I have added a reading of the introduction to Unschooling Rules.
Or click on The Introduction and it may start automatically (depending on your browser).
I have added a reading of the introduction to Unschooling Rules.
Or click on The Introduction and it may start automatically (depending on your browser).
Unschooling will save education.
Collectively, we eventually will figure out that the massive school industry, as currently structured: costs way too much; teaches irrelevant material; crowds out more beneficial activities; breaks up families; and even creates a long term effect similar to a mild post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, we, as a culture, are not at that point yet. We are still tinkering with schools. We still think we want schools to work. We are still holding conferences and issuing decrees that schools need more money, control, and influence in general. We still think that Gates and Buffet and Lucas are right. We have a President who is part of the one percent who owes everything to schools and has two daughters (just compare the number of male students on Ritalin compared to female).
The educational-industrial complex is also at its most powerful, not only compared to the past but also compared to the future. We might look back at this phase as "School doesn't work. We need more school."
Fair enough. This faith-in-industrial-schools will take about fifteen more lost years before it finally crashes. (The Tea-Party candidate, three elections from now, will run on cutting the national cost of education in half in order to save our economy.)
BUT there is something really exciting happening in parallel. At the same time billionaires and national leaders are propping up a failed system, there is actual progress being made.
I wrote in an earlier post about 15 Models that are Better for Childhood Learning than Schools'. These "better models" include camps, libraries, community theater, start-up businesses, and more. Historically, these models have existed in the shadow (and context) of schools. In fact, in many ways, the massive educational-industrial complex has treated these "better models" as cottage industries and helpers.
The current educational-industrial complex is failing. But while no one is looking, the home and unschoolers are paving the way for a richer educational future.
Until the crash, schools will continue to get more and more money. That is inevitable. But more of the real learning of all school children will be through these "better models" as they are increasingly influenced and evolved by home and unschoolers.
And the result will be a diversity of educational options that: cost less; teach highly relevant material; encourage more beneficial activities; strengthens families; and even create a long term effect of empowered, skilled, and motivated citizens.
Microcosms are self-contained models of larger and more complex systems. Lessons learned, including what are good things to do and results to get, can be transferred to the bigger productive world.
Examples of microcosms that can be used in education are:
Technology should be completely embraced in education. Smart phones, Twitter, blogs, Skype, and Facebook (plus dozens more to come) are the context of learning and being productive for decades to come. A spell checker frees us up from memorization and, thus, spelling tests.
If a traditional school situation is disrupted by new technology, nine times out of ten it is the school situation that needs to be changed, not the access to technology. Schools hate the fluidity of technology. But students love it, need it, and will find a way to use it.
One of the biggest signs that home and unschooling are necessary to jump-start innovation is seeing what schools are put up on a pedestal today.
Is there any hope? Of course! See 15 Models that are Better for Childhood Learning than Schools'
The industrial school model is that of even progress. There is the first grade. Then there is the second. Then the third. Students are expected to build their knowledge in parallel across a variety of topics in a linear and additive way.
The reality could not be more different. Learning abilities and useable knowledge bases are wildly different from student to student, and month to month.
Imagine you are on a scooter, and your assignment is to move ahead ten feet. You would do this easily, and might get praise for doing it so well.
Now imagine you are in the same class, but you are in a helicopter for the first time. You are told to move forward.
You press a random lever and your rotors spin loudly. You go up and then crashing down. The other students on their scooters look at you angrily - you are causing a scene. The instructor tells you to move forward again, but reduces the goal to only five feet, noting your difficulty. You press something else and lurch backwards. Now the instructor is furious. Meanwhile, a red light is flashing in your cockpit.
The final rub in this analogy, of course, is that a helicopter is a much more powerful and valuable vehicle. Ten years later, you are going to want the helicopter saving you where scooters could not.
We are so much more diverse from person to person, and even month to month, than we have internalized. And our tools keep changing on us - scooter one month, helicopter the next, even a cinder block the month after that. Some things are effortless, others are impossible.
Any structure that does not embrace the chaotic diversity of talents and the temporary whims of abilities is doomed to a lower common denominator approach, ultimately along the way creating a corrupt moral framework around temporary abilities measured by incomplete short-term standards.
Many school curricula use a model of five or six “classes” taught throughout the day, broken up into even chunks, and combined with lunch and breaks. This makes planning the movement of large numbers of children possible.
But if you didn’t have a school structure - if you were instead dedicated to each student’s learning - how many subjects would you teach?
The answer is probably, “It depends on the day, student, and subject. Maybe one. Or one hundred. Or zero.”
Having said that, a default broad schedule makes sense for some who crave a bit of order. Probably the most basic is the best: have one morning subject and one afternoon subject.
The education-industrial complex is structured around organizing children by age. This is a bad idea for so many reasons.
