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Friday, May 27, 2011

InfoTrak: Clark Aldrich Interview on Unschooling Rules

InfoTrak: Unschooling Rules

Education reform expert Clark Aldrich, author of Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education explained why schools are very resistant to change and are stuck in 19th century modes of education. He talked about critical skills that are seldom taught in high schools and why he believes that testing and homework don’t work. He talked about the innovative methods of education he found among home schooling families, and how those principles could be applied to public school settings.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

What has Changed 03 - Students are Less Tolerant of Stretches of Boredom

This is part of a series of posts highlighting what has changed from 20th century education making a new education manifesto necessary.

Students today need more personalized and customized feedback, delivered more often, to stay engaged, and are less tolerant of stretches of boredom. Visual, social, and kinesthetic engagement are craved.

Said another way, students have greater attention span for activities that meet their needs and less for activities that do not. Put in a positive light, where students are not engaged, they will more quickly and comprehensively create new visual, social, and kinesthetic activities to engage themselves that compete directly with the goals of the structured educational experience.

There are many reasons for this. And while the people with a vested interest in the old way of doing things may find this a moral failing, marketplaces, including news and popular media, without the luxury of complaining have instead adapted.

This shift has rendered ineffective the traditional reliance on lectures and books (although many school programs now over-use drugs and the emotion of fear to temporary mask the symptoms).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Unschooling Rules now at Barnes & Noble Stores

Barnes & Noble now has Unschooling Rules in stock in their brick and mortar stores.

Click on the picture and then enter your zip code to check local store availability.

(Unschooling Rules will be featured on their "New and Notable" table starting June 1st.)

Most Popular Quotes from Unschooling Rules

As gathered from Kindle readers, here are the most popular quotes from Unschooling Rules:

"The bloating of most curricula comes from a simple flaw. Each generation believes that what they love the next generation needs."

"Each child has a spark of genius waiting to be discovered, ignited, and fed. And the goal of schools shouldn’t be to manufacture “productive citizens” to fill some corporate cubicle; it should be to inspire each child to find a “calling” that will change the world. The jobs for the future are no longer Manager, Director, or Analyst, but Entrepreneur, Creator, and even Revolutionary."

"There are two reasons to learn something: either because you need it or because you love it."

"All people unschool to learn most of their knowledge during most of their lives. The only variables are how well do they do it, and when do they start."

"Building can be done with computer code or lumber or ingredients or fabric. And building is the opposite of consuming, which is done with movies, textbooks, restaurant meals, most video games, or lectures."

"We heard the call that children should “learn to do” and “learn to be” through exposure to real-world projects, and that this growth would inspire them to “learn to know” even more."

"Any structure that does not embrace the chaotic diversity of talents is doomed to a lower common denominator approach. Ultimately, along the way that approach creates a corrupt moral framework around temporary abilities measured by incomplete short-term standards."

Friday, May 20, 2011

What has Changed 02 - New Masters Programs Have Gotten Great, Virtual, and Disintermediating

If you completed college, no employer cares about high school. Likewise, if you completed a Masters programs, no employer cares about college.

A new generation of Masters-granting institutions (increasingly virtual, increasingly using cutting edge and innovative technology, with students of all ages, and both practical and theoretical) are disintermediating the lock-step and self-justifying traditional educational model that is prevalent today (Go to first grade in order to prepare for second grade. Go to high school in order to prepare for college.).

While many commentators inaccurately associate any new programs with some of the first generation online diploma-mills, these new Masters programs are instead role-modeled by such award-winning institutions as:
These programs, so different from each other, are consistently ranked better than 95% of their traditional peers. They are run by leaders who care passionately about their education mission, rather than by administrators. Meanwhile, many traditional educational institutions are still trying to figure out if they should attack them head-on or emulate them completely.

The practical and psychological impact on most students is still nascent. But K-12 schools are focused on delivering standardized content; undergraduate colleges enjoy having the aura of inevitability and prestige while passing the challenge of being useful onto graduate schools. Both are courting irrelevancy. And in the next decade, the role of this dynamic Masters segment "end game" in freeing up children from the marketing pitch of "the-one-path-to-success" will be utterly transformational.

To some, it may seem odd that the schools that are the most virtual, new, diversely attended, competitive, relevant, accountable to the outside world, and optional are the best. To me, this seems inevitable.

What has Changed 01 - Content is Free and Fluid

Things work until they don't. We need a new manifesto for education. Why? What has changed existentially over the last ten years? Why does education in the 21st Century need to be different than education in the 20th Century?

Reason 01: Most content is now free. Almost all content is fluid.

Nothing changes the education model more than the changes in content itself. There are three pieces to this:

1) Traditional content is free. The traditional content taught in K-12 (arguably the justification for schools) is getting asymptotically closer to free.

95% of the content in school libraries has lost all of its value in the last decade. All traditional K-12 curricula and textbooks and tests will be free (and freely available) in the next ten years. Undergraduate level material will follow about five years later. Given the increasing superiority of self-directed study, the structure of classes as a content delivery mechanism has become a net negative rather than a net positive for most people in most subjects.

