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Why haven’t education reform efforts amounted to much? Because they start with the wrong problem, says John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions? The answer, he says, will point to the changes needed in all three pillars of education — schools, families, and communities.

This is one of Abbott’s primary takeaways from a career spanning more than two decades of teaching in England, followed by three decades at the helm of an international nonprofit (begun in the U.S. but now headquartered in England), whose mission is to promote fresh thinking based on the existing body of research about how children learn. Its findings have been synthesized into policy briefings, reports, and a book, “Overschooled but Undereducated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents.” It has also just published a distillation of its work, called “Battling for the Soul of Education.”

As Abbott sees it, the need for reflection has never been greater. Spurred by technological advances, “civilization is on the cusp of a metamorphosis,” he says, that will lead either to societal collapse and chaos, or to a resurgence of liberty, community, and ethics. Either way, schools are stuck in the past: The emphasis has been on feeding children static information and rewarding them for doing only what they’re told, instead of helping them develop the transferable, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learners and thrive in an uncertain future.

This approach — a product of the Industrial Age, which relied on compliant factory workers and mass consumption — promotes weakness rather than strength. It has become even more regimented (and thus more disempowering) in recent years due to a lack of trust. Adults who feel hard-pressed to predict or control their own destinies, and who feel confused about the “big issues of life,” Abbott notes, are less willing to give children the time and space they need to shape their own futures.

Unfortunately, he adds, this approach to education goes against the grain of how young people learn. Research has confirmed what most parents of young children can already see for themselves — that children are born to learn, rather than to be taught, as Abbott puts it. Driven by an inborn desire to make sense of the world and find purpose in life, they naturally observe, deconstruct, piece together and create their own knowledge. They learn best when this intrinsic motivation is harnessed in what he calls “highly challenging but low-threat environments.”

Re-Imagining Society First, Education Second

The bottom line, Abbott notes, is that the current system excels at preparing children to be dependent “customers,” so if we hope to instead create a world of responsible, community-minded adults, we need to overhaul the educational paradigm. That means replacing the metaphor — the concept of the world and its inhabitants as machine-like entities — that has shaped the education system, as well as many other aspects of our culture. Because humans are not machines, a reliance on this metaphor has created a large disconnect between people’s actual lives and their inherited expectations and predispositions, which lies at the root of many inter-related modern challenges, says Abbott.

overschooled-but-undereducatedHis recommendation: Start by re-examining our collective values and envision a society where individuals once again matter. Clues to a more suitable paradigm can be found in the metaphors that characterize the dynamic, networked Information Age. These share some key characteristics with the pre-industrial past, when people learned in the community, from a variety of adults with whom they built relationships. Learning continued over the course of a lifetime filled with meaningful work (in contrast to today’s high unemployment rates and low workplace engagement levels), and success was judged by whether a person carried out his or her fair share of responsibilities within the community.

All of these elements have a direct bearing on education. “Such a vision is as essential to motivate whole generations of young people to delight in the development of their intellectual powers, as it is to create an adult society that is able — and willing — to devote quite enormous amounts of its energy to the slow, fascinating, if sometimes frustrating but totally essential, task of inducting all its young people into adulthood,” Abbott has written on the Initiative’s web site.

“Children learn most from what they see going on around them,” he explains. “We become who we are based on things around us that we admire or not. Children don’t just turn their brains on when they go to school.”

Therefore a young child is dealt “a shattering blow to its sense of order and purpose when a parent it loves and admires is made redundant …. Too much of that, and the web of life is shattered, and life becomes a crap game where the lasting lesson is take all you can, and put nothing back.”

Creating “Collaborative Learning Communities”

“It is essential to view learning as a total community responsibility,” he says, and to expect no short cuts. Children need to be integrated, fully contributing members of the broader community, so they can feel useful and valued. (It is not just the children who need this, he adds; healthy communities also need children.)

On a practical level, the most powerful lever for change, Abbott says, is people coming together to “rethink the role of community in the learning process,” agreeing how to divide up responsibilities among professional teachers and other community members, and then launching small pilot projects that are true to their new vision. These efforts will build on each other, he says, and large-scale change will follow.

He cautions against simply copying a specific model that worked elsewhere — each community must figure out what’s best, given its unique circumstances. But he is convinced of one thing: The formal school system needs to be “turned upside down and inside out.” It should be based on the biological system of weaning — i.e., gradually reducing children’s dependence on teachers. Teacher-student ratios should be high in the early years, then decrease dramatically in adolescence, when “the whole community has to become a place of learning,” with mentorships, apprenticeships and other hands-on learning experiences complementing highly self-directed classroom learning.

Teachers as Guides

In general, schools should move away from “an overemphasis on teaching,” Abbott says, and instead view teachers as imaginative, knowledgeable guides. “Any kid can read a textbook — they don’t need a teacher standing over them telling them to do so,” he points out. “They need teachers to inspire them to think about things in a much bigger way than they’ve done before.”

John Abbott
John Abbott

He cites an example from his time as a substitute teacher, when he found himself assigned to teach history to a class of 15-year-olds one afternoon. Casting about for inspiration, he expressed an interest in a student’s book about prisoners of war. When the boy asked him why wars get started, Abbott used the question as a launching pad for a discussion on the topic. He urged the students to consider not only what they’d been taught in school, but also what they’d gleaned from relatives. “It went so well,” he recalls, “that no one heard the bell ring.”

Twenty years later, while waiting for a train during the time of the Falklands War, he was approached by a porter who said he recognized him as the teacher of that class. It had opened his eyes, the man added, to how wars can serve politicians’ careers, and he had referenced it in a discussion with friends the previous evening. “At the end of my history lesson, something had stuck,” Abbott notes, “so that 20 years later, he remembered how between us we had constructed an explanation for the Second World War.”

Simply following a lesson plan wouldn’t have had the same result. “I don’t think teachers should be over prepared for any particular lesson,” he says, “because if they are, they lack flexibility to adapt to where the children are in their understanding.”

Lastly, in this vision of the world, our expectations of children would also be recalibrated. Rather than being considered the age at which people start to become independent learners, 18 (and even younger in some cases) should be viewed as the age when young people “demonstrate that they have already perfected that art, and know how to exercise this responsibly,” says Abbott.

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society 1 April,2014Luba Vangelova

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    I suggest that we:

    1. first define life’s meaning=direction in 1 word; a possible approach is given in my TED talk.

    2. define the word “culture” as “doing” and not as “being.”

    Defining goals, ways of learning is very easy relative to these 2 steps.

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  • cosmopolite

    “To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society”

    To expect all of society to change in order that education work better, is to expect far too much. Also, if education gets to make demands of this nature, what will stop others from making similar, possibly contradictory, demands?

    Education is failing, because it is one of the last bastions of socialism, and because we force children to attend one size fits all schools. Education should be fully privatised, and subsidised by the public purse via vouchers. Then we can see what works and what doesn’t.

    Self-study has never been easier, starting with Wikipedia. But just how much of it goes on? Social studies has degenerated into propaganda from the left. Kids arrive at university knowing no geography and history. In the country I live in, the high school curriculum teaches nothing about the political system. My child, after 7.5 years of formal education, cannot identify the subject of a sentence. Fewer and fewer kids learn any serious biology and chemistry in high school. Kids reach the senior year of college, without having written any assignment over 1000 words long.

