Public Education: Start Again

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

Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

Richard Louv and Nature Deficit Disorder

Posted by Stephen Dill on February 10, 2009


Richard Louv, author

Richard Louv, author

Recently Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, wrote in his blog, Field Notes From The Future, that he felt the “future is going to be better than it used to be.” Richard writes of the growing success of efforts of the Children & Nature Network to raise awareness through over 50 state and regional campaigns and the C&NN website. Their objective rings true: give children of all ages the chance to experience what you are teaching—hands on and in context—so that so much more is learned and appreciated than the one or more learning points of the lesson and the experience is so much more memorable. I responded in a comment, “Kudos on your efforts to date. You are so right, the future will be better–awareness has a way of improving things. 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. While our world will no doubt sustain the system of centralized, costly, inefficient schools for another two decades or more, I am advocating for the initiation of a reboot of public education to start over and redesign it from square one. If you could do that today, would your resulting system resemble much of what we have today?” 

I pose that question again to you. Everyone is either  an investor, client or an employee of one or more public education systems. If you could start from scratch, with no idea how it should look, who would it serve? How would it serve that audience? When and where would it serve it? This is the Ed Reform X Games. Starting over is hard to do! I encourage you to comment here with whatever comes to mind. No one can be wrong, for we are not yet in trials to determine what works best. But if the idea of going out into a field to teach biodiversity excites your imagination of the  public education of the future, then tell us. And then go read Richard’s book, for he cites hundreds more examples of taking education out of the classroom to a more open, resource-rich environment of learning. 

Thank you, Richard, for all you and the movement you have spawned has done and will continue to do!

Posted in Ideas, Mission | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Frank Feather on today’s education systems

Posted by Stephen Dill on November 22, 2008

Frank Feather

Frank Feather

I had an opportunity to connect with Frank Feather, the futurist, interim CEO, and advisor to the government of China and ask his view on the current education system. I really enjoyed his perspective, I hope you do too:

Mass education was the best we could do in the Industrial Era, and so we educated people on the basis of the factory model. This is the mass education we have today. It served us well. We could educate masses of people with few teachers, in production-line fashion, in batches. And the subject matter was also taught in batch mode. And that model may still be appropriate for some types of skills training in some environments in some countries. But it is being made obsolete by the Internet Revolution.

The Internet smashes the “mass” model to smithereens. Education must move towards individualized e-learning, where learners can pick and chose material, delivered in an interactive, content-rich, multimedia format, with mentoring or tutoring from a worldwide virtual faculty, learning at their own pace. In this way, virtual classrooms of people can assemble from all over the world, thus also facilitating multi-cultural learning and cross-barrier understanding. In other words, the planet becomes a virtual classroom. People can learn from anywhere. The brick-and-mortar factory-like classroom is obsolete. Developing countries can leap-frog into the e-learning age without ever needing to build classrooms or schools.

As for unintended consequences, the one main objection to e-learning that gets raised by techno-phobic luddites is the negative impact on social skills. This is a fasle fear; a myth. McLuhan observed that the more technology there is that comes into our lives, the more we compensate through social interaction. We are humans. We need social interaction. Yes, there are a few who become addicted to the Web and don’t have much of a social life. But they are the same introverts and isolationists that we have always had. Yet many of them are actually very social online. The Web becomes our social glue. And that is what the social networking phenomenon is all about. The Web will become more social as full multimedia develops, with webcams moving us to full “multimedia mail.” Just this week, Gmail added “video chat” to its toolbar.

But in its simplest form, as McLuhan talked about this, it means that if we use banking machines rather than spending time interacting with bank tellers (and I doubt how social that is anyway), we will find time to talk with other people in other settings instead—even while waiting in line at the banking machine! But the challenge with e-learning is that we need to make sure that young people do develop their social skills, not just via web-cams, but in person with real live humans. And that can be accomplished in local communities. Education needs to perhaps build in some social assignments where students go and participate and then come back and share online—in e-classrooms or on social networks—the human communication skills they learned from the assignment.

