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Alternative Educational Models in the Wild

Hi all.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the the model that Illich puts forth in “Deschooling Society” and wanted to open a discussion about technology-facilitated, student self-directed education.  Skip on down to The Thoughts if you’ve read “Deschooling” or want to skip my summary of his proposed school replacement.

The Summary

Illich advocates throwing out all schools as they currently exist and replacing them with self-directed, unstructured educational dialogues that are facilitated by technology.

Here’s my interpretation of his model as it could be done in 2010 : A person would log into a website and indicate the title of a text, movie, website, or journal article that they would like to discuss.  They would then be provided with the emails and cities of others who are interested in the same title.  The students are then left to make the contact and set up a virtual or real-life meetings to have the discussion.  Everything else (Do the read it firstDo they look for other POVs on the workDo they research the context in which it was producedDo they start with a list of talking points to consider?) is left to the students to work out.

I was most intrigued by his use (even in 1970) of technology to supplant the institutional teacher.  He argues that institutionalizing teaching allows every other person and institution in society to ignore their shared responsibilities in co-education because there is this thing that is supposed to educate.

The Thoughts

Technology-facilitated educational change has been simmering in my mind for a while, and I am wondering about models that you have seen, read about, or dreamed up, that facilitate self-directed, semi-structured education.  Illich’s model use  technology to facilitate dialogues between real people; I’ve talked with people about computer assisted education that would allow students to work semi-independently at their own pace and in their own direction (somewhat like Montesorri to the extreme).  But these are just thoughts and theories, and I haven’t seen a successful example of either.

Another example (ie. digression): I watched a teacher preparing for a class by researching a topic and following all the tangents that sprang from it.  The research process was intriguing and exciting to her and she went way beyond what she needed for the period.  I feel the students would have been more excited to do the research than to have the “important” points set in front of them and then have a guided discussion.  If students actually had the self-motivated discovery experience my friend did, it would provide at least an equal educational experience and save the teacher a whole lot of time.  This isn’t a new idea by any means, but it’s usually done when a teacher decides to let the students have an unstructured, self-directed class period rather than the regular experience of the students.

So, where have you seen alternative educational models in the wild that focus on student self-direction without even the guidance/facilitation of an expert/educator?  What have you dreamed up that would be worthwhile?  Obviously, I’ve thought about this in a technology-facilitated manner, but I don’t mean for that to be a limitation to the discussion.


28 thoughts on “Alternative Educational Models in the Wild

  1. Hey Kevin,

    I was thinking about writing a post called choose your own adventure learning. I think for knowledge based learning, this type of learning can be powerful. It would also leave way more time for social and project based learning. I still believe that highly that we must not remove the social/community aspect of learning. What i think this means is we need to open up education, not deschool in the extreme that some of the deschoolers believed, but look to make a education network that is open, flexible, with a balance of interdependent and independent learning.

    This is a great conversation for us to have!


    Posted by dloitz | October 30, 2010, 1:47 pm
    • Hi Kevin,

      Although Bill Gates admitted a couple of weeks ago that it was always easier to start from scratch as opposed to changing an existing structure, I agree with David’s suggestion that education needs to be opened up. I think that we need to begin by admitting that schooling is just one part of education, and that our communities offer so many resources in their 9-5 lives that both teachers and learners could make good use of.

      I think that we need to turn our schools “inside out” by finding ways that community-based resources can be admitted into the narrow halls of the schoolhouse. Conversely, I think that we need to get everyone out of the school more often, and into the community to do some hands-on learning.

      That said, I don’t think that we should lose sight of your very important point of self-directed learning. I think that this is something that could (and should) challenge the idea that, “if you’re six, this must be grade one”.

      I agree with David that this is a great conversation to have!

      Posted by Stephen Hurley | October 30, 2010, 2:06 pm
  2. i can’t even speak.

    yes i say.


    let’s do it.
    we’re doing it.

    i suggest we all take a week. (better if we could do more – but a week is better than a weekend – yes?)
    meet somewhere – much like palomar 5 did. hash out these ideas.
    we’re hashing out much of the cohesive piece – the piece that would allow this personalization to scale.
    if more of us could meet… in person… brilliant people dividing up tasks.. we’d realize how close this is to happening – in public ed even.

    it is.

    we should.

    Posted by monika hardy | October 30, 2010, 10:28 pm
  3. Hi folks,

    Thanks for the valuable feedback! It sounds like we all have some ideas towards opening education up. I don’t mean to suggest that deestablishing schooling is feasible or even worthwhile; that being said, I don’t know that I’m opposed to a “recharter.” I probably should also mention that I’ve only ever taught in high school and am entirely thinking from a framework of children who have some basic skills and are sociobiologically capable of higher orders of thought.

    When I look at learning and participatory patterns in real life, the classroom model doesn’t exist:

    In the lab, I work independently on projects that are highly interrelated with my colleagues’ work and requires firm collaboration to prevent damaging their results. I check in with updates to my boss, to resolve conflicting viewpoints with colleagues, and he checks in with me to determine that my progress is good and to give guidance on what he wants to see (which is a much different “guidance” than most teachers).