    • MM

      Just wondering where you live, because by the time I made it to my senior year of college, I was writing pages upon pages of paper for each class!

    • Shawn

      “Education should be fully privatised, and subsidised by the public purse via vouchers.” Perhaps your school should have taught you the meaning of contradiction.
      Perhaps you might try reading the book first before you dispense your sage wisdom. You can probably find it at your local library. Oh wait, silly me! That’s a dreaded bastion of socialism too.

      • Jackie Ferrara

        There is a contradiction, true. But not entirely. I believe in a 100% privatized education system where not one single tax dollar goes to a school. BUT, that’s unlikely. A more realistic goal is privatizing schools and allowing means tested vouchers so the poorest kids go free and everyone else pays on a sliding scale.

    • KevinAMorgan

      Perhaps your child needs to either take class more seriously or be tutored?

      My daughter in 7th grade averages 750 word essays for school. The last she wrote was a 1500 word composition for her English class. She is already in her 2nd year of French class, able to converse in both English and French, and is quite capable of understanding the vagaries of the English language.

      My daughter in 10th grade averages 1000 words per item, with her most recent project (for science, no less, and including topics such as mRNA synthesis) being 2000 words. I do live in one of the better counties in the state for schooling, but I live in a state considered one of the worst for education. Florida.

      I’m not sure whether you were just attempting to garner attention by throwing out an exaggerated example, or whether you are serious. If you are serious, it might be time to think about getting your child assistance. I do admit one-size fit all might not work, but it might just be laziness or lack of desire as well. You probably should paint everything with the same brush.

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Well, since it’s working for you, I guess there’s no problem. But I might wonder what those kids would be doing if they were in private schools instead… I mean, it’s great to be top of your class at state school but it’ll never be Harvard.

        • KevinAMorgan

          I pulled one of my daughters out of 3 private schools because of the poor standards here. I’m not sure if you realize it, Jackie, but … Elementary, Middle, and High schools are not Harvard, ever.

          With that said, given the schools I’ve seen (Private) while living in NY, and then FL, I am less then impressed. Most of the ones in this state focus on ‘god-centered’ learning and less on actual learning.

          While in some very minor cases I would agree with you (Harvard Prep School for primary students), for the most part a private schools means little to nothing. My middle daughter is in the International Baccalaureate program through a state school and that holds much more clout calling Cambridge then saying “St. Pauls Episcopal’ or ‘Carolwood Day Academy’ or ‘The Academy at the Oaks’.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Like I said, good for you- the system is working- for you. There’s people who will succeed no matter what school they go to. I maintain they’d succeed more the better the school.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I disagree. And the numbers back me up. Pick a standard: Test scores, graduation rates, violence rates, teen pregnancy, college admission rates. There’s exceptions, no doubt. If 90% of all kids are in public schools, some are going to do great. That’s no comfort to the kids in horrible schools which are legion.

          • KevinAMorgan

            Despite the fact that I know the areas I’ve lived and researched the schools thoroughly, and that the schools my daughters attend have higher average test scores and graduation rates (I may have to waive a flag at the others)let’s assume that I have no clue.

            Is it then your assertion that turning all of these into private schools will suddenly alleviate all the problems with Test scores, graduation rates, violence rates, teen pregnancy, and college admission rates? I’m sure you can’t be serious with this line of argument.

            What numbers back up the assertion that the school is the variable the causes the modification of all of the above? I’m sure it has nothing to do with living in a house that can afford $12k to $30k per year on school, and possibly tutors and other aids.

            Your argument hinges on a multiplicity of factors, mainly involving socio-economic status. Sure, there may be a bonus to a specific private school (or schools) but since they are independently run, you can’t say that each apply the exact same benefit to all the students (who by your, and others arguments, learn differently), but ultimately there are a myriad of reasons behind performance and wiping out all public schools and replacing them with voucher schools wouldn’t magically end all the problems you’ve mentioned — in fact, I think you’d just end up with a legion of kids in horrible private schools.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            The free market would take care of a lot of those problems, yes. Because the worst schools would close since no one would send their children there. They only reason people send their kids to those horrible schools you are lucky enough to not have where you live is that they must go to those schools- they are assigned those schools by government. Once people are not tethered to a school based on their address, the socioeconomic status will cease to matter.

            Yes, there’s differences among and between schools. But we must rely on statistics to some degree because facts are facts. Our public school system is horrible despite the exceptions.

        • Liza

          Always the expert. I’m sure you have the stats on how many students from public schools attend Harvard? You might be surprised.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            I do have those stats, actually, and I am not at all surprised. Harvards freshman class consists of about 65% from public high schools. So while over 90% of American kids attend public schools, only 65% of that Harvard class is fed from public schools. And keep in mind, only about 78% of public school kids even graduate at all. I can’t speak to how Harvard calculates it’s foreign students into the mix, however.

      • Kmcomaha

        Kevin, my daughter who now has a Masters from NYU never was taught a single play from Shakespere’s works in public school. Because her ability to get into high school classes was so chaotic and unstructured she missed important math classes. My son, who attended public school until the age of 13, also missed important steps in his education…he was lucky with a high IQ and entered college at age 13 and had a BS by age 17 (Robinson School, UW). They both struggle with what they “missed” Please don’t use the “Lazy” card as I find that disrespectful to the poster. I have had 6 kids in both private and public school. Our “Blue ribbon” public school is abysmal, yet considered one of the best in the state. And to support Jackie Ferrara’s comment; I went to private high school, sent a letter to a private college asking for an application packet and instead got an acceptance back in the mail…I later asked how I was accepted before I formally applied, and was told that if I had even just managed to graduate from my school, I was still in the top 2% of their applications.

        • KevinAMorgan

          I’m not sure if you read what I wrote or read between the lines. Quite frankly I do not care if you consider it ‘disrespectful’ to the poster that there is a possibility that it isn’t solely the school. If you have a child that doesn’t fit within the confines of a public education in your area, it is your responsibility as a parent to resolve the situation. If you let your child get to 8th grade without knowing the subject of a sentence, then there is a failure and it isn’t necessarily just the school.

          You chose to read a single portion of my text and take offense to it, but the point still stands: I said that the child needs help if the lack such a basic concept at that grade. I noted that one-size fits all might not work for all children. I also replied that it isn’t always the teaching style (i.e. laziness or lack of desire).

          As for your comments, have you thought that having a child who entered college at the age of 13 might taint your opinion of public schooling? Of course it might not be up to your standards, though reality does show that not every child is at that level and pushing every school to privatized will not magically change that.

          I believe Colleges are one of the actual failure points, and funny enough you point to a private college showing a key example of how they are a failure point which kind of contradicts the original post of privatization. Blindly accepting students from a ‘private’ school, for no reason other than that, (unless your anecdote failed to mention that it was due to it being a PRESTIGIOUS private school), is a massive failure of due diligence on the part of the college.