First, it is based on a false assumption - that young people of the same age have roughly the same skill level in subjects across the curriculum. Clearly, this is not the case. Even the maturity level between genders is a schism. And of course different students with different interest have wildly different abilities. But it remains an “objective” easy criterion, one whose inaccuracy has done nothing to minimize its use.
More importantly, putting children in groups of “peers,” organizing students to emphasize their social sameness, necessarily forces them to emphasize and exaggerate their differences. (Imagine the Kafka-esque nightmare of being part of a community that was organized because someone thought you all were inter-changeable. You would spend a lot of energy differentiating yourself through your actions, your dress, and ultimately through forming social cliques.)
Monocultures don’t work. They are the product of a dated manufacturing mentality of mass production, and seldom found in nature. That is why the waste from a deer in the wild enriches the soil, while sewage from a massive pig farm causes a health risk to the communities that live downstream.
In childhood learning, diversity of ages and experiences allows everyone to find their strengths in a vibrant ecosystem. Adults and kids should interact. Older people can mentor younger. Younger can use their strength and vitality. Each, wanting to contribute, find their role.
One of the conversations I often get into is, "what is going to really drive changes in schools?" As we discussed , it is not going to be easy. (Home and unschoolers are driving innovation in childhood education outside of the industrial school system, but that will not translate to pressure on the schools for decades.)
Some think it is going to be new teachers. There are quite a few smart, dedicated professionals entering the profession. But after a few years, most seem to be crushed under the weight of the systems in place. The biggest problem is that good teachers are not scalable. Unless there is a massive influx of revolutionaries at all levels simultaneously, including administration and teachers, there will not a be a critical mass, and the best will be picked off one by one, either by social pressure to conform or the isolation of gaining petty awards.
Meanwhile, some think it is going to be the federal or state governments, through more standards and testing. That may get rid of some of the worst instructors, but any "knowledge" that can be tested through a multiple choice test is knowledge that is not going to serve any student in the 21st century.
Some think that it going to be parents. Cynically, the reason why parents will not be the driver of real change can be summed up in two words: "Free daycare!" Plus, parents fear the retribution of schools (because schools can make a student's life hell, through bad grades, bad teachers, and suspensions) even more than their children do, and sometimes develop their own version of a Stockholm syndrome.
Some think change is going to come from the business community. But the industrial educational complex has a rich immune system targeted at those incursions. And sadly, the behavior of a lot of businesses during the last ten years has removed any "competence high ground" the community may have earned in previous decades.
I further wonder what will happen when some pioneering country adopts some better approaches to education, gains massive economic advantage, and the other countries are forced to catch up. This was the path of the Quality movement that forced corporations to change, and later codified in the Malcolm Baldridge award in the US (an award, by the way, that forever changed the way not only manufacturing plants are run but also the way that people spell my last name). This may still be the case, but it is at least a generation away.
No, I think it is ultimately going to be the students. Every year, waves and waves of students are born into a different world than was imagined by the architects of our legacy (manufacturing and presentation centric) school system. They are growing up with increasingly different media and different social tools. And they, like millions of corks riding the same waves, are moving in unison. It will simply be harder and harder for teachers to push the same old product on students.
Individually, any student gagging on the process can be labelled as a "trouble maker." They can be isolated. They can be swarmed. As the numbers grow, they can be collectively drugged, while schools invest more and more in roles (such as school psychologists) to suppress them.
But the pain level for teachers is growing every year. We are only a few years away from the massive collective student rebellion/disconnect (at all ages) of this legacy system. Soon, even the "good" (and by good, I mean the most eager to please) students will respond to the presentation of traditional content as if the teacher was speaking a foreign language - desperately trying to "get it," find the patterns, comply, gain praise, but ultimately getting increasingly frustrated.
This should come as no surprise, of course. All of the signs are there. One can very easily track the rejection of presentation-models of instruction.
In corporations today, where there is the most freedom, most employees under 45 will strongly push-back on any pressure to attend classroom instruction. (And these people are, obviously, both older than college and K-12 students, and also most beholdent to the classroom paradigm.)
Universities today, likewise, have a massive problem with student engagement. And they are most acknowledging and owning up to the pain, mostly because they have to instruct - they can't throw up their hands the way most corporations can.
Today's K-12 students are zeitgeist time-bombs, with very short fuses. They are already rejecting books and even movies for interactive media such as social networking and computer games. While this is just for entertainment, it is a very accurate canary in the coal mine.
We are seeing the collapse of schools, even if in slow motion, through greater numbers of students who are rejecting programs (to the best of their abilities). Soon the crisis will reach its own tipping point, speeding up, and schools will suddenly be unable to communicate at all with students.
It is very likely that the ideal tools to develop student are intellectually incomprehensible teachers and parents (including me).
Like the environmentalist of thirty years ago, so to are groups of people trying to advert the upcoming crisis - to provide the paths for smooth transitions to the future. Let's hope we, as society, listen - if not to the alarmists, at least to our children.