    I gain new perspectives and “learning” most frequently with peers, discussing things and making projections of what we think might be true or in identifying the differences in our worldviews and then trying to find additional information to help resolve our conflicts. Most “learning” in my life is thus entirely organic and generative.

    Neither of these are models that exist in the current school structure; we can get around them, but the structure does not aid in it happening. The closest model to school in my life – a meeting led by someone in “power” or a lecture – is often pointless or boring, or on occasion, downright destructive .

    I’ve been involved with the Saint Louis Hackerspace ( which provides a physical space and community for people to come together and work on projects. There is no direction in projects (so long as they do not break the law), and you can come and help people on their own projects, spend time talking to people about their projects, or work on your own by yourself or with others.

    Let’s consider that model for a high school? Rules: 1. You have to go every day unless specific approval is granted on a project basis. 2. You can’t just show up and consume yourself with a distraction (ipod, phone, tv). 3. You have to look like you were working on something.

    If you convince people that you are working on something, you can use certain distractions if it helps you work and doesn’t distract others (I always work better with music in the background). You’ll need to meet with your manager/teacher to provide updates, plans, explanations, results. There would be other environments to aid in developing collaboration and other skills, and you can place yourself in any “classroom,” attend any classes, and transfer between projects. There would be some milestones that you had to meet to make sure you didn’t skirt around important skills, and we’d put in place some good methods to reinforce good work and disincentivize bad work and fake working.

    Posted by Kevin | October 31, 2010, 3:01 pm
  4. Hey Kevin,

    These type of schools exists in Minnesota and Rhode Island in the form of Edvision and Big Picture Learning school. Though the tone of your rules still seem to lack a certain amount of trust of learning and learners. Do you truly believe we must have compulsory requirement to have young adults what to learn? Through I with you about the music, I think when we remove real life nicety, remove the authentically of life. Music, couches, different learning spaces, lamps, natural lighting, warm colors, warmth….these are all easy things we could change that would make the institution as it is now more humane and life like.

    What also happen if the student believes classroom time is not the best place for him or her to learn, maybe working 40 hours a week will better serve his or her life at the time. Couldn’t that also be a worthy use of their time, maybe they still have a mentor and time build in their life for reflection and self and group assessment. I actually think High School should be minimized to only needs and wants of the learners and teachers. Remove the obstacles for real world learning, but not eliminate the dialogue and social learning that is needed in the teen years….

    I also believe we can not just restructure High School. As a future elementary teacher I find it frustrating that most reforms in education are aimed at High school, yet only look at elementary and college as overlooked. I personally think if we don’t look systematically we are never going to have real transformation. I would start with College, as the current purpose of education for mainstream society is getting children to college. Yet College seems to me to be the most backwards, unchanged system. Most teachers do not know any other form of teaching other than lecture, knowledge is tested and essays or written, but often spend 4 years just repeating high school type work…. anyway I guess that is another post all together.


    Posted by dloitz | October 31, 2010, 3:28 pm
    • I’m loving this conversation…there are so many threads to pick up on here.

      I agree with David that College is an untouched entity and, because that is the Holy Grail for many, the apparent lack of transformative spirit (there are some doing some good work here) gives others in secondary and elementary reason to say, “Well, we need to get them ready for…fill in the blank!

      But there is are a couple of interesting questions in the last couple of comments. What if we were to design a system that resonated with the way that young people actually learn? What happens when people are actually engaged in learning? I know that others have addressed this, but it is worth revisiting.

      We spend a great deal of time, I think, talking about redesigning the learning process. George Lucas, in a recent response to WFS, indicated that this is what we need to do: develop new learning processes. I think that the learning process is the learning process. We always need to go back to looking at what happens when folks are actually engaged in learning.

      As a father of two young boys, I’m realizing that so much of that process becomes visible when you look at kids before they are too affected by formal institutions of schooling. There is something very natural about the learning process and if only we were able to capture that in our efforts to transform.

      Posted by Stephen Hurley | October 31, 2010, 3:49 pm
  5. Hi Kevin,

    What you speak of is strongly reminiscent of Sugata Mitra’s recent TED talk but it’s something we’re trying to do (to some extent) here at Reasoning Mind. With our “expert system” we try to give students the opportunity to explore math independently, while giving the teacher the time and information needed to identify and address individual student needs.

    Some of the best classrooms I’ve seen have a very strong social aspect to them, with students encouraging or competing with one another, with teachers providing quick, data-driven assistance. I really think the successful models of the future will be similar to that, but I’m excited to see what other people mention in response to this post.

    Posted by Jaison Oliver | October 31, 2010, 8:01 pm
  6. There is much to respond to here. But the one thing that I want to add is that you all should (if you haven’t already) read Field Day by Matt Hern ( Hern ideally would like to see the professionalized education system thrown out the window and have it replaced by an organic, community assets and curiosity driven resource center. Personally I think he is right on with this concept of “learnerys” which basically what Ron Miller calls “community life-long learning centers”. Both concepts are based on the existing model of public libraries for their multi age and economic accessibly and offerings. If you like Illich, Hern is a must read.

    Thanks for the discussions, I learn much from reading what you all have to say.

    Posted by EKJ | November 5, 2010, 4:47 pm
  7. Wow, Thanks for that…. I better not read those books right now as trying to get my thesis out….but my Idea of Human Scale schools would be very much like what we are talking about here. I am a big fan of both Hern and Miller. Miller is the inspiration for my work. I had not read that book though, which one is it in…. I have like 4/5 of his….

    So glad you joined the conversation!


    Posted by dloitz | November 5, 2010, 5:06 pm
  8. Hi folks,

    Sorry it took me so long to respond! This has been a great discussion and I want to make sure we keep it going. I think some of the thoughts Stephen, Jaison, David, and EKJ have said about possible high school systems deserve to be in another post on high school structure. Thanks for all your comments!

    Dave, you mention my distrust of learning and learners – could you elaborate more on your perception of it? I had never thought about it that way; I can see how it may be true for myself, but I don’t know if it is in the same way you think it is. I do not believe that all students will teach themselves novel information and all of the perspectives regarding it any more than I believe that adults are interested in hearing other perspectives on issues (the partisan-ing of news channels supports me, of course). That makes me distrustful of learning (and the learners themselves), perhaps, because I expect most people to learn what they want to learn and in the perspective they are most comfortable with; in my view of education, pushing people outside of the comfortable zone and encouraging them to understand and work with viewpoints that are contrary to their own is critical.

    I also have a sense that a fair amount of people will choose distraction over learning when left entirely to themselves. I see it in little children, in the students I’ve had, and in my adult peers. Even well meaning people who desire to learn won’t do it unless there are other incentives : for some it is perceived competition, for some it is the shared experience in the classroom, for others having people they respect show interest and respect for their work, etc etc etc. It may be that you meant to question institutional education and I missed it. It goes towards a previous post I wrote : what amount and of what kind of schooling should society provide? What are the goals of such an educational program?

    I was also intrigued by the suggestion to restructure college first and work our way down – and also that you believe all reform is at the high school level. We have very different experiences there; but nonetheless, no one _is_ talking about college (or college admissions) reform – and it makes sense to have that renovated before we can meaningfully address high school. I think we can aim at grade school and middle school concurrently, though, as there isn’t such a clear dependency (unless you’re in a heavily tracked district, I suppose).

    Posted by Kevin | November 7, 2010, 7:36 pm
    • I wanted to challenge you a bit, to think about why you choose compulsion as one of the 4 frameworks of your school model. I will have to disagree that one needs compulsion and would instead say in the true authentic relationship of teacher and students there is a natural and organic process of promoting critically thinking and expanding the learning of both the individual and the group.We do this as Dewey said as a guide of experience or what Roszak called the natural educate dialogue of adult and children. I also guess I have a trust in humans that they will seek learning over distractions, if given the opportunity.Distractions as you describe them are products of society not of human nature.

      While I don’t agree with everything in the Summerhill or Sudbury Valley School model, they have shown that children will always choose to learn and often with a depth of understanding not allowed in schools where everything is given to them to learn.

      Also I would argue that one would not choice to learn for the sake of Learning. I am a graduate student at Goddard College and I personally spend my distraction time, learning and reading about education, often on this site. I do this not because I seek praise or rewards, money or even a job, though all of those can be nice, I do it because it gives me fulfillment. We often do not allow children or adults the space and environment to learn for fulfillment or meaning making, and but instead we require them to entering into learning that they have no attachment to or is not born out of the relationship of the community in which they live. I don’t discount the wisdom of the past or the present, and believe their is much that “should” be learned….but do believe it will only be “truly” learn by children and adult who are not only engaged in the discovering of it, but also in the need of it.

      I need to learn about education, schools, epistemology, life, cooking, basketball, the world, wisdom, spirituality…..etc…. not because I am required too, but because it is what living is for me. I do not disregard that most adults and children have been so schooled into a way of learning that we must help them unlearn it….but I do not think this state is a natural human state.

      This all lead to a more philosophical debate of why we educate our children at all, and again what is the purpose of school. My views and ideas are bias towards personal growth and for personal and ecological well-being.

      Do think this is a conversation that is highly lacking in the ed reform debate…. see Kirsten’s post…. but glad you opened it up here!

      Thanks for engaging me in dialogue and challenge me to think deeper about my ideas.


      Posted by dloitz | November 7, 2010, 8:12 pm
      • I agree with David that an urge towards learning and mastery exists without compulsion as an inherent facet of human nature. However, there are other, less beneficial, facets of human nature. Fear, shame, confusion, indecisiveness, helplessness, laziness, etc. These are moods and states all people face to some degree, including young people.

        Enter, the facilitator. Even the most prolific learners may sometimes need to be challenged by their peers and heroes to bravely face the outer rim of their Zone of Proximal Development.

        I love technology. We can use computers as a library-like resource, for communication, for documentation and tracking. However, there are some things computers simply can’t do. I believe the role of the facilitator, even in a student-self-directed environment, will be to challenge and guide students along their chosen paths. What else can we really do anyway?

        Posted by Jason Lacoste | January 9, 2012, 4:22 pm
  9. Hi David,

    I’m sorry to say, I really found your most recent response truly
    problematic. The idea that ‘the individual human being is innately good until society corrupts them’ (and the reverse, that humans are only ‘good’ when they form an equitable society to keep them in line) is a remnant of the 19th century that modern psychological/sociological theory has pretty thoroughly deconstructed. Distractions are real; people regularly do things they know are not beneficial to themselves, and people regularly do not do things that they want to do. That, along with having mere faith that people will choose to work hard to learn new things that may or may not be related to them is setting up your students for failure.

    Even if you want to blame “society” for corrupting them into preferring engaging, entertaining distractions over working hard to learn something that they may or may not value, you will be given kids every year that don’t have the self-motivated desire to learn that you expect. Will you ignore them because a third (or even two thirds if you are in a school that self-selects for this personality type) match what you desire?

    Really, though, I am most troubled that you seem to expect that each of your students is exactly like you deep down. This is the greatest pitfall for a teacher. It’s great that you (and I and most of the people on the Coop – again, a self-selected community) seek to independently learn about a gamut of different things, but thinking that everyone perceived the world like you do is a dangerous lie. Don’t get me wrong, you *will* find example students every year who are like you, and you can raise them up as a great success because they will connect completely with you. There will also be a good portion of the students who do the work and succeed in your class for other reasons (parents, peer groups, having internalized the belief that they need to do well in school); will you then just ignore the students who never understand what you’re saying or care about your singular worldview? Ignoring the variety in how people construct the world and what incentivizes learning will continue to expand the achievement gap and breed a new generation of kids that didn’t get anything out of school.

    There is a philosophical debate about why we educate our children, and what role do schools play in doing so. While we are waiting for that to happen, we need to acknowledge that students have different
    learning styles, different viewpoints, and different motivations– and that for most of them, it is not the same as our own.


    Posted by Kevin | November 8, 2010, 9:51 am
    • In some ways, I don’t disagree with you. Though I still do not and will not believe the best way to engage any student is compulsion. I do think there is a relationship of trust that is broken if compulsion is merely just a framework and not a authentic relationship of student to teacher. That is not to say that you do not challenge, request, demand that one try, act,or does something, but there must be a understanding that the children or the adult has the right to say no, that is not for me, that is not what i want to do, that is not fair.

      I do believe in self-ownership. I do believe children and adults will choose to learn, and I do highly disagree with you that somehow learning can’t be “engaging, entertaining”. If you can not find a reason as a teacher for a student to value their work, than what is the point of you being there or teaching them something of no value. Who’s value system is right?

      This is the conversation we should be having with are students, with our self, with fellow teachers. I am not claiming that my own value system is correct, my openness and flexibility in not a end in it self.

      I understand that some might need more rigid type of teaching to learn, some might not need a guide at all, others might need their hands led, others might be better in groups, and some might just never get the full power of reading or writing and need to be outside in the dirt, building something.

      I think as a teacher in a ideal setting we would allow for that space, that relationship, and that type of community to fullish. It could be called Utopian, but I do believe we would all choose to learn and grow, if given at least the few bottom levels of Marlow pyramid.

      I don’t believe that I must find little versions of me, I am widely aware that I might not even like all the children I work with, but I don’t believe the best way to help children learn is compulsion or nor it is some standard type of learning for all. You might not blame “society”, but i do believe it is as much as the problem as distraction….still confused about what you believe distractions are…. I think it is a problem with engagement and fulfillment, and students living and learning in a society that holds quick, sugary, mindlessness as a virtue. If anything the examples of distractions are just a sign that the children are great at learning, we can’t teach them one thing as a society and expect them to choose something that we only preach but don’t practice. We also live in a society that does not value education, meaning making and well-being….yet loves to pretend we do.

      and we I don’t think we solve any of the bigger society problems by compulsion….


      Posted by dloitz | November 8, 2010, 11:49 am
  10. David, I started off by writing “why do you keep talking about Compulsion?” and being rather indignant that you kept pulling it out of nowhere – but I looked back and see where you got it. I only mentioned the guidelines to get people talking about alternative educational models – it’s not part of my personal framework or belief system for education.
    Sorry for the confusion on that point and the lack of clarifying it earlier.

    On the other hand, I never did say that learning isn’t engaging and entertaining. I said distraction are engaging and entertaining (and implied they are easy to access): and they are. That doesn’t mean that learning is not, but given multiple options, some people will choose the easiest to access. It still seems that you are evaluating all students, their interests, and their motivation based solely on how you want to see yourself. Some kids eat the marshmallow (search for famous marshmallow test if you don’t know what I’m referencing); you’ll never get away from it (unless you ignore them).

    You say that you “understand that some might need” different environments to learn, but I haven’t seen any evidence of you actually providing that. Even in the way you’ve expressed it in the thread, you’ve claimed that students “aren’t ready for education” if they do not learn the way you want them to. That’s simply wrong. Students *actually do need* multiple learning environments and individual support to develop the ways in which they learn, not just lip service to it.

    I also believe it is important to have students spend some time in their “shadow” to foster understanding and respect for how others understand the world. Otherwise they’ll get out of an educational system that made them very good in thinking the way they started thinking and incapable of undesrtanding how other people conceive of things. This is the biggest problem I have with deschooling methodology. If schooling is entirely self directed, they will reinforce their preconceptions and predispositions, and we’ll never be able to work together as a nation. People watch Fox News and MSNBC because it reflects what they already want to believe, and it has disasterous consequences when a person’s entire environment is orbited by their self selected beliefs.

    > I don’t believe that I must find little versions of me, I am widely aware that I might not even like all the children I work with

    The important point that I was making is that a teacher needs to be very aware of how the students construct the world – not just whether or not they “like” the students. This is about learning styles and whether or not your teaching methodology will engage the students (I’m not talking about introvert/extrovert or visual/auditory/kinestic). What is important is that you are teaching in ways that postively interact with the existing cognitive frameworks within the students and challenge them to understand others. You can ask questions that encourage figuring out how things work all day and night, but that is not going to engage people who are interested in improving people’s lives or who are motivated by objectively tracking their progress or who are focused entirely on self-expression.

    If you are familiar with the MBTI, focusing on just the middle-two letters (Intuitive vs Sensing and Thinking vs ‘Feeling’) as a 4-square matrix can be worthwhile. Each pairing can be conceived of as a way in which a person builds a cognitive model, and making sure that all four quadrants are addressed in your classes and the projects you assign can go a long way to generate interest for all students. As with all models, it’s reductive and limiting and you should grow beyond it with experience, but it might be a good starting block.

    > students living and learning in a society that hold quick, sugary, mindlessness as a virtue. If anything the examples of distractions are just a sign that the children are great at learning

    David, this just sounds like stuff you’re reciting talks you’ve heard elsewhere. Are distractions mindless and worthless, or are they great teachers? Really, though, I know what you’re trying to say. I feel that you haven’t been listening to what I’ve been trying to say if you think I ever suggested that kids aren’t interested in learning or that they don’t learn readily.

    > We also live in a society that does not value education, meaning making and well-being….yet loves to pretend we do.

    If this is the case, it won’t matter how much you change your classroom, as society will be a better teacher and will convince the students that it is not important. Perhaps I’m more optimistic than you about society and more pessimistic than you about the “natural state” of children :). What it really is coming down to is that I feel that what you seem to be proposing is myopic and if implemented will just swing the group of children that the schooling system favors from the achievement-oriented elite to another narrow elite of students. That approach shifts the power, but doesn’t make education any more equitable, appealing, or successful for the vast majority of students.


    Posted by Kevin | November 8, 2010, 1:36 pm
    • Hey Kevin,

      Hope I am not over doing it….but I found a school that balance both our concerns in a way that I believe would allow for our different ideas to sing….la la la:) Sorry if this conversion was ever not playful…. I do like to play with ideas…. and often the written word can seem so cold and concrete…. but really my views tend or at least try to be flexible and playful…

      This is a school currently directed by Steve Miranda, a member of the Cooperative, in Seattle.
      I have not visited it and only know what I have read via their website, but do believe it seems to be a good model….

      I am going to invite Steve to this thread and let him give us a personal insights…
      But wonder what your reflection are….

      here is the school it is called the Puget Sound Community school…..

      also I am currently developing my own plan for a school I hope to open in the next 5-10 and so this type of conversation really helps me to feel out my ideas, so again thank you.


      Posted by dloitz | November 8, 2010, 3:41 pm
  11. Hey Kevin,

    I did realize that I was referring to just one line in your comment and not to your post at all, or to anything else in your writing. I do not mean to claim you believe this or that, but was hoping to have a conversation about the very things we are, compulsion, and role of the teacher. I honestly don’t think we are as far away from each other at all in terms of our views, and do welcome the challenges you offer in terms of the clarify my own views…. I think some of the confusion is due primary to the format in which we are engaging, I love the cooperative, but it will never replace face to face discussion.

    I agree 100% with you about the need to challenge and help student expand their world view, and that is what I believe is part of a authentic teacher to student relationship, I don’t think these type of relationships happen often.

    I do think we need alternative learning environments…. I believe there is a benefit to classroom time, a benefit to internship models, wilderness or expeditionary models, and self-directed learning and models I do not know about. I do believe that rote drill and kill is not the type of learning I would hope on anyone, but don’t claim that I know all.

    I don’t believe we can ethically claim to help children expand their views if it is your own view you wish to affirm, or so if it seems like that is what I am saying then I was unclear.

    My honest belief is that the best kind of education or school is one where student and teacher, student and student, student and community, and community and school are in a relationship of trust and respect, that is challenging, flexible, empowering and democratic. This type of school would not required compulsion for success, but understand that often one needs the push and pull of others to be able to continue to grow.

    From what I read, I don’t think we are far apart in these regards….but like you said we hold optimist in different areas.

    I am sorry if my line of questions or thoughts seem at all to be confused or misrepresenting you.

    I don’t think we have to agree and would hope that there is a place in the world for the many different types of school and communities and way of learning and being.

    I don’t wish to claim to have the right answer, just one of them.

    enjoying the back and forth,


    Posted by dloitz | November 8, 2010, 1:59 pm
  12. Also could you point to the place you pulled this quote

    “students “aren’t ready for education” if they do not learn the way you want them to. That’s simply wrong. Students *actually do need* multiple learning environments and individual support to develop the ways in which they learn, not just lip service to it”

    Because I would never claim students are not ready for education, if the don’t learn the way I want them too. My belief if far far far from that. I don’t believe in a separation of life and education, I think that they are one and the same. You might read my Personal Creed that I posted in April or May…. it might help to clarify my views….. and would love to read the same from you. I honestly do not know anything about you as a person and knowing that would only humanize this conversation more.

    Looking forward to getting to know you.


    Posted by dloitz | November 8, 2010, 2:12 pm
    • Hi Dave,

      As for the quote :

      Looking back, I took the “students aren’t ready for education” most specifically from when you said that maybe students shouldn’t be in a classroom and maybe working will serve their needs instead (Comment on 10/31).

      It looks like your intent was to along the lines of students learn in any environment and the traditional classroom isn’t always the best one. I think we’re agreed that the “traditional” classroom isn’t the best learning environment for many, but if the only other option is trying to enter the workforce as a young and unskilled laborer, that’s really dangerous precedent and policy. While the thought behind it is to recognize some students might learn better elsewhere (which is plenty true), it sounds like yet another program that will end up shipping off low achievers (or low self-actualizers 🙂 ) to someplace where they aren’t messing with the assessment strategies and forfeit their opportunities for signficant further advancement– like how the regional vo/tech schools functioned where I grew up (or the manual education schools for blacks functioned around the beginning of the 20th century).

      Posted by Kevin | November 9, 2010, 7:29 pm
      • Kevin,

        Thanks for your thoughtful replies, I guess we have different ideas about what opening up High School could mean to a degree, and totally hear what your saying about some “big ideas” just being used as another way to segregate student (not just those of color), but I guess i thinking more of examples that have shown that this does not need to be the case, I think the best example I can point to right now is Big Picture Learning schools network, and more importantly the MET school. They design their program for varying degrees of classroom time and outside the classroom time and do not segregate based on ability or needs, and more importantly passions or interests…

        I also understand your ideas about Liberal Arts education, but think it has not always worked the way you describe. It often means coverage over understanding….not even that great coverage. And While I took science classes…. I learned little that is retained, I could of easily learned these facts in a short period of time….. and instead focused on other areas, of more interest but also maybe more time in core area, I still struggle with… I have not been sold yet on the need for some of the higher core classes for all. Not that they should not be offer the chance to take them, or be tracked to vocation schools. But at this point in my life I have not need even the advance math I took…which I loved…. though I realized fast in school to mine my passion and use the school to get the most time possible to do them….even if they were not offered…. but unless this type of energy is offered time to develop in earlier grades….many might not be empowered to create place to pursue their interests, passions or even find out they don’t like something…..meaning making mistakes or challenging themselves to go outside their comfort zone….

        Also believe in Project Based Learning and do believe that the Liberal Arts can be taught in a more engaging and fulfilling way for both teacher and student… through them….

        Yet I have not taught in any graded school or curriculum based school yet….so I might be (am) bias to my own experience and relationships with children….. Retention of work is important and even more important is understanding of why and how to use what you know….. CES core values stress Using your mind well as a core standard. I think that is a good enough standard to try and reach….in school though I would go farther and say one most use their mind, body and heart well…. for personal and ecological well-being…..

        Yes, how can the coop expand the conversation…. I would love to have a COOP conference …. at some point….. but not sure how one would connect that…. maybe we don’t need it, and instead just use the coop for what it is, a place to play with ideas…..and use this playtime to effect change in our own communities and schools.


        Posted by dloitz | November 9, 2010, 8:14 pm
      • I think apprenticeship is a workable model both for students learning-on-the-job and for school-community partnerships. The idea isn’t hat school abrogates its responsibility to the children, but that it takes on more responsibility for matching them with learning experiences inside and outside the classroom that serve their wants and needs in non-standardized ways, which typically fail to address struggling students wants and legitimate needs. It’s not as if graduating high school makes one a skilled laborer unless an effort is made to build up quality vocational and entrepreneurship programs like CATEC. I also think that there are plenty of self-actualizers who would gladly leave high school for an apprenticeship option that fit their wants and needs better, such as interning in game design or at a volunteering hospital.

        If school really took the “calling” piece of vocational education seriously, it wouldn’t standardize “rigorous” course progressions, either. There would be as many tracks as there are students, and everyone would know what it’s like to interact as a learner, employee, and citizen in his or her community.

        It was viewing work/vocational ed as a program for “low-achievers” that allowed me to graduate high school completely incapable of doing things until I had to learn as an adult employee, bank-customer, car owner, and home-owner – as well as kept me from making things as a form of self-expression.

        I would argue, also, that traditional, general curriculum high schools do not often prepare one for the work one wants to do.


        Posted by Chad Sansing | November 10, 2010, 10:49 am
  13. This is an interesting and intimate conversation. Thus, it’s with some trepidation that I join it; I hope I do not seem intruding, obnoxious, or overbearing. I’m going to engage with a couple of ideas that stood out to me in the exchange between Kevin and David, but I am in no way directly ascribing any of the ideas to either of them.

    I don’t believe we have any kind of useful research base comparing the effects of public schools with different missions. Most of our most cited studies (Marzano, KIPP) have to do with traditional practices that affect learning outcomes. I would love to see a 15-year national innovation initiative like RttT that gave money to districts with the boldest plans for reinventing curriculum instruction, and assessment and furthermore funded a study comparing the high education, employment, and life-outcomes of students in these districts with those of a control group in traditional districts.

    That people do get distracted and do things they don’t like doesn’t mean that different and positive learning outcomes couldn’t come from schools that embrace the former and eschew the latter. The typically narrow bands of students that connect with any given type of teacher might broaden given years of more customized, inquiry-based instruction than are currently available to American public school students. Moreover, there is no reason to assume that a sane, humane, inquiry-driven education wouldn’t lead students to discover and act on the inequities in their communities and world, nor is there reason to assume that such a system designed to offer that kind education would produce any more selfish or less aware graduates than we do now.

    To put it another way, is there a difference between setting goals for students and doing everything in our power to make sure they make it and letting students set their own goals and doing everything in our power to help students achieve those goals? Is it compulsion enough – or too much – to insist that students continually set goals?

    The school system that helps the most students achieve the most for themselves and their communities must lie somewhere between the poles of a standardized didacticism and idiosyncratic inquiry. I suspect it lies closer to the idiosyncratic side than the didactic.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 8, 2010, 2:34 pm
  14. Looking over your post again…. I think your thoughts are right on! I wonder if you had a chance to check out the school I mention earlier…. I have been toying with writing a post about what I would call “Choose your adventure learning” I don’t think it would have to be strictly for just individual learners, but be guided by teachers and with groups. It wouldn’t have to be as scripted as Choose your own adventure books are, but offer the same type of tangent based learning….

    I played this game on my ipad.. (we should do a post about distraction…. as it seems to provide a interesting topic of discussion)…..

    The game is called word associated something like that.

    You start with one word and you figure out words that are associated with that word….when you do, a mind map type web shoots out and you have to now figure out words that relay to multiple words etc…. with all the connection being both clues and part of the challenge…. It is ever expanding or at least until the game says it done….

    In a way, it reminds me of Project Based Learning done in Expeditionary Learning Schools and something that I think highly of.

    I think it can be a approach that could be structure for vary degrees and types of participation and learning environments. It would also help to challenge to expand their world views, and experience levels. It would allow teachers to have varying roles in helping, guiding or giving knowledge, skills or techniques. It would open the doors to the world and help provide both passion based learning or problem based learning. It could even be based around standards if that is what was thought to be important. There would be have to be some discussion about depth and staying long enough in one experience so that there is understanding and not just a tourist/checklist version…. but I think it is well worth experimenting with and would help to remove the mindset that learning needs to be passive and bound to what is already known….

    Sorry to take our adventure on such a different tangent….but I learned a lot along the way back to the original destination.


    Posted by dloitz | November 8, 2010, 2:39 pm
  15. Hi Chad! Welcome to the conversation.

    David and Chad,

    wrt David asking for some sense of my beliefs on schooling

    At this point I’d love to attach my Phil of Schooling, but it’s in shambles as I’ve been preparing to apply to PhD programs. My views on education for the individual students focus on a self-directed, inquiry-based model that I think we are similar enough that I don’t need to elaborate on. However, as I’ve gained more experience, I’ve noticed my values in education becoming much more relational and dialogic. In addition to the above, I also believe that schools need to engage all cognitive frameworks so that *all* students can succeed, and schools need to educate all students to understand and collaborate with people who have different frameworks, worldviews, and perspectives. In that degree, educational equity (not in the class/race context that the dialogue usually shows up as; but in a perspectives/worldview/learning styles/experiential way) has increasingly gained importance with me.

    Along those lines, I am always looking to expand the dialogue and to welcome contrasting voices— and I am deeply suspicious of communities that have the same viewpoint because of their (usu.) tendency to opponentize other viewpoints and then demonize their opponents. The Coop is not exempt from that (Chad might see this thread of concern in some previous comments of mine he’s seen).

    As I suggested in my last comment, I have seen all too often that when a minority viewpoint gain influence, they swing the “pendulum” against the people who thrive in the other system, thereby establishing themselves as the “correct and modern” elite, punishing the most recent incorrect one, and leaving everyone else equally disadvantaged. I believe the pendulum itself is a lie – the are so few things that are on a one-dimensional continuum that I’d prefer the metaphor disappeared altogether.

    Hope that helps :).

    Thanks for the link to PSCS – I very much like the many “approaches” that they provide for the students. They seem to be committed to the model (I noticed that students who wish to have a diploma can choose to fulfill the state’s educational requirements)

    wrt Chad asking whether an inquiry driven program wouldn’t naturally lead to increased awareness and social consciousness

    First, let me say that I’m not satisfied to simply say “better than the current system.” If we are going to invest the massive amounts of economic, social, and epistemological capital into providing real educational reform, I’m sure going to want something better than “not quite abysmal” 🙂 .

    But when we talk about increasing one’s own awareness of how other’s construct the world, I do believe that the average individual isn’t very motivated to challenge their own conception of the world, for lots of reasons: many aren’t aware that there are significant differences between their and others, most are comfortable with their own views being valid or correct and don’t see a reason to learn about an alternative that can be no more valid. It’s also a fairly vague and ill-defined world, and that alone won’t interest people when faced with all sorts of things that can be more individually rewarding to “learn” about.

    I think it’s a drawback to self-direction that we don’t often address. When you really do put self-direction at the core of the educational system, you dismantle any pretense of the core of the liberal arts/interdisciplinary movements. People committed to life-learning are still widely compartmentalized and tend to settle into a few topics and shy away from others. I know if I was given free reign in middle school, I would never have finished reading another novel, and if in high school, I never would have taken a course in psych/sociology/education. Presently, I have degrees in Computer Science, English Literature, and Education. Again, I really don’t think that, with the body of knowledge that we have about human motivation and psychology, we would be dishonest to say that students will simply pursue their own broad based learning across all subjects regardless. If we start them young enough, they may very well choose to study what their parents do or what they are told will be useful for them from adults (time to re-read the first chapter of the Little Prince). By the time they are making their own evaluation, they’ll be into so many interesting topics in what they started in earlier and won’t tolerate the foundation building for the stuff they left behind. I can provide an amusing example with me and swing dancing but this paragraph is getting long. Do you guys see what I’m talking about; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    wrt Choose your own adventure learning

    David, I saw you mentioned this earlier in the thread, and I think it has a great potential.

    wrt Chad’s suggesting of a national initiative for a 15 year long study for reinventing curriculum.

    I love it. How do we make it happen?

    Ok, I’ve been sitting on the draft without adding anything meaningful all afternoon, and so I’ll post it. I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of things as there has been a lot that was said and a lot f that I’ve wanted to say. I agree with you, David, that the comment thread is not the best place for conversation. So what should the next step for the Coop be to build new methods of interaction 🙂 ?


    Posted by Kevin | November 9, 2010, 7:01 pm
    • Thanks for the in-depth reply, Kevin. I’d argue that there’s a wider diversity of opinion here than our mission suggests. If only Aaron would come back and comment on my posts, sniffle. In fact, Aaron and I started this group to poke fun at one another and challenge one another’s ideas. On the site and across contributors’ blogs, see also: Waiting for Superman, the charter debate, and beliefs about learners.

      I’d also argue that our predisposition to selfish compartmentalization comes in part from a school system that pushes this worldview. For the record, I have never made an argument that more self-directed learning would at least be better than what we have now. It would completely eclipse what we have now in terms of relevance, rigor, authenticity, and life outcomes for students and their communities. I’m not interested in swinging the pendulum. The spectrum we’re on is inadequate to the task of re-imagining schools; it’s a limited arc. Working in public education, I can’t quite ignore it, but I can encourage students to grab the pendulum and swing it and play catch in more multi-dimensional ways than those described by a typical arc.

      I think also that the world is becoming more connected, though schools are not. Value-added jobs are more interdisciplinary, though school is not. School is a concept and community deeply invested in one view of process and success.

      There’s no reason to abandon universal education, literacy, and numeracy, but there are plenty of reasons to abandon how we currently approach those goals, and plenty of reasons to add customization and joy to the work of teaching and learning.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | November 10, 2010, 11:00 am


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