          In my area there is only 1 private school that isn’t religiously affiliated, and as I was looking at each one I found them all to be behind in curriculum compared to the classes my children take. The experiment with my 3rd daughter and private schools failed and it took tutoring to get her back on track.

          There are options, but a parent needs to take responsibility to guide their child, whether it is laziness, lack of desire, inability to cope to the pedagogical model delivered, or any other reason. Calling for a downfall of schools based on the fact that parents have to sometimes parent is silly and naive.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            The difference is this: If public school wasn’t “free” people would not pay for it.

          • Kmcomaha

            Much as I appreciate your ability to pontificate and obfuscate my point, I will repeat my opinion; Schools are paid and set up to teach all children from all abilities. The failure of a child to learn what the subject of a sentence is, is indeed all the schools’ failure. If the child failed to learn basic foundational grammar, that child should not be passed onto another grade or if so, be tutored by the school following year to catch up with were they should be at. Schools are paid to teach and to teach to a state standard. If they fail to do so the fault is the schools. Should parents guide their children in school efforts? Of course! But I have found that almost all children , if started early, love learning and school, even in the teen years, if taught properly and effectively. Schools need to teach to the whole child and the whole “bell curve” and not just to the middle of the curve. Teaching is indeed a very, very tough job and I have always supported public schools, and never missed the change to vote approval for any new levy they wished. But to blame parents, or to call children “lazy” is a cop out. I have actively supported kids in public school, including advocating for abused and neglected foster kids in my home, who needed IEP and such. It almost became a full time job to find these kids the support from the teachers that they needed. And very often the school resented having to follow through with the plans, or completely failed to do so. A parent should not have to fight the school to get the services and teaching the child needs. Period.

    • Duncan the Wondrous Dog

      I think the fault lays in you, as a parent. Why didn’t you do anything to fix your child’s poor education when you recognized it? Why do you think that a person’s worth lays in being able to point out the subject of a sentence?

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Parents must work. We pay insane amounts of taxes to public schools to do one job and it’s unrealistic that each and every parent be marching over there every day and forcing the school to perform.

        • Bill Ferguson

          Jackie, you are looking at the issue from a high socio economic perspective. Schools have to deal with a multitude of issues ranging from students entering school not knowing anything they should before they get there, to behaviour issues, to dealing with learning issues and that is before anything can be taught. You really need to spend a week in a school to even begin to understand the implications of what you are saying. Your kids are fortunate that you can remove them from the mix that occurs everyday. Not everyone can.Giving vouchers does not solve the problem. It simply sets it up so that there will be elitist schools. The poor will still be stuck where they are, regardless of what giving them a voucher implies.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            There already are elitist schools. Schools are assigned by address. Vouchers allow people to pick that best school for their kids even if they can’t afford to live in that district. And more people would be able to afford private schools if we weren’t taxed at such high rates. Imagine being able to write off the entire cost of your kids education every year?

          • Bill Ferguson

            So , what I am hearing that anything for those who can afford it and nothing for those who can’t. Best schools will not always take the best kids, not when it comes down to making a decision about who will benefit society the most. Education, regardless of where it is should be to the benefit of all. Stop gap solutions such as vouchers won’t make it a better system, simply a system that benefits those who can play the game better, mostly to satisfy the parents. The solution is to better understand what we have and make it better. We educate all the kids, regardless of their ability or income.To do anything less is discriminatory.

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Vouchers would support those who can not afford to pay for private schools. I don’t know what it means that, “Best schools will not always take the best kids, not when it comes down to making a decision about who will benefit society the most.” Do you mean some kids won’t get into the school of their choice? Just like college? Or jobs? Or dating? Or…all aspects of life? True. I want to be a pro-football player but I’m a 44 year old woman with bad hips so… I guess we should have government football teams and I’ll play for the team in my neighborhood.

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  • Leilani

    Odd, because the image on the whiteboard in the cartoon portrays exactly how it worked for me. What I see? Kids don’t value hard work at all any more. They are being taught that no matter what the effort they put into something, someone will reward them. Then they get into the working world and reality hits them like a big brick wall. Now all of a sudden, because of these entitled brats, we’re supposed to “reimagine” society? How about these kids reimagining that someone is going to give them something for nothing???

    • Jason

      I wonder if our great grandparents would have thought the same? I would hope my children wouldn’t face many of the same challenges I had as I continue to grow up, since their challenges will be such different ones! I respectfully disagree with the notion that this generation does not work hard.

    • Teri

      I certainly believe that there are way too many “entitled” children out there. But you have to know that all children do not learn or even think alike. If we are going to educate our children, we should do it right. If we’re not, then we can expect to be in this same vicious cycle for ever. Keep building prisons because a lot of them will end up there.
      It’s an incredibly sad situation.

      • KevinAMorgan

        This is a strange one for me, I fully support public schools but I wholeheartedly agree with the one-size does not fit all viewpoint. From a personal level, I was that child – the worst being mathematics, I solved the problems in a manner most people would consider “backwards” and could not always show my work, even when the end result was correct. This caused me to avoid classes and my failing grades. I ended up turning to computers and then the military, and now am happy with my position at work and would like to believe I am rather well educated.

        My two youngest daughters are bright, they never have any difficulty (excepting boredom) with school and are ahead of the class. My older had some struggles early in her educational journey and that required me to intervene and assist her. This is where my thoughts come in:

        If one-size does not fit a rational person has some choices:

        1. Intervene and help your child personally.
        2. Pay for a private school.
        3. Do not have a child.

        Obviously if #3 is not an option (i.e. you already have one) then you must choose one of the others. Public school is a grand resource, and they can (and must) make it serve better for our future; but the ultimate responsibility for a child is on the parents who made the choice to bring the child into the world.

        • Teri

          I dropped out of high school due to boredom myself. My daughter did very well, but did complain about boredom starting in second grade. I too have a pretty decent career, but admit I got lucky, as i knew someone who worked for the company that got me in. However I’m beginng to be a huge proponent of home schooling, enroll the kids in sports and scouts to meet peers. You have to know that most people can’t afford private school. Working with your children more at home is a great idea, but it will not cure the problems at the school level. And the problem is not about just our children. It’s about all children.

          • Debi K Baughman

            yup. it is sometimes difficult to see that when we are in the middle of needing to take care of our own ‘right now’. The idea is to develop the homeschool style of leaning that can be created on a larger level for the class room. This has been done in schools like the Montessori schools and has been done to some degree in charter schools;

    • Debi K Baughman

      Reimagining society may be more important then we realize; with all of the advances in technology society is changing and is going to change even more as the days roll on…. do you want to just let it change, let the governments decide what the changes entail and look like, or seek to help the students and communities become a part of the creative change that fits into an already changing world? The brats are going to be here still even after we are dead and gone, so, as one of those who is already a part of this society and who hates the idea of letting the brats rule, maybe now would be the time to begin to be a part of the changes, which includes re-imagining.

  • CRD

    Sounds a bit to much like social engineering. A frighteningly Orwellian concept of reeducating yours and my children with the belief that a few elitists know what’s best for future society.

    • Duncan the Wondrous Dog

      As if it isn’t occurring right now. Honestly.