2) New content is fluid: There is new content that has significant value. This currently makes up about 5% of a K-8, 10% of 9-12, 15% of undergraduate, and 30% of graduate work. But this content can be delivered all over the world at the speed of light. It is portable and increasingly accessible through a variety of outlets and funding mechanisms. Again, in the era of search engines and social media, the ability of schools to identify and present the best new content is now less effective than individuals.

3) Next-generation content is still under-used: As anyone who plays computer games or uses Facebook knows, there is a market need for new types of experiential educational content that can't be created using a word processor. But schools are generally holdouts, not innovators and leaders, in these critical areas of Learning to Do and Learning to Be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The best way to prepare for a job and career is to start doing it

Interested in being a writer? Then write blogs or books. How about a engineer? Build things to meet purposes. Scientist? Conduct experiments to glean unique insights. Movie director? Find the video record button on the cell phone or camera.

Graduation shouldn't demark the mass transition from one expensive school to another. Real graduations are the celebration of the personal transition from incompetent to valued, anonymous to cited, and unpaid to paid. Through technology, the barriers to entry for each phase will continue to get lower.

Getting money to do what you love is a primary goal of life anyway. It is never to early to start.

Places to Learn

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Podcast of Circle of Change Radio Interview

I was lucky enough to be interviewed on Zara Larsen's great Circle of Change radio show. If you want to hear it, click on the logo below to play the MP3 file. (The interview is 21 minutes and starts about 40 seconds in.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nothing can be learned through standardized crafts

A student cannot learn about the origins of Thanksgiving through making pilgram hats and macaroni necklaces. China cannot be better understood through making a paper mache panda bear (a real eighth grade assignment at a local middle school). No insight into Italy can be gleaned through cooking spaghetti. Construction paper snowflakes are not educational. Pipe cleaners and popsickle sticks do not shed light on anything.

Parents in the system are trapped by this busy work. They have to praise them as artifacts of their childrens' hands. But even given that, a note to principals: endless walls of identical standardized caterpillar art projects on display for parents may be pushing this manipulation - it does not establish your school as a hotbed incubator for future naturalists or artists - it is just creepy.

While experiments, physical projects, and self-directed creations and expressions of self are critical, standardized crafts are, well, not.

It is up to you to decide into which category high school chemistry falls.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Can the philosophies of home-schooling and entrepreneurism resolve the cold-war between school and business cultures?

One may be amused by the dysfunctional relationship between school cultures and business cultures. Or terrified.

Arguably, the school community hates businesses. And needs them.

And equally likely, the business community hates schools. And needs them.

Schools think of businesses as over-valued, greedy, short sighted, Machiavellian strip-miners trying to deliver as little as possible for as much as possible. Even Harvard Business School professors with very profitable consulting contracts with large corporations have to culturally downplay the filthy lucre at the same time they aggressively pursue it.

Schools seem to have such disdain for businesses that even the hint that a skill may be useful in a business context turns off most of an academic audience. Take project management. If I ever mention "project management" to most school administrators as a useful thing to know by a student graduating from high school or college, I get a sneer with a statement along the lines of, "that is a vocational skill."

(When I am speaking to an audience of academics, I have discovered a loophole, however. I say it as, "Imagine that someone in a non-profit organization is tasked with distributing malaria vaccines. What skills do they they need?" If I carefully set it up in these terms, then they are receptive.)

As an aside, government and foundation grants have become increasingly useful tools for schools to get significant extra money without having to look businesses in the eye. And grant-delivering bodies, such as The Gates Foundation, tend to use academics almost exclusively both to bestow and receive grants (an arrangement that is not only inefficient, but actually works against the productive evolution of schools).

And businesses seem to hate schools. The business community views schools as sloppy and expensive parasitic institutions governed by pseudo-science and extremist philosophies that would fail if not propped up by an endless supply of new hosts. CEOs, who have no shame in getting tens of millions of dollars for their own personal annual compensation, bitterly complain about any teacher and administrative salaries beyond monk levels. Business negotiates with town to pay as little taxes as possible, while complaining about the readiness of graduating students, apparently seeing no connection.

The business community believes that schools ought to create a pipeline for their HR departments, while academics seem more intent on figuring out how businesses can better give resources to schools.

In this area as well, unschooling may shed some light. There is emerging a congruence between home-schoolers and entrepreneurs. They each rely on open-source technologies, have to quickly learn new pragmatic skills (from, yes, project management to Twitter), are quick to adapt, and are highly sensitive to their communities. With neither crippling infrastructure nor administrative burdens, and without a cash crop or customer base from which to draw, but with the raw responsibility for success, both soon become hungry and smart. They learn not just "what to know," but also "what to do," and "who to be."

Emulating the curricula and philosophies of this productive alignment should be something that both traditional schools and businesses seek as not just common ground between them, but also an internal survival and growth strategy.

Or, and perhaps more likely, home-schooling/entrepreneurism may unite the two simply by becoming the common enemy of both.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

For the entire month of May, the eBook of 'Unschooling Rules" is on sale for just 99 cents.

Good news! For all of this month, the eBook version of Unschooling Rules is on sale for just 99 cents! This includes Amazon's Kindle version. It will return to its normal price in June.

This is in response to the incredibly positive reaction the book has gotten so far, including in homeschooling communities and schools across the country, and even the White House!

So thank you everyone for the kind reviews, support, buzz, and emails, and I hope this sale makes the book even more accessible to anyone interested in the future of education.