In the age of “the drop off,” parents often unfortunately look at any adults willing to spend time with their offspring as potential stand-in care-givers. This is robbing children of one of the greatest learning opportunities - the non-authority adult.
Children should be given the opportunity to spend peer time with as many adults as possible. Adults in this “peer mode,” instead of bearing the enormous burden of worrying about safety and nutrition and other liabilities, can be humorous, at ease, and honest. With parents in ear shot the other adults can be role models and endless sources of insight, not just the “person in charge du jour.” These relationships may evolve into apprentice and/or mentor models, but let it spend a long time just as friend.
For the later part of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth, the number of doctors rose dramatically. This is despite the fact that doctors did not help the patient, and in many cases made things worse. There was a desperate need for doctors that overwhelmed the reality.
That brings us to today’s school-based technique of testing. The vision is to have concentrated moments of pure evaluation, where students are asked to demonstrate what they know.
And we want tests to work so badly. We love the idea of a simple to deploy, objective mechanism that can sort, motivate, and diagnose - the equivalent of quality control at a car manufacturing plant looking for defects.
The only problem is that test do everything wrong.
Tests only test the test taker’s ability to prepare for and take tests. For example, there is no skill worth having that can be measured through a multiple-choice exam.
Worse, tests emphasize exactly the wrong skills. They emphasize the memorization of massive amounts of facts that neurologically have a half-life of about twelve hours. They focus on short-term rewards through cramming to compensate for a failure in long-term development of value. It is no wonder we have financial meltdowns caused by successful students.
We have to swallow a hard pill. The issue is not, how do we make tests better? Or how can we have more tests? Or how do we have more parts of a school program (such as teacher’s worth) be based on tests?
The reality is, tests don’t work, except as a blunt control and motivation mechanism for the classroom, the academic equivalent of MSG or sugar in processed food. We have to instead begin imagining learning environments that involve no tests at all, and rely on real assessment and the creation of genuine value instead.
Schools and students live and die by transcripts - the one or two pages that list all classes taken and grades received. File cabinets of transcripts create a uniform, easy to compare mechanism to stack rank the relative worth of students.
Or at least they try. The truth is they compress or outright lose more information and insight than they retain.
Instead, the future is student portfolios. Portfolios are skimmable but dense collections of media that show off a person’s capabilities and passions. They can exist in both electronic and paper form.
Many students at graduate levels (and professionals) already use portfolios, of course. Artists, architects, and producers, as just a few examples, all have portfolios that they shape over time and present to potential partners.
One of the effective ways of being a white-collar homesteader is to find an area and be one of the best in the world at it. This sounds glib or even impossible, but it is easier than one initially thinks.
As one becomes the best in the world, it is important to get credit for that. Here, media and social media is a blessing. Some of the ways to get credit include:
A dominant academic milieu should be walking. When walking, children can talk. They can think. They can see the world around them at the right scale (better than biking or driving).
And when walking routinely, children can see the slight changes (a new car, a new roof, new Spring growth or Fall colors, a new sale at a shop, a new family member moving in) that herald real milestones or interesting decisions.
There are many good reasons for a family to move. But the white-collar homesteader will not move for a job.
Almost inevitably, moving for a job means taking a less suited house in a more expensive but soulless neighborhood, filled with other people who not only have moved for a job but will so again pretty soon.
The process of moving for a job separates people from their own support system, including extended families and friends, making them more dependent on the institutions including not just schools and employer but even "familiar" fast food restaurants and box stores. Then, in this mono-cultural existence, a change in employment status is truly devastating.
IBM used to be jokingly thought of as standing for "I've Been Moved" by its employees. Now, with virtual work, employees think of it as standing for "I'm By Myself." This is not perfect, but it is a lot better.
Every rule, every law, every arrangement between institution and parent has to agree on the most fundamental presumption: it is the parents who care the most about their children.
The virulent meme that spreads through virtually all schools - that parents get in the way and are incapable of making intelligent decisions for their children - both is the defense mechanism of institutions that cannot change and is as corrosive as any other form of discrimination. Worse, it can become self-fulfilling in some cases.
Children need to spend as much time as possible around the adults who love them. Ideally, this means parents and grandparents. It can also mean the right aunt or uncle.
This is because children need to be around adults who care about their long-term future. Not their behavior next week, or next season, but ten or fifteen years from now.
The alternatives are necessarily grim. Children become pawns in systems. They are used to meet contrived short-term goals. Teachers use them to get good test scores. Coaches use them to win games. They become the recipient of short cuts. And their time is auctioned off.
Thankfully, increasing the hours spent per week or per day with a loving adult can happen incrementally. Replace a baby sitter with a grandparent. Bring a child along on an errand.
It is not always fun. But the alternative of an unloving chaperone is almost always worse.