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Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011: The Year of the Visionless Revolution for Schools

"Don't just stand there. Do something."

That might just be the rallying cry for education change in the next 12 months. What exactly will be done, however, and why, is almost anyone's guess.

Through the rest of 2011 and through 2012, schools will be poked and prodded. Budgets will be cut, while more money will flow in. There will be rallies and protests and headlines and strikes. There will be greater calls for accountability, but no one will quite be sure towards what end.

Tests will play the role of hero and villain. So will teachers. And so will various school programs including art and sports. Unions will become more important pawns for both political sides, while the enabling behavior of the parents will go unquestioned.

The notion of forcing children to spend more time in classrooms will be realized as absurd. Yet it will be the solution from many.

Some will continue to loudly proclaim, "Schools don't work. We need to do more of it."

There has never been a time when more people want schools to change more. And I suspect at the end of the day, K-12 schools will end up relatively static throughout this period - unchanged in any real way. As with the temporary story arc in a television sitcom or drama, (a la "no child left behind") all changes will be Ozymandian.

In contrast, however, many, many colleges and universities may well be obliterated. And the cottage industries - the vendor market serving all of the above including text book makers- will find their core markets shrinking by 10% a year for now until, well, forever.

In this environment, I offer just three pieces of advice, summaries of the points I make in my book, Unschooling Rules.

  1. The school model of: dropping off children, assembling them into classrooms, and using lectures, tests, periods, papers, and grades, is fundamentally flawed, and will never work better than it does today. We have reached the relative apex of that model.
  2. We need to collectively do everything we can to un-standardize schools, break bottlenecks (such as college admissions processes), and reverse the lockstepping of age-based participation. The next stage of education evolution requires us to think about true diversity of educational experiences, not convergence. Having said that, I personally do not believe we as a nation have the imagination to currently visualize what a truly heterogeneous educational ecosystem might possibly look like (but again, Unschooling Rules is a place to start).
  3. Given one and two, the best thing we can do as a nation is to realize that more and more people will home- and un-school, and that is a good thing for everyone. Like some science fiction story playing out, the homeschooling movements in all of its forms will incubate the creativity of thinking and approaches necessary, eventually, to save all of schools.
This visionless revolution, like the mob that it is, is scary. It will lash out and find scape goats. It will prop up false prophets. I don't see any national leaders today.

Because there are no quick fixes. It is only through the real work of the people who care the most, under the radar of all of this bluster, that real change will be born to birth learning in the 21st Century.


  1. Like your thoughts Clark. Would love to know what you think about the Independence Project profiled by Susan Engle in the op-Ed piece in the New York Times on the 15th.

  2. Hi Stacey,

    I think it is great. It can also be done at a smaller scale, as done by Brock Dubbels (see my interview here). The shift of students to producers as opposed to consumers is critical.