    • blindscribe

      I don’t believe you read the article very closely. What’s Orwellian about…

      “…each community must figure out what’s best, given its unique
      circumstances. But he is convinced of one thing: The formal school
      system needs to be “turned upside down and inside out.” It should be
      based on the biological system of weaning — i.e., gradually reducing
      children’s dependence on teachers. Teacher-student ratios should be high
      in the early years, then decrease dramatically in adolescence, when
      “the whole community has to become a place of learning,” with
      mentorships, apprenticeships and other hands-on learning experiences
      complementing highly self-directed classroom learning.”

      This is a call for personal autonomy and responsibility, as well as a unique, context-specific approach to learning. Precisely the opposite of social engineering, actually.

  • alicefound

    I don’t think this is impossible at all. Look at what Geoffrey Canada and Harlem Children’s Zone has accomplished. What I think would work is, going forward, constructing schools as pillars of the community. When schools become an open, friendly place where children not only learn their ABCs, but are also where parents go for parenting classes, little ones can go for day care and preschool, and kids from all neighborhoods can play on the playground, people are much more protective – as well as feeling much more protected.

    Schools in their current form are outdated, that is true. I often wonder why, for example, CPS offices aren’t IN schools. Social workers would have direct access to kids having a hard time, and can see every day whether they were late, absent, had disciplinary action, etc. It would take the weight off of teachers in having to be both educators AND social workers, and would probably be more healthy for kids to have someone to talk to that’s available every day.

    We actually CAN change society if we change our schools. Think about it: Schools are where people spend, minimum, 13 of their most formative years. When those years are spent in a place where people care, are helpful, and are supportive, the entire community can shift. At the very least – everything we’ve done so far isn’t working, so what’s wrong with going for broke and really trying to make a huge change? In some areas, it legitimately cannot get any worse.

    • KT Lively

      I completely agree. But what do we do when we open up schools and offer services and support to parents and the community, and they are simply not motivated enough (or don’t see the importance in) taking advantage of them?

      • Duncan the Wondrous Dog

        Build it and they will come.

      • Kmcomaha

        Offer the services and support the parents and
        the motivation is the HOPE and confidence that they will succeed for trying! Bring in people who have succeeded as role models who came from the same backgrounds. Offer events such as father/daughter or mother/son dinners. Have one “surprise” play day” where when the kids show up it is a day of games, BBQ, movies & fun. Have a parent appreciation day, to reward parents for doing a good job. Wait, these are all the things I had in my private school!
        People are motivated when they know that their actions are appreciated and can make a difference.

    • James Clark

      I liked this article and agreed with most of it, however I would
      question your example of Geoffrey Canada.
      Canada’s accomplishments are dubious at best… His business has done
      what every other charter school does and cream out the kids that don’t fit
      their model. The ways they do this are
      varied and numerous, but most charter schools function as a de-facto step
      toward privatization- which is corporate education reform. Canada’s schools are an example of this
      business model.

  • JimthePE

    Is it me, or is the video not Android friendly?

    • Scott

      Try the Dophin browser it runs Adobe on the server side.
      Speech was quite dry.

  • Sarah

    A refreshing take on re-thinking education. Ted Richards does a whole course on this on that is so enlightening. I feel like our industrial model of education really does need to be re-imagined. In so many cases it does more harm than good.

  • DRF

    Yet another vague editorial on how things would be better if they were more like the old days that does not include a specific plan that would work on a large scale. Our current system should be improved, but let’s remember that the kinds of things that students are learning aren’t the same as those they learned in ancient times. The big one is literacy. Most people can learn carpentry by watching a carpenter but they can’t learn to read by watching someone else stare at a book. They need to be taught at least some phonics.

    • Duncan the Wondrous Dog

      There are places for details. NPR isn’t that. It is just presenting an idea that you can then look into some more if you desire so. But of course, that’ll require some work…

      • DRF

        In which case this particular article offers nothing that we haven’t already seen in many others. It boils down to, “Somebody ought to fix education …uh, but I don’t know how…”

        • Kmcomaha

          I have to say I disagree with your “One Writer”; I took algebra, calculus and even 4 years of Latin (over 45 years ago) and I found them to be of limitless usefulness of the course of my life.The latin helped me in the medical field and even learning new languages when going on vacation. The math was a foundation that allowed me to take a job as a bookkeeper and then go into real estate management…all with no other training. With that basic curriculum, I taught myself to read a prospectus and easily understand mortgages and personal finance. In fact, I now work to procure multi-million dollar bank loans for real estate purposes (only one part of my job)…and I never had any new training but relied on the basic liberal arts education I had (that taught me how to think and reason)…along with what this writer quotes from John Abbott…a life long love of learning.

        • Zentastic

          He proposed changes to our society at a core level. To be more community based and interdependent. Education would reflect that change. It isn’t a simple solution but it is presented if you reread the article. Our cultural values don’t encourage critical thinking or being curious but rather following the status quo. Until that changes, we will keep churning out autobots from our schools.

    • Did you click on the links in the article?

      • DRF

        I did not, actually. Most of them seem to be references. Did one of them recommend a plan?

        • Debi K Baughman

          I have just joined this one to see what all it does offer and how far it has come as far as actual planning and implementation. The biggest step here is first communicating the need for the *future* social educational school. This is an idea that the general population has been resistant to; the standard way of teaching has been in place for so long that most do not, or have not agreed with any need for any kind of educationally change other than in finances. I was surprised to see the resistance to this when in the early days of (social) internet as it was a very strong response against it, but i myself have actually begun to notice a slow turn around in that and am noticing more articles like or relative to the the one here as well as more people being willing to come in with a more open or at least semi-open mind. That, I believe is the first step.

          • DRF

            So pretty much “no.”

          • Debi K Baughman

            “NO”, what?

    • Hyacinth

      I don’t think this article is speaking to ‘not teaching’, but providing our students with a more accepting (and adjustable) learning system.
      For example, focusing on problem-solving, literacy, and gathering information.
      These are skills that will help our students no matter what they decide to do, not just putting facts into their heads that will disappear by the time they are 23.

      • DRF

        Yes, and I’m saying, “How would someone actually go about doing that?” Lots of people say “We should focus on problem-solving, literacy, practical skills, and learning to think,” but hardly anyone ever says, “And here’s how we’d do it.”

        • mmulen

          That’s sort of the point of the article. That there IS no set of instructions. What will work for one community won’t work for another. We have to innovate, collaborate, and use our critical-thinking skills. (Although I would ask–if so many people have really had such a crap education, they don’t have these skills. That’s why there are so many people dependent on concrete roadmaps laid out for them. Kind of a Catch-22.)

          • Jackie Ferrara

            Blah blah blah… innovate what, collaborate on what to what end? Use our thinking skills in what capacity to what goal?

          • Debi K Baughman

            mmulen, i think that even those who have had “crap education” could still have things to offer; life skills come into play as the very essence of the school or education being talked about here, however minimal. This is where the term ‘it takes a village’ really begins to take shape.

            One of the things that i get from this article is that an entire Social Structure is ultimately being discussed and this is what would take the most change. But first the important thing is to get people TALKING about it, getting imput from parents and educators and !!! Students themselves. ie. for the student, by the student….

            “We the people would like to see.. or maybe we could do this”…..

            This is, obviously the planning stage. I do not think that the idea is to make the changes tomorrow, but i do think that once people begin to understand what is being looked for then the steps, the ideas the brainstorming will begin.

            Jackie…..(below) talking in this case is important…

            with-out the talking the “New” education will simply become another enforced idea that is based on assumptions as to what “we” think is needed. ONLY with discussion and talking and brainstorming will there be a new set of educational standards that fits into individual as well as group community. I think that the site for the Initiative Project aims to do this…


        • Jackie Ferrara

          I hear ya DRF. Most people don’t want solutions. They just want to talk talk talk.

        • Debi K Baughman

          A good beginning is offered here by:
          Kmcomaha KT Lively • 2 days ago

          Offer the services and support the parents and
          the motivation is the HOPE and confidence that they will succeed for trying! Bring in people who have succeeded as role models who came from the same backgrounds….. (read full comment above)

    • blindscribe

      No, they don’t. “Phonics” did not exist even 100 years ago. How, then, did the ancients (or even Shakespeare) learn to read and write? They learned by being read to. They learned through trial and error. They learned on their own, mostly. They were autodidacts. That’s one of the primary differentiators called out in the article: learning vs. being taught. The first is active, the second is passive. The first is effective and sets the course for a lifelong learner, the second is ineffective and sets the course for an inability to learn without a “teacher.”

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Most didn’t learn to read. Not to nit pick.

        • blindscribe

          Good point, Jackie, but was that due to not being _taught_ or was that due to a lack of written materials to read?

      • DRF

        Uh, Shakespeare went to a grammar school where they sat him down and taught him how to read and write. Maybe they didn’t call it phonics, but “this is what sound this symbol means and this is what sound that symbol means” is necessary to learning how to read in any phonetic language. Character-based languages must be taught even more explicitly. Things that are arbitrary, things that are invented by humans that could just as easily be different, must be taught.

        • blindscribe

          True, though he was _taught_ Latin and Greek. For the most part he _learned_ English.

          And your presumption that arbitrary inventions like language must be taught is demonstrably false. In the link that follows, William talks about how he learned English through science textbooks. True, he had studied when he was younger, but after dropping out of school he _learned_ the language on his own.

          And you use the word “invention” in your description. This presents a problem because all inventions are, by definition, unteachable. Inventions are learned, often through experimentation. Since language is an invention, someone had to learn it first, right? At some point in the past, there was/were inventor(s) of the language. They couldn’t have had teachers. Here’s the point: if we must be taught all arbitrary concepts how, then, do we invent new ones?

          I think you’re not giving enough weight to context, which helps shape meaning for arbitrary modes such as language. A child can learn much about language just from context. And I’m not saying that all teaching is unhelpful, just that it’s not a necessary component for learning—even if it’s learning something as complex as language.

          • DRF

            It’s not a presumption. As for context, look at what I actually wrote. I’m talking about literacy. People can learn to SPEAK by imitation but they learn to READ by being taught. Reading is such a huge part of civilization that we forget that it is not a natural human thing. Alphabetic principle makes things so easy, so why did it only crop up independently once or twice in all of human history? Because it isn’t obvious.

            The original writer is talking about how we should let children learn naturally, but reading is not something that comes naturally. When I say “invented by humans” I’m referring to things that don’t come from the natural world. Wood is wood, but what’s the difference between a credenza and an end table? A carpenter must be taught these arbitrary distinctions.

    • Laura Weldon

      Collaborative, community-involved education where adults serve as facilitators/resources based on natural learning that uphold the learner’s need for play, meaning, connection, passion, and self-direction is already happening. How natural learning is changing society is the basis for my book, Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything.

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  • OakenTruncheon

    “Schools are expected to produce learners…”

    • DRF

      I disagree with this. The purpose of the public school system is to produce educated voters. It must teach enough history so that people know how politics has worked in the past. it must teach enough science so that people can tell when the statistics are being manipulated. It must teach enough art and social studies so that people know how to be responsible humans.

      • OakenTruncheon

        I was quoting a phrase that appears repeatedly in an introduction to teaching textbook that has been required for all first year students in the teaching certificate program used by several university systems around the country, since the mid-nineties. As Toffler warned, two generations ago, the paradigm of industrial production has subverted all fields of human endeavor. If the desired result of schooling is nothing more than a salable socio-economic product, than the commodification of humanity is complete, and democracy is nothing but a branding scheme, and living is a lost art. An outcome which I find entirely unacceptable.

        • DRF

          It was clear that it was a quote, but I didn’t know where it was from. I suppose I mean that it is all right if schools do not produce lifelong learners so long as they produce sensible voters.

  • Bernice Frona

    I do NOT support public schooling. It wasted 12 years of my life and I could have learned everything, in a fraction of that time, at home by reading the books. I did get some nice socialization lessons, on how to be the bottom of the pecking order, though I really could have done without those. I’m also very good at standardized tests, You cannot make people learn, they have to want to learn. When I look at the wealth of knowledge, free for the taking on the internet, it makes me greedy to learn more. But I got my thirst for learning from my parents, not the public schools.

    • James Winter

      people have to gain intrinsic desires in order to WANT to is acquired and not a just a given fact. People typically learn through extrinsic desires or people really don’t learn to want good grades until they see for themselves how valuable the grades are. That takes time and interest….most people also take the knowledge that they learned in a semester and throw it out as if it never happened…public school was very good to me, I had a different experience because I wanted to have a good experience. You probably DID too and did not get what you deserved, I can’t quite empathize with you, but I get that not everyone had a Disney education where everything ends up as it ought to. I too got my learning from my parents but it was increased through good teachers who knew how to stimulate my learning process. It was my teachers who got me to the point where I was learning intrinsically and not extrinsically…

      • Debi K Baughman

        The grades are good for a beginning point, kind of like getting blue ribbons, but the main point of this paradigm is that students become capable of demonstrating what they have learned in some form of useful way. When i say useful, I am building on the conversation of the original article here that is talking about the community. However small, however large makes no difference, other then its possible need to save the community from disaster perhaps.
        The demonstrations can be in many forms; i.e.; using the skills of math to follow a recipe; that is simple of course, simple enough that one does not have to be in a particular grade; building a magazine holder for the bathroom, or rather the second library in a home…. this demonstrates the ability to use tools, to measure etc.
        Eventually this type of work would be able to take the place of grades which are a part of the standardized system that often falsely show what the student actually knows via rote learning vrs what they actually know which is shown, again, through demonstration.

        These are hands on demonstrations of knowledge with actual material; those who are more familiar with technology and computers and soft wear would be able to determine what type of demonstrations would be needed to show an adequate or useful knowledge of computer or other technological needs.
        The main point here is that the child or student (age 3 to _________ ) learns early that they and what they do is needed or is useful for actual work, thus, theoretically creating that intrinsic desire and love of learning.

        Some students may be slower… that is just the way it is but you, and I … we could be surprised easily when that slow student suddenly steps up to the base and hits a ball out of field, or designs something that you never thought they would be capable of. Understanding this, the judgment factor gets removed for the most part. But this does not mean that everything is entirely stress free…. some people do learn better under stress, yes? But those are the details that get worked out by the community of educators and family and extended community.

      • treeoceaneast

        Grades mean nothing. I know unschooled kids who learned to read at 4yrs
        old and some who didn’t read until 13yrs old. The public school system
        would have labeled the slower reader as under performing. Some kids wet
        the bed until 14, some never wet the bed. Every child wants to “learn”
        to walk and talk. From my experience the education system does
        everything it can to kill extrinsic desire. If your desire came in the
        wrong quarter of grade 3 then you are SOL.

    • Reno Teacher

      Bernice, I work at a public school that is very different than the other schools around my community. Our school has completely changed the landscape of learning, that which, I WISH I could have had when I was a kid. In that respect, I definitely agree with you that I too could have had a better education. It wasn’t until college that I really embraced learning. That said, it’s not really all a public school issue since I know how my school operates. I have seen private schools shortchange kids as well. However, I think that all schools should be run like ours because our kids are very connected to the community (very hands on). That is an expectation we have of them as they enter our school. If you are interested, here is our website. 🙂

    • Mark Paxton

      You miss the point of public schools Bernice. Having home schooled my Daughter through jr. High and then sent Her to High School I belive she needed the interaction with the other students, especially to prepare her for college. I never studied in K-12 unless motivated (My Mother would not let me play sports unless I studied.). My GPA showed this. I never got into a good college until after the military and had take associate courses.
      Just My thoughts.

  • umbrarchist

    Like politicians want good education. If a country claims to be capitalist and believe in enlightened self-interest then wouldn’t mandatory double-entry accounting in the schools make sense considering that it is 700 years old? But do you hear any economists or educators suggesting any such thing?

    How about a National Recommended Reading List?

  • Jackie Ferrara

    Society has already changed. Public schools haven’t. Everyone knows what to do to fix the schools: Full days, year ’round schedule, updated curriculum, less days off, better educated teachers, and ensuring the best students are not held back by the worst. There’s just not the political will to go up against the teachers unions and parents who do not want to pay for their own kids education. My former town had to shut off street lights because the school was sucking up half the total town budget. And that was, allegedly, a good school district.

    • DRF

      I hated school with the blinding fury of a thousand suns, but even as a child I knew that June, July and August were three things that could improve our system.

      • Hamstermama

        I agree! It is not the teachers. They are being told by the corps what to teach to the test. Longer is not better. It is not time. Maybe we need more family time. I feel by the time I get home and make dinner and help with homework, it is time to go to bed.

        • Debi K Baughman

          I am thinking that it is not only family time; family time in many circles or homes is dreaded, whether we like it or not not all families are equipped to give anything healthy to the child. I am thinking more along the lines of “community” time. Time where the youth, or students of all ages are the ones who creating the meals and serving, making plans for building a new play ground or putting together a new social site where the are teaching, not just socializing. If Socializing and learning could be seen as something that goes hand in hand then the stigma of “School” will diminish somewhat. I am not talking about just once a week but at the minimum two or three times a week.

    • Liza

      Wow. I’m sure you’re an expert in education, child development, finance, socioeconomic issues, and poverty. You have all the answers. I guess it’s just easier for some people to blame the public schools for all of America’s problems. I do agree with one thing you said though…society has certainly changed.

      • Jackie Ferrara

        Experts haven’t helped. Maybe I do have all the answers. Why not me? Or you?

    • Mamasan

      We pay for our schools with what we can. It is sickening when I see golf courses and swimming pools at some schools when a local school cannot even pay for enough desks or books for kids. Some places, and families, struggle. Watch the “everyone” as you do not speak for me.

      • Debi K Baughman

        Yes! I think that if ever there was a place where the term = equality= needs to come into play it is in the schools; the moneys for the schools should not be divided with in the small communities but with in the states even if it means having a central center where the school equipment is there for every student in the town or city or community… and it does not matter what community or town or city that a student lives in, the learning tools are there equally for everybody. would “everyone” work here?

        • Jackie Ferrara

          There you go. Look at all the ideas! Now ask yourself why government can’t figure any of this out. Are they dumb? Or is it… something else?

      • Jackie Ferrara

        I bet you do. I bet if I asked you to name five things that would improve your local school you’d be able to name some. You already named four. Golf courses and pools. Desks and books. Now, what if a family could choose to go to the school with the pool but didn’t need the golf? They could use their voucher. Instead, they are stuck at the golf school.

    • What town are you from? Turning off the street lights because of the school? Anyone familiar with how state and local funds are spent knows what BS your story is.

      • Jackie
        • Ah, thanks for confirming my suspicions about you. A city attempts to reduce its utility expenditure and you conflate it, crusade against the schools, and kick and scream for education austerity measures. Cool reasoning skills you have there.

          • Jackie

            Money is finite. If you have a budget and half goes to the schools, as was the case in my town, other areas are going to go without money. In this case, it was utilities, among other things. The Globe article says that explicitly when it notes that towns must choose between things like street lights and, “police… teachers”.

            But don’t get me wrong. I’m not for public school austerity. I’m for public school privatization.

  • Rohan Kirkpatrick

    Except that time and again young people show that they *cannot* exercise this responsibly. Any debate on the Internet will quickly devolve to ad hominem because the only intellectual tools youg people are taught are “Racism is bad,, sexism is bad, equality is good, because we tell you” – so rather than analyse or deconstruct societal issues – young adults are taught to dismiss things out of hand. You can see this in the quality of debate on the Internet. It is probably the only commons where the human race is socially and culturing regressing.

    Progressive education commits some pretty big errors when it comes to human b eings. In fact our approach to education has been showing us some disturbing results. It is true humans are born to learn – but that does not mean a human is born to do arithmetic or to become a derivatives trader. Humans only learn what they need to unless they are conditioned otherwise.

    Our current system is failing under it’s hubris; human beings are not special intellectual creatures – they are base animals and they must be conditioned, both positively and negatively – removing a child from a tedious learning environment is not a disincentive – only by inflicting pain can the animal be taught right from wrong. We’ve been using negative reinforcement/corporal punishment to condition ourselves for, well let’s say conservatively, a million years. Yet in the last 30, we have eschewed it, seen a correlating rise in youth problems, and ignore what we did to land usthere.

    If you want to see what humans ‘learn” look at all the low socio-economic background results of education – these people use these skills for narcotics trade, tax fruad, theft, – yet the supposedly progressive education of the last 30 years provides them absolutely no skills for them to better themselves within the “correct” channels for upward socio-economic mobility.

    The parents and society have perhaps too much control over schools now, with parents able to shop until somebody can satisfy the cognitive dissonance that little Jimmy doesn’t bully the other kids, or that little Jane is malciously tormenting a younger female colleague over Facebook.

    “Progressive” education that waxes lyrical about the learning potential of a child in the 21st century is undistilled, unadulterated idealism that flies in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Children need to be punished consistently and humanely, and parents need to accept that blowing the head of admissions at Yale so your Luddite can get an MBA probably is not going to have the best effects on society as a whole.

    • Luba V.

      To address one central assertion in your post, here’s an article that discusses how children learn without any prodding:

      … and in a low-income setting:

      • Rohan Kirkpatrick

        Are you sourcing yourself!?

      • Rohan Kirkpatrick

        Okay I read those and I unequivocally disagree.

        “Subverting…” carries the real risk of leaving students with social or otherwise anxiety disorders behind. All it’s doing is rearing the “slam dunks” (kids who obviously take to their environment) at quite possibly the expense of others.

        The article completely focuses on it’s “success” – this is concerning because I cannot for a second believe that any educator is getting a 100% success rate. Different children require differing levels and types of attention.

        “Kids learn social skills best by interacting with other kids, and a wide age range (age four and up) allows older kids to “create ‘scaffolds’ for the younger ones, bringing them up to higher skill levels,” Gray notes. “In turn, the older kids gain a sense of maturity and learn to be nurturing. Explaining things also helps them consolidate and understand the information better.””

        Translation: Rampant institutionalised bullying has done wonders for our stats.

        “Adults serve as resources and administrators for the learning community. Gray says a certain minimum number of adults are needed to represent different skills and personalities, but that no formal training is necessary. The adults just need to be “very responsible and aware of the broader picture, and be seen by kids as honest and reliable individuals who talk to them as real people,” he says.”

        Right, so unqualified individuals near children in a learning environment – how could that ever go wrong?

        These articles seem to indicate a disconnect from what children actually are/actually behave.

        Sure humans can be self-directed learners – but they won’t even pick up a complex profession or skill set through self-directed learning. It’s incredibly rare to have successful auto-didacts. Most of the skills we picked up in hunter gatherer societies were social skills, not technical ones. Who do you think will have more success teaching a child music or physics, the child itself, or the teacher ? Even if the child is successful – they would have experienced a lot of disorientation and confusion as they attempted to learn an instrument – how much *more* successful could they have been if they had a good teacher who prevented them from going down intellectual dead ends?

        • WriteLearning

          Again, let me invite you to investigate Sudbury schools. As you might imagine, learning to take responsibility for one’s life and actions is not very easy. Our students aren’t controlled and entertained all day long: instead, they have to figure out what’s worthy of their time and attention, and they have to pursue their interests in a way that respects the right of others to do the same.

          I don’t know what you mean by “a complex profession or skill set,” but check out books and videos on Sudbury alumni (e.g., and and you’ll see professors, entrepreneurs, engineers, artists, and more.

          I think the key is not to dismiss the potential of self-directed learning, but consider that in an appropriate environment, it can truly flourish (and, in fact, has done so).

        • It is important to note that in many “self-directed” learning
          environments students are not expected to teach themselves. They are simply not forced to learn what someone else wants them to learn. If they want to learn physics than a teacher or apprenticeship could be valuable and a school can either provide that (if they have a qualified teacher on staff) or seek outside help from the community.

          Also important to note that there are self-directed learning environments like Summerhill and Sudbury Valley that have been around for 50 – 100 years, so we don’t need to theorize about what happens or how children behave in these environments. It’s very easy to observe and much effort has been put in to publishing observations of both the students in
          school and graduates…

          I’m afraid I have no idea what you mean by “Rampant institutionalised bullying”.

  • Bill Ferguson

    Most of commenters on this article have missed the point. We need to change how we as individuals look at education. Yes, what we have now isn’t working. Yes we need to move more towards the model that is proposed. Until the mind shift occurs only small pockets of teachers who actually are working towards this goal will see the success of their students. The rest will continue to be lost.

    • Jackie Ferrara

      Or, put your kids into private school. Let me think: Redesign the earth entirely so as to fix the schools eventually…. Or send my kid to a great school right now.

  • Matthew Shapiro

    “We cannot restructure a horse and buggy into a spacecraft.” – Bela H. Banathy. What Abbott is saying is very much like what the late Bela H. Banathy advanced in his work, Systems Design of Education (1991) and Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (1996). He called it “Painting the largest possible picture on the largest possible canvas”, and his participatory design process begins with stakeholders articulating an idealized image of society and community first, then designing the image and the system of education that would best fit that second. Without doing this, we’d forever be trying to improve and reform upon an Industrial Age system. Dr. Banathy was former research director of the federal Far West Lab for Educational Research and Development. His was the only voice in the federal educational community calling for the approach above; he told me that all of the regional labs were behind him on this but it fell apart because one of them, the Northwest Lab, wouldn’t go along. In any event, we began Designing Idaho Education for Tomorrow in the 1990’s based on this very concept.

  • Nevada treacher

    Many years ago I once commented that schools have clinics, social workers, etc. right on campus. This would eliminate the roles that teachers currently need to play and reduce some of the costs currently incurred by schools. Smaller districts in rural areas have campuses that house students from age 5-18 making them truly a community center.
    The comments I have been reading are interesting. I have been teaching for over 30 years and the arguments and discussions really haven’t changed that much. For instance, private schools. These schools have always had an appeal simply because they are “private”. The teachers in these schools come from the same training programs as public school teachers. Many times the best teachers do not apply there because salaries are lower and benefits are worse than at public schools. What sets most of them apart is the ability to control the student population both in terms of numbers and behavior. You are more likely to have students with two dedicated parents, a secure household income, and stability in housing., things which many experts point to as important in the educational success of students. Private schools are less inclined to worry about public pressure in terms of curriculum or societal changes. That said there are excellent private schools and some not so much, just like public schools. Let’s make all schools private. The issues may change but not the problems.
    Society tends to look suspiciously at anything which is offered for free. Education is no different. It must be better if you pay for it, the more you pay, the better it is. So far the
    results are mixed.
    American society is also less than enamored with having to do things because there is a law which requires it. The demand for education was the greatest when access was only afforded to a few.
    Parents want the schools to not only educate but to raise their children, except when the school does something they don’t agree with. Then they don’t. Parents are often unsure how to parent or are afraid to. Schools are to teach values but society is quite foggy on what those are to be.
    I think the cartoon makes a good point. Years ago hard work was a virtue to be rewarded. Today doing hard work means that you are too stupid to find a way to circumvent the system either by cheating, (one of my students call this 9 creative problem solving) or taking an easy course of study. Society glorifies the individuals who have found a way to make a lot while doing little for it. Pop culture make heroes out of morons and our kids have those images to emulate.
    Our kids find everything boring. They can sit in a room with a 60 inch tv, cell phone, ipad or computer and still have nothing to do. The current view among many kids is that if something is not fun it is not worth doing.
    What has changed in the 30 years I have been teaching is society. Children are now more of a luxury than a necessity. We do not need more children to ensure survival of the species, in fact we need less. The people having children now are those who can least afford them while society as a whole is becoming more reluctant to make sure that these children become productive measures of society.
    The trick is going to be to fix education in spite of society. I don’t see society as a whole being able to agree on an appropriate course of action.

    • Debi K Baughman

      I think the trick lies someplace in the area of your suggestion of having the social workers on campus as well as with a campus that houses students 5-18. I say ‘someplace in the area of’ because this would mean removing them completely from the home and putting them into what would ultimately equate to group homes which I do not think is the best idea, but close.

      Jackie is certain and confident that the vouchers for private schools are what is needed while Bill feels that this will be more likely to create more Elitist schools; however, Bill, Your statement here

      “We educate all the kids, regardless of their ability or income.To do anything less is discriminatory”,

      Is actually the point that Jackie is trying to make.
      It is also the point that the more well off districts, as a whole tend to disagree with.

      The title of this article is

      THIS takes time, but is not impossible.
      So, taking all of the ideas and views and failings, or perceived failing of the education system into consideration what would it mean to reimagine society in such a way that would help to change the education system which in turn would help in the reimagining of an ever changing society?
      I think, and I am just brainstorming here, but i think that what we are looking for are communities/social structures that actually set up around the Education system instead of the education being set up to fit in with what ever present society that might be important in the present.
      Or, in short, make the Education system the center of the community. What this would look like and mean is that all of our businesses would be aimed at growing students that are capable of working in their, any of their, businesses and doing a good job of it.
      While this may play heavily into consumerism, but what if each of the communities towns and cities are committed to growing students and adults who are looking for the betterment of their particular community and solving the water and air and energy situations while also looking to keep alive the creative mind for the sake of leaving behind great works for future generations.?
      I get that this pipe dream of sorts that sounds far reaching, and that is exactly the point, I believe of the article itself.
      I think that the vouchers is a good starting place but not the end all.
      I think that living on campus is a good idea, AS an idea for starting with, perhaps keeping in mind the way Military housing works.

      I think that Jacque Frescos housing ideas with the Venus project encapsulates these ideas. First, since The Venus Project is considered a cult by many please let me make it clear that i have often fought against that project but did look it over enough to bring out of it ideas for the sake of educational purposes. Another way to envision this would simply towns or cities or communities where the education centers is literally in the center of the community… centrally located and a home for all. All of those addresses ultimately point to the main educational center or institution.

  • Sheryl Morris

    I don’t make sense of the following–
    “He cautions against simply copying a specific model that worked elsewhere — each community must figure out what’s best, given its unique circumstances.”

    Why reinvent the wheel? It’s time to up scale that which works in the fashion described here in the article, namely Montessori and Waldorf. Pick a more holistic method and go with it; maybe blend the practices you find best and fine if you have to handmake your supplies.

    • I think the keyword is SIMPLY. You can definitely adapt good ideas to many environments, but it takes remixing, localization, and overall tinkering. This adaptation is complex, not simple.

      I’ve seen this issue again and again trying to adapt Eastern European models from Math Circles to (very different) US communities. For example, you can’t just assume that parents will spend hardcore math time with kids every day, outside of school assignments. Or that kids will have any experience whatsoever with open-ended problems. But many US communities are very strong at self-organizing, so you can count on parents to put a group together, easily. “Soft skills” like that, and social capital, change from community to community. You have to play to each community’s strength.

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  • Raymond

    Fully agreed with the writer and this life long learning process need to be taught soonest possible to students. Imagine student ‘X’ knows all the 26 alphabets from “A to Z” with each alphabet represent a field of static knowledge compare to another student ‘Y’ who may knows 12 alphabets of static knowledge but have the ability to connect well those alphabets, who would you think would be more successful? The most crucial skill now is to acquire the ability to connect all knowledge and I believe this skill will makes a lot of different in today world if we understand that information are all over the public domains. Hence, any society having the ability to connect those free flow of information out there should be more progressive than those who are still using the “pre google era” of teaching and learning.

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  • Mark Paxton

    Holding both the students and the teachers responsible for their part of the equations plays a big role in education. Back in the 1960’s my schools punished me (Sometimes with a paddle) when I didn’t behave or follow the rules. I learned quickly if I didn’t want a padlle I followed the rules and I behaved. My Mother (One parent home.) was also involved in my education. If I didn’t do my school work I wasn’t allowed to participate in the sports I wanted to. That was more than enough motivation for me. I had to work for my car, my extra clothes and spending money. Kids are handed to much today including the belief that an education is a right. It is a privlage.
    Teachers need to be held accountable when they are not doing their job correctly. My Football Coach was the best teacher I ever had. He would not give anyone a pass. I thought he was unfair back then. The science he taught has stuck with me for decades despite my efforts to forget. Thanks Coach for being tough on and off the field!

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  • Ceunei

    All I know is ‘mean girl’ crappola starts in the 5K. Whoever is teaching their girls to prey on other girls needs to stop, otherwise, there is no safety in the school. We are almost to the end of the school year and I’m ready to pull my kid from that school…these girls started over a month ago, transferred in from who knows what hellhole school and threw the entire class into disarray with their parent taught/school supported bullying meangirlness.

    States in the USA are already making sure 4K and 5K will NOT work by overloading teachers with barely parented children. And I use ‘barely’ as a euphemism for badly. We can imagine a better place and a better education all we want, but until we get some better parenting procedures in play, it will be like dressing that sow up with those beautiful golden earrings.

    I see the problem and it is the parenting…or lack thereof since so many believe, these days, they only need to parent in the evenings and the weekends and leave the rest to the cheapest daycare & the teachers that my state is now teaching its deliberately undereducated far righters to hate along with its public school system.

    However, I can say Screamfree and Love & Logic parenting techniques worked really well on the original fourteen students in my kid’s 5K. Unfortunately, my stint ended volunteering with the class once I reported just how bad the new girls were, and got my self kicked off the team. I gave the message and was told to leave the girls to the experts. They are not improving. This stuff starts in the home.

    Who wants the USA to fail so badly, I wonder?

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  • Adriana Freire

    My words exactely. Let’s pay attention to “Escola da Ponte” (Ponte’s School) in Portugal. Thanks to the hard and incredible work of José Pacheco this school has the highest grades in Portugal. Less is more.

  • Helena Roth

    Wow! I’m amazed.

    “Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want”

    This is precisely what the #skolvåren (aka school spring) movement in Sweden is all about, asking the slightly provocative question WHY SCHOOL to get people to start to think about what society we want!

    It’s nice to see there are more people all over the globe asking this question!

    For more info (in Swedish basically though!) see

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  • sojourner

    This article is inspiring and gives me the chills. It’s inspiring because it reaffirms what I, and my school community, believe about education. It gives me the chills because we are in fact largely following this method and have been doing so in an evolving and maturing basis for the past 8 years. What’s even crazier is that we’re doing it in rural Guanacaste, Costa Rica at a small international school that represents 27 nationalities. La Paz Community School is a case study of the methods, and results, of this approach to education. For more info on our school check out

  • Fátima Marques

    Does anyone knows wath is the video of the first image?

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  • This seems so appealing, if you don’t think about it too much, and don’t understand education well.

  • For a thought-provoking, deeper discussion of the “re-imagine society” aspect, readers may want to check out David C. Korten’s new book, “Change the Story, Change the Future.” He too argues that a society’s main storyline is what inevitably shapes all of its institutions, with schools being just one example. He then suggests a different metaphor/storyline, and explains the ripple effects it would have throughout.

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Luba Vangelova

Luba Vangelova’s work has appeared in numerous print, online and broadcast media outlets, including The New York Times, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Salon. She is also working on a book about self-directed learning. Her web site is She also posts on Twitter and on her official Facebook page.

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