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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

If You Were A Learning Entrepreneur

Folks,  This is cross-posted at Teacher Magazine.  I am trying something out here and I really would love your comments and thoughts.

If you were a learning entrepreneur, you would consider school part of your “balanced portfolio” of learning experiences, but one and only one venue for learning some kinds of things.  If you were a learning entrepreneur, you would craft a lifelong learning plan that helped you chart your cognitive, social and practical learning goals over your lifespan.  (These goals would change a lot, but you’d still have a view of them year to year.)  If you were a learning entrepreneur, you would see yourself as the manager of your own learning, authorized to use hundreds of different tools to get the information and skills you need, and you’d have a sense of how and when to ask for help.  If you were a learning entrepreneur, you would understand the importance of finding mentors and key supporters to challenge you to get good at what you are doing, and you would encourage others to step up into their own learning.  If you were a learning entrepreneur, you would think of every day as an exciting opportunity to learn something.

Are you a learning entrepreneur?  Does your school allow you to be a learning entrepreneur?  Does the classroom you’re in encourage kids to be entrepreneurs of their own learning?  Do you think of your learning as one of the most vital and important aspects of your life?  Are you the “owner” of your own learning?  Steve Mariotti, the founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an organization that teaches the entrepreneurial skills of business to kids who are not wealthy, and do not go to fancy schools, says the power of entrepreneurship is that it challenges kids to be “owners” instead of outsiders, risk takers and responsible, instead of passive recipients.  Since a lot of conventional schools, and traditional instruction still reward passivity and compliance, and encourage kids to accept someone else’s evaluation of them, there is tremendous educational value in owning your own learning. When you own something, you are the creator of it.  Instead of being outside, you are the agent, you are responsible, your rewards are commensurate with the risks you are willing to take, and the effort you are willing to make.

As those who hang out at here, and at #edchat and EduCon and thousands of blogs say all the time, education is walking away from this thing we call “school”– increasingly, inevitably, inexorably.  As dozens of books, social media philosophers, and everyday folks have discovered, the old-fashioned power the institution to define valuable knowledge, to purvey specific content, and to determine how the student learns, and how the learner is to value him or herself within that institution, is increasingly challenged.  Anya Kamenetz notes in DIY U, “Changing education makes people really, really nervous.  In a shakeup, the current elites have the most to lose.” Whether you think this decoupling of learning from institutions of education is a fabulous new world, or a frightening turn towards social chaos and intellectual superficiality–the movement is happening right now, everywhere, every school day in every wikispace, edmodo platform, friend request and tweet.

As the educational sector struggles to adapt to these challenges to its authority and utility, what are individual learners to do?  What are they doing?  Back in the 1970s, before the Internet, social media and social entrepreneurship, one of most profound critics of education ever, Ivan Illich, described something he called learning webs.  In a deschooled life, Illich proposed, individual learners would educate themselves through apprenticeships and communities of practice, in “webs of learning,” created by the learner and his or her larger community. We are fooled, Illich felt, by the perceived need to be educated in school–education as an institution serves its own purposes and is intent on insuring its own survival, whatever the costs to the learner. As those of us who get around in the socioeconomic strata that describes schooling, in well-heeled schools, for children of privilege, freedom to learn what one wants, and in relation to who one is or might become, is much greater than for poor kids, where KIPP-like behavior regimes, and sitting in SLANT and tracking the speaker are becoming the norm. What does it say to a child about the nature of learning when the most important messages to children in class are how to hold the teacher in his or her gaze with utter and fixed attention, where 100% attention is an absolute good?  Is a child the owner of his or her own learning, in a profound sense, when “there’s one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent.  Less, and your authority is subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation.” (That’s Doug Lemov, in Teach Like A Champion.)

As school as we know it breaks up on the shoals of its own inflexibility, redundancy, and unwillingness to engage in reflection on the meaning of its current favored practices, students need to become learning entrepreneurs–to begin to write their own business plans for their learning, to analyze their learning lives, and to be taught the skills of risk taking and reinvention. Children at the K-12 level need new models for conceiving of learning in their lives–models that are lifelong, emphasize the necessity for flexibility and creativity around the developmental nature of learning, models that embolden the learner to be more risk-taking and self-authorized, models that challenge children to discover and model best practices and important bodies of knowledge, but do not see acquisition of them as the purpose of education.

Being a learning entrepreneur combines some of the freedom of unschooling, which conceives of the whole world as a curriculum designed for learning, with the intentionality of business planning:  what is your goal? What are your unit costs? What raw materials or skills do you need to achieve your plan?  Unlike one-on-one learning, which is still organized around laptops and avenues of information acquisition, or full-time virtual learning, which requires extensive parental involvement and resembles school-at-home; becoming a learning entrepreneur is a mind-shift, a movement towards collective engagement in learning that is not attached to a particular institution, set of courses, or authorizing body. It is, in the words of Tony Baldasaro, a trouble-making principal of a virtual high school in New Hampshire, about, “passion based-learning models.”

Our minds, our fears, and our lack of models, are our greatest barriers to learning entrepreneurship, not the absence of tools to achieve the vision.  Who are the greatest learners you have known in your life?  What made them great? What do you admire about them as learners?  How can you adapt these qualities to your own learning projects, right now, where you are, knowing what you know now?  As we work towards describing the how, and the what of learning entrepreneurship, lowering students’, parents’ and teachers’ conceptual barriers to learning entrepreneurship is the greatest hurdle.

Where are these learning entrepreneurship models developing?  Everywhere.  The Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation profiles schools all over the world that see the development of passionate learning as central. “All that matters is what the experience becomes for students.”  Or as iconic entrepreneur Richard Branson recently said, “My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself.  I see life almost like one long university education that I never had.  Every day I’m learning something new.”

Do you see learning at the center of your life?  Are you conceptually bold enough, hardheaded enough, and persistent enough to become a learning entrepreneur?

About Kirsten Olson

I'm writer and educational activist. I work in public, charter, private, unschools. I'm here for the learning revolution.


32 thoughts on “If You Were A Learning Entrepreneur

  1. Wow! So inspired by this. As some might know I have been working on my own model for a school as part of my work for Goddard College. This makes me what to push the walls out even further! Thank you!

    Kirsten, I might ask where have you seen schools like this? and/or how would a school like this helps to not repeat what happens often in the world of business?

    If you look at the business world you see many small businesses that started with noble ideas get corrupted by the need to get bigger and bigger and make more more more… the greed clouds the roots or purpose of the goal…. the individual no longer is part of a whole but only looking out for their goals, their wealth….it is not about partnership, but pure ownership in a I OWN, YOU don’t… This is not exactly what your are talking about about but often see this in modern High School driven by individual goals and achievements? How is this different?

    How do we balance the needs of the individual learner with the understanding that we are social learners? Can we just disregard the need to work together or that the individual with know how to find the skills to work as with others groups to achieve the betterment of the world or solve problems? Once the walls are gone what do we do then? I know Holt and others have lack the reach to put models like this in to practice?

    What terms might we use other than entrepreneur to describe this type of learning? What do we do when business economic ideas cloud the larger purpose of learning?

    Excited to go deeper into these ideas.


    PS What does your learning plan look like?

    Posted by dloitz | March 4, 2011, 5:18 pm
  2. nice post sweet. i love it. spot on.

    exactly what we have been working toward, within the public school system. i just started working on this – ownership and choice is key.

    hurry up with that book.. or heck. let’s just go on the road..

    Posted by monika hardy | March 4, 2011, 10:16 pm
  3. I think I’ve managed outsider, but not owner, Kirsten – I don’t know that I’m at a good place to assume that risk, just in terms of timing.

    If I were able to take on entrepreneurship, I think I would focus on making the mobile killer app for learners, schools, and communities to use in networking with one another and exchanging learning opportunities with one another – something to make it easy for communities to show schools what else they could be doing.

    Otherwise, I’d think about a small consultancy of edupreneurs gathered to help schools support their vanguards through some kind of holistic design process including partnerships in curriculum and grant writing, program housing, staffing, and implementation.

    I really don’t want to move out of public education until it has changed, somehow, for the better. I’m not sure how to own that public service apart from speaking up and acting out as a shareholder.

    Suggestions, Coöp?

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 5, 2011, 12:19 pm
    • Chad, what’s the difference between outsider and owner? It feels important for me to know that.

      One of the things I love about this blog is that everyone is in the place you describe, “I don’t want to more out of public education until it has changed, somehow for the better.” As I’ve said many times, the radical educators from the 1960s and 70s I’ve studied so hard all eventually moved out of the system. Does giving individuals the tools, the concepts and the sense of the right to craft their own learning intensify pressure on the system to improve, or further weaken it by encouraging the most active choosers to debark?

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 5, 2011, 12:52 pm
      • I think of it like the difference between glitching and programming. I can maneuver in the system to produce some unexpected – but not impossible or impermissible – outcomes. I know the rules well enough to devise new strategies on the field and to exploit the system’s obscured flexibilities.

        However, I’m not playing a game others and I created on a field we own. I know the maneuvering, not the making.

        I’m beginning to think the way to go is to begin as an activist or builder –


        Posted by Chad Sansing | March 5, 2011, 8:50 pm
  4. David, I am at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Alumni of Color Conference at this moment so am answering your fantastic and absolutely right on questions hastily. (I wish many of us COOPsters were at this conference, where Dr. Patricia Hill Collins gave an incredible address last night on creating coalitions of conscience around SOCIAL JUSTICE instead of identity politics, and the great Mexican educator and reformer Gabriel Camara spoke about the reform of 9000 rural schools in Mexico around the idea of “the satisfaction experienced in good learning.” Much more to say.)

