Public Education: Start Again

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

Posts Tagged ‘SAT tests’

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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