I think the biggest challenge to all of this is inertia by educators and governments. Education is threatened by this kind of technology. They naturally fear being replaced, just as did the luddites. And that is because they know they cannot actually compete with this technology, both in its extraordinary capabilities, and in its far lower cost of delivery. How these obstacles will be overcome I am not sure. It probably will start with higher education institutions such as University of Phoenix online. Or in the private school system, such as in Montessori schools, which are far more tactile in their teaching methods. It may simply come through consumer rebellion against the exorbitant cost of university education. Or from governments who cannot afford to pay for public education. There will be a few leaders; more will follow. Then there will come a tipping point and the whole thing will switch over and suddenly will become the popular thing to do. This may take a generation to occur, as when Gen X or Gen Y become the decision makers in education and government, and they take the entire system in new directions.

Clearly, there are parallels in what Frank sees with both the current situation described and the solution proposed on this site. At some point soon we must address the transition planning. How will we separate from the infrastructure that is aging in place? Perhaps communities with the oldest facilities should be the pilots. More on that later, but if you have ideas – please share!

Posted in Mission | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

We are not alone; this is encouraging!

Posted by Stephen Dill on September 22, 2008

I had the good fortune to be directed to TED Talks recently and started watching the videos.  The TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) I have heard and seen so far are all fantastic and well worth the time to listen/watch. I find them to be challenging and thought provoking, a direct hit to the brain!

Today I came across one from Sir Ken Robinson entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” 

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson

In it, Sir Ken cites many of the same themes we have brought up here: schools are still focused on teaching the same information to all children at the same age in largely the same way with little regard or accommodation of individual learning styles or interests. He laments the hierarchy of subjects taught in every school system around the world. Sir Ken wonders why schools teach the head, but not the body. Why is dance not taught to young children? They dance. They love to dance! He points out that our old model of intelligence puts the most useful subjects to work are at the top of that hierarchy: math and science have precedence. This is not useful in preparing people to capitalize on their strengths and passions. Sir Ken says: 

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology. One in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles upon which we are educating our children.” 

In an interview on a podcast I found called Phorecast, Sir Ken echoes the vision that education should continue throughout life, it should be intergenerational, and it should embrace the conduit for exchange called the Internet. 

“The only way we will do it [avert disaster] is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future. By the way, we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

Isn’t reassuring to find that we are not alone in our vision, nor in our effort? I would welcome and appreciate a referral or introduction to Sir Ken Robinson.

Stephen Dill

Posted in Mission, Resources | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Mission: Gather the best minds, ponder the responses to starting over, decide a course, begin.

Posted by Stephen Dill on December 23, 2007

The idea for this forum has been a long time in coming. It began with an observation from the spouse of a preschool director. After hearing so many stories of what some parents called parenting, the following goal was penned in a journal: “to teach people to parent as well as we teach them to give birth.”

That spark began to smolder when I learned that 75% of our town’s budget belonged to the School Department. Nothing against our School Department, a similar number was everywhere I looked. At that point I began asking educators my question, “If you could start over, what would it look like?” and took note of the reactions. No one dismissed the question, and no one had a ready answer. After an appropriate pause I would run my idea of a new public education by them and again, no one shut me down. As with most concepts, the challenges appeared in everyone’s mind long before the solutions, so most conversations never progressed to tangible benefit. I knew I needed a different scenario. But not being known to the world of education theorists and visionaries, at best I could assemble two or three – not enough to yield the weight and momentum I know such change will need behind it to get the flywheel moving. The idea of a blog only recently dawned on me.

Invitations are being extended to those who have established their expertise in public education strategy. The structure of the site will evolve to address the needs of those who want to contribute. For now, let us begin with answers to the primary question: if you could start a new public education system from square one – with no preconceived ideas of what it used to look like, what it has to conform to, even what its metrics of success are – what would it look like?

Stephen Dill

Posted in Mission | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »