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An Open Letter to Educators

Take a look at this YouTube video from Dan Brown: “An Open Letter to Educators”:

Dan dropped out of college because, as he said, “my schooling was interfering with my education.” As he describes a typical college class and makes a passionate and positive plea for real education for the 21st century, do you find yourself in sympathy? I certainly do. When information is a click away, don’t we really need thinkers, innovators, visionaries, developers, creators and solutionaries far more than we need memorizers? And shouldn’t school foster and instill these critical qualities as it’s primary goal, rather than perpetuate the rote memorization approach to learning.

I’ve posted James Randi’s TED talk on my blog before, but it’s worth a look again. Graduating a generation who can spew out facts, but not think critically about them; who know information, but not how to tell if it’s accurate; who believe what they’re told and fail to take responsibility for the truth of those beliefs, is a potentially dangerous generation, especially at a time when critical and creative thinking are the keys to a safe and healthy future. Graduating a generation of solutionaries, however, ready and able to think deeply AND broadly, so that we can create a restored and humane world, is a worthy goal for schooling.

It’s nice to see Dan Brown thinking critically about his own education and taking responsibility for it.

Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education

About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.


6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Educators

  1. Bravo. Someone who makes sense. Finally.

    Posted by bzeines | December 17, 2010, 3:05 pm
  2. I caught this video a while back, but it’s definitely worth revisiting. Thank you, Zoe.

    I’ve been working on a post about the uncanny duality we face in education: we don’t graduate to learn; we graduate to earn. For now there exists a profoundly tangible correlation between academic “achievement” and earnings. It seems like those born to money or entrepreneurship are best able to afford the luxury of leaving school to do something else; most of our students aren’t in circumstances that allow for much self-directed anything. How we free them should be of utmost concerns to us a people and school system.

    I believe in the progressive tenets of democratic education for all students. If we are ever to affect such a system nationwide, we will need to take great pains to extend the opportunities of inquiry, mentoring, and democracy to all students and not allow another de facto gap to exist by dint of school choice. I worry that even with radical school choice we’ll wind up with what we have now: affluent schools offering different kinds of learning and impoverished schools offering one kind of learning in an attempt to catch up. We can’t catch up to freedom and inquiry by mastering content.

    We have to let go of the myth of the well-rounded student (an adult construct) and give over our hearts and minds to helping students become capable-self-directed learners and citizens.

    Public schools, in particular, have to make a great leap into student-centered customization or else as more parent-friendly school choice laws come to pass and money eventually follows the students, public schools will still be the least desirable and least democratic alternatives available to families with enough money returned to them by the federal government to send their kids to private schools, corporate schools, apprenticeships, and homeschooling and unschooling coöps.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 18, 2010, 10:09 am
  3. Zoe, Here is a sassy response to Dan Brown also worth viewing.

    Chad, you might want to check out David Labaree’s new book, Someone Has To Fail

    and the Teachers College Press review of the book, which describes how schooling has historically been both a public and private good, with many contradictions therein. Both an open, meritocratic system and a way rationing access, both expansive and also inclusive…

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “In this very well written and documented book, David Labaree provides a succinct answer to the vexing question about American education: why does it not do what we want it to? Why are we always in an educational crisis and working to reform it? His answer: because we ask it to do contradictory things. Building on his 1996 article, “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals,” and his more recent book, Education, Markets, and the Public Good (2007), Labaree argues that the public good is served by extending opportunity, expanding enrollments, and making education inclusive for all Americans. Yet, from the country’s beginning, education has also provided a private good, a market for consumers to purchase advantage in the process of becoming [educated] adults. Educational credential attainment became the device for rationing access to desirable positions in society—officially, individual achievement trumped class, gender, and race. Educational credentials have become the coin of the realm; however, their distribution is very unequal—the advantaged do much better in obtaining a valued education. “We focus on making the system inclusive at one level and exclusive at the next, in order to make sure that it meets demands for both access and advantage” (p. 256). We expect education to extend opportunity and at the same time to offer exclusivity to some. How can it do both at the same time?” (Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 10, 2010 ID Number: 16229)

    Sometimes our arguments about reform fail to take these complexities, these paradoxes into account. Part of what makes the system so difficult to transform is that it serves both of these contradictory ends at once, and has mythology, belief and deeply-embedded practice attached to each. Don’t you think?

    Posted by Kirsten | December 20, 2010, 4:17 pm
  4. Expansive and EXCLUSIVE, I meant.

    Posted by Kirsten | December 20, 2010, 4:18 pm


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