have something to teach. Classes are local or worldwide, alone with a teacher or hundreds of students working one-on-one with a teacher in a hub-and-spoke topology aided by technology and managed by the student. In such a world, nations do not measure their success by how many hoops they can teach their children to jump through.

Let us all hope that we can begin the process of revolutionizing education in our lifetimes for the benefit of our progeny, and of the world.

For those who have read the site, you will recognize much of that is covered in the Solutions page. But for some of you new to the site and this topic, I would encourage you to explore the site beyond the blog to better understand the concept and inspire your own systems design thoughts. What would a wholly-new education system look like to you?

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Let Our Children Go!

Posted by Stephen Dill on May 24, 2011

I am slowly beginning to realize that there are many people alive today who consider the current public education system as dysfunctional and out of synch with human nature as I do. For those who I have already crossed paths with, I want to hear who you are running into in life who share our perception, if not our commitment to creating a new system. Keep us posted!

Peter Gray, author and research psychologistIn that vein, I wanted to alert you all to a wonderful resource I was fortunate enough to meet and spend an afternoon with. Peter Gray is a research psychologist who recently retired from teaching at Boston College. He is the author of the primary textbook for college-level instruction, Psychology. I ran across Peter’s thoughts on education through the blog of a fellow education revolutionary who was extolling Peter’s bravery in calling public schools prisons. Peter’s blog, Freedom To Learn, struck a chord in every post I read, as I am sure they will for you:

We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons. Human beings within a certain age range (most commonly 6 to 16) are required by law to spend a good portion of their time there, and while there they are told what they must do, and the orders are generally enforced. They have no or very little voice in forming the rules they must follow. A prison–according to the common, general definition–is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty.

That from a wonderful post Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education, one of the first I read of Peter’s writings. Needless to say, I was intrigued with his insights and assessments of the true nature of our current system. A link on this post took me to an even more exciting conviction that I had been harboring for some time, that children are more than capable of educating themselves, given the right environment, trust, and support. Here’s a small piece of a very important post titled, Children Educate Themselves I: Outline of Some of the Evidence:

We do not have to worry about curricula, lesson plans, motivating children to learn, testing them, and all the rest that comes under the rubric of pedagogy. Lets turn that energy, instead, toward creating decent environments in which children can play. Children’s education is children’s responsibility, not ours. Only they can do it. They are built to do it. Our task regarding education is just to stand back and let it happen. The more we try to control it, the more we interfere.

Now, do you see why I am so excited to have met Peter Gray? I encourage you to read all that you can of Peter’s blog and spread the word. Peter’s interests are focused on the lessons to be learned from hunter-gatherer cultures and how they raise their young, also the influence of play as an education-rich environment. Any and all expertise in those fields of research could benefit our cause greatly, who do you know?

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A Glimpse Of The Future Of Education

Posted by Stephen Dill on May 5, 2011

Salmon Khan is a remarkably humble man. He just did what he was able to do in his free time. Then some guy named Gates caught on to what he was doing and felt he should do it full time. And the Khan Academy was born. Watch this TED Talk and ponder the potential that both Khan and Gates speak of:

Doesn’t this address some of the most pressing problems that All New Public Education faces?

  • How to make a difference in the capital-intense, building-dependent system we are currently laboring under?
  • How to help people see the value and potential of a borderless classroom?
  • How to facilitate a transition to student-centric learning environments that are less dependent on the teacher and more on the student’s innate ability to learn?
  • How to understand where time and attention from parents, learning partners, coaches, and mentors can best be applied?
Maybe I have just been too close to this issue for too long, but the thrill I feel when I hear and see what Sal has done is overwhelming. What do you think? Do you agree that is this the leap forward I sense it is?

I’m off to brush up on my calculus, I’ll keep an eye out for your comments.

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The new President’s challenge: Take a Number!

Posted by Stephen Dill on January 25, 2009

People are lining up with ideas for the new President. If you look at the site you will see the overwhelming response to the new administration’s request for public input. Countless corporate executives, recognized experts in every field, and a huge percentage of the blogosphere’s brightest are weighing in on what the next priorities should  be and what to do about them. 

Not to be outdone, Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute, spoke to Steve Hamm at Businessweek about how “If Obama’s in favor of improving education, let’s do it right. It’s got to involve a curriculum. We have the most complete set of curricula available, so let’s not reinvent the wheel.” Convenient, but that’s not my point. What we see in this and most recommendations is yet another bandage. I find myself unable to consider spending time and money on the system that has gotten us where we are. Others must, this is true. But I wonder why it is that there seems to be so few gathering to consider the way out of this mess, the only true way out: reboot from scratch. This is the time to be distilling down the fundamentals for a life-long learning program. Change will not happen overnight!

My wife, an early childhood educator, alerted me to the wonderful work of Richard Louv in his book “Last Child In The Woods, Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” and the organization he co-founded, Children & Nature Network. I made a comment on his blog congratulating him on his work and suggesting that, “The inexorable decline of the role of in-situ exposure as a key part of educating anyone, not just children, in the natural sciences–or physics, or accounting, or most any topic–is one of the many negative unintended consequences of the otherwise noble quest to provide basic education for every child that began as an incredible dream in the 18th Century.” Clearly we are staying inside, relying more and more on digital representations of nature in order to maximize “learning” while minimizing the expenditure of costly resources, such as teachers and time. I recommend you read more of Richard Louv.

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