What is school for

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers built school to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. We are raining kids to be factory robots.

From Seth Godin:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students, and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?

What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn’t that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?

Before you feature a trumpet prodigy at the jazz band concert, perhaps you could feature the kid who just won’t quit. No need to tell him he’s a great trumpet player–the fact is, none of these kids are Maynard Ferguson–just tell him the truth. Tell him that every single person who has made a career of playing the trumpet (every single one of them) did it with effort and passion, not with lips that naturally vibrate.
The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy: Stop Stealing Dreams

Stop Stealing Dreams


Where mindless work habits start

Gadget girl wearing her headphones and Pebble watch (RIP) while vacationing in Sun Moon Lake.

A twitter-like comment on a big issue.

School has started and the letters are starting to come home. Actually, school started for Catriona in the middle of summer because she is in grade 9 and they start school earlier here for that grade. Of course, the reason a test. All grade 9 students must take a test which determines which high school they attend, and it’s very competitive. In addition to starting early, and in fairness they finish a little early as well, they also have the option of supervised study sessions from 6 – 9pm every week night. That was the letter that came home. You pay a fee for dinner and a fee for the privilege. Parents are the supervisors. That means the kids are gone from ~ 7:45am until 9pm everyday. Most parents will willingly participate but I think it’s the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Anybody with any interest, or experience, in learning or getting thngs done, know that this is a complete waste of time (for most).

But I considered it. I considered it because nothing in her school program excites her to learn like her hobbies – reading and music. Few teachers can teach in a way that excites her (or anyone), the curriculum only accommodates procedural learning, not problem solving, research or collaboration, nor does the curriculum encourage self-exploration. Memorisation and being able to follow instruction is important, but the afore mentioned skills are what make for better and more employable people. But maybe that is the point, they don’t want graduates who can think … Because she is an independent child, smart, and unfortunately not always easy to motivate, her test scores have comparatively suffered. I briefly thought that this study prison might help her, luckily I quickly came to my senses.

If you can’t accomplish something at work or at school in 8 hours or less (preferably much less) than there is something wrong with the organization. Putting more time on task has diminishing and often negative returns (see 1, 2, 3). The space between work (or study) is often more valuable than the time spent working itself (1, 2, 3).


Kids Planting Rice

This is a wonderful educational opportunity for the kids and allot of fun. We can give kids books to read, iPad apps to play with, and teach the essential concepts, but nothing beats hands on interaction to gain an understanding of a topic. I’m quite pleased that my kids have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the natural environment, and grow and eat their own food. So many schools focus on technology initiatives and the latest ‘big thing’, when resources might be better allocated on improving and supporting what they already have, teachers and their learning environment.


Outdoor Kindergarten

Being happy, being outside, and getting fresh air is clearly important for today’s children. We’re competing with computer games and Games Boys. It’s important to give children the desire to be outside & motivate them to be creative outdoors.

Why not give a 5 year old a sharp knife? Or a box of matches? Or let them climb a tree? Are we really helping our children by attempting to remove risk from their lives? The benefits of outdoor preschool education, even in the Arctic north of Norway.

Via Robert Paterson’s Weblog


Art and music are the first things to go in schools. The role of art is disappearing. When we were kids, we learned about bakers and candlestick makers. We learned about cobblers and all these old-school, awesome things that people did their entire lives. They specialized in making one thing. … In archeology, the things that matter most are handmade: ceramics, glass, sarcophagi, paintings. The most valued objects of lost cultures are the things that were made by hand. We need to start making things with our hands again.
Ira Coyne, sign painter.


A new study by the University of Sussex finds that the repetition is important for little learners.

Dr. Jessica Horst and her researchers say that children who were read the same story three times back-to-back, instead of three different stories, actually retain 3.6 of the new words they’ve been introduced to instead of the 2.6 of the “variety” group.

Researchers point to the benefits of reading.

Though the study focuses on children around 18 months old and contrary to some advice I have received, I follow this same routine in my own language learning. I think it works.


Skipping Out On College And ‘Hacking Your Education’

The cost of college can range from $60,000 for a state university to four times as much at some private colleges. The total student debt in the U.S. now tops credit card debt. So a lot of people are asking: Is college really worth it?

“One of the great myths of the school system is that we tell people that everyone should learn exactly the same thing and exactly the same way, at roughly exactly the same speed. And that’s just not true. People learn in different ways, at different speeds, at different times. And so hacking your education allows you to learn what, when, how and where you want.”

Dale J. Stephens, author of Hacking Your Education and founder of UnCollege.org

More at NPR.


Do Kids Need Computers (or iPads) to Learn?

Computers of various shapes and sizes, and ubiquitous network connectivity, are the siren song of those wanting to improve whatever education system they are involved with.

One is that most parents, school officials and politicians see children’s familiarity with computers at an early age as desirable – nay, imperative – for successful individual careers and for society’s prosperity in a “knowledge economy.”

[…]

… some of the top technology experts at Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard and other such firms send their children to a private school where computers are off-limits until Grade 8 (when even then their use is limited). The school believes computers reduce attention spans, inhibit creative thinking and interfere with face-to-face interaction.
Says one father, who holds a computer-science degree, uses an iPad and smartphone and works at Google: “The idea that an app or an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.” He also notes, “At Google and all these other places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
His daughter’s fifth-grade teacher introduces fractions by slicing apples and cake into halves, quarters and sixteenths. (“When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone,” the teacher says, “do you think I had their attention?”) Knitting socks teaches problem-solving, co-ordination and math.

[…]

Heidegger wrote at a time when our only electronic distractions were television, movies and radio. Their entertainment content (as distinct from news reports and documentaries), he suggested, present an artificial world that disconnects us from the real world. It’s like the light pollution that prevents from seeing the reality of the stars.

Do Kids Need Computers to Learn? (.pdf)


Architects of Learning

An important and interesting perspective exploring the ‘perilous’ intersection of technology, pedagogy, and the future of education. Tablet airdrops aren’t the answer that almost everyone thinks they are.

The information age has produced an exhilarating array of pedagogical ideas and tools, yet despite all the revolutionary talk about computers and constructivism, the monolithic lecture is still the norm. We know this is wrong. Students have diverse interests and motivations and learn in different ways. The one thing they share is a 15 minute attention span. The lecture has value, but it must be short and is just a part of the whole. Teachers must weave conversation, inquiry, and performance into “architectures of learning” that meet the needs of each class.

This act of synthesis is hard. Technology won’t save the day, and teachers can’t cross the chasm alone. Designers, developers, publishers, and librarians are just a few of the folks needed to build these cross-platform services and structures for learners.

[…]

Information literacy – the ability the find, evaluate, create, organize, and use information from myriad sources in multiple media – is the basis for lifelong learning. It’s increasingly important in every aspect of our lives from shopping and entertainment to healthcare and finance. And yet, most people, young and old, lack the requisite skills and understanding.

Let’s explore one tiny example. Our girls often ask for help with their homework, yet I’m easily stumped by middle school math. When I go to Google, they tell me they tried that, but I always find what we need. I’m not better at math. I’m better at search. And that’s why I’m able to help. But not all parents are librarians, so many kids must stay stuck.

Architects of Learning by Peter Morville


The collapse of the music industry and the future of higher education

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt. It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

[…]

The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.

Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible.

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Clay Shirky on what the collapse of the music industry teaches us about the future of higher education.