    I too am struggling with moving the metaphors for learning into a specifically capitalist realm of languaging, in which “individual profit” is at the center and growth, and only growth (getting more for oneself or one’s tribe is the best and central goal)–because learning happens with others, in relation to others, and is created and mediated by cultural and social understandings. (Thank you Vygotsky.)

    On the other hand, as we struggle with the sense of learners of all kinds trapped in a system in which they feel profoundly othered, dislocated, and disconnected from the animating pleasure of learning, I have been inspired by (say) the ways in which the National Foundation for TEaching Entrepreneurship has captivated and transformed literally thousands of kids lives. In terms of our culture, the concept of “ownership” is powerful, comprehensive, immediately understood. What if we applied that to learning?

    I am describing models for this as part of the next book I am writing. I am relying on you and others here to workshop some of these ideas as they develop, to learn publicly and think out loud, “To follow the learning right to the end,” as Gabriel Camara says about kids in rural Mexico who get very captivated by what they are learning about.

    In solidarity,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 5, 2011, 12:44 pm
  5. Monika, Just went to ConnectED. This work is truly inspiring, and exactly what I am writing about now.

    Road trip to see you?


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 5, 2011, 12:47 pm
  6. Kirsten,
    I loved this post because it speaks to what I’ve been trying to do for the last few months, which is to create my own learning plan since I didn’t feel I was getting what I needed to grow in my work environment. Not that it was bad, just that it wasn’t giving me what I needed so I started searching “out there” for other connections and I’ve found them. Can schools provide this kind of space for its learners, both teachers and students? I think they should but unfortunately the direction that education is taking is diametrically opposed to this idea. A shame, I think but maybe not. We cannot get everything from one person so maybe the same idea holds for the institutions and organizations we are connected to. Just some thoughts.

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | March 5, 2011, 1:39 pm
  7. Great post; I share your doubts about “SLANT” and behavior micromanagement in theory, but when you see a KIPP classroom in action and compare it with the chaos that prevails in many classrooms, one has to acknowledge that more learning is happening in the KIPP classroom. Also, as a teacher of 9th and 10th graders, I have found many of the tips in Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion” to be incredibly valuable. I don’t take it to the full KIPP level, but I do wait for students’ eye contact before proceeding with a direction to the class – the results are much better than the alternative, which is allowing 50%+ of students to ignore the direction and having to repeat it.

    As for your ideas about lifelong learning (or “learning entrepreneurship,” as you call it), I am currently writing a book a similar idea; you may be interested in checking out my blog, Wide Awake Minds: Thank you for your insights and for helping to raise awareness about the idea of self-education.

    Posted by Ryan M | March 5, 2011, 2:43 pm
    • Hey Ryan, Okay, I just subscribed to your blog and I’m so glad to know about you.

      I too understand the value of the order you describe in a KIPP vs non-KIPP school, and am sympathetic to many of the helpful precepts that Lemov and his band of warriors offer. Really. And I HAVE been in many KIPP schools, and have hung out talking with students, teachers and leaders in them. I hear you.

      My issue is that the long-term consequences of highly controlling instructional environments and school cultures are specifically off the table among many KIPP, Uncommon School, and TFA leaders. Lemov, for instance, repeatedly states in Teach Like A Champion that he has no “philosophy,” and that he doesn’t have time for philosophy–get on with it, just teach better, is his point. But all teachers have some theory in use about teaching and learning, and the nature of human beings within that, whether they are conscious of it or not. Lemov’s theory in use is that constant monitoring is necessary, absolute compliance produces best results, the authority of the teacher must never be questioned, and do everything FAST, because fast is best.

      That is a philosophy. If you aren’t willing to hold up your philosophy to examination, and to consider its long term consequences for students in your class, I have a problem. Again, much more to be said.

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 6, 2011, 11:01 pm
  8. John Holt once described a system where learners would be able to move from one learning experience to another and debit an account that each child would use as “their portfolio”. An educational credit card as it were. I like this concept, if and only if the access and equity issue could be solved. One way may be for students whose needs are high to begin with a higher balance for them to make up the difference in their learning opportunity shortage. What Holt didn’t have was the incredible access to information, technology, and customized learning. I see a convergence of progressive forces, individualized learning and a the ability to deliver these services through innovative means. What we need to prevent is the growing gap between the kids who have access and those who don’t. I am very concerned about the digital divide increasing inequalities. We need to fight for students in underrepresented communities, urban and rural, making it a priority that they get what they need to be successful.

    One way that we have been successful getting resources is using and leveraging the Federal E-rate program at our school to build a incredible Internet backbone. Currently we have a 100 meg pipe coming into the school. We setup 50 for students and 50 for the school. Students can bring in their own technology and use the resource for projects. Yet, when I talk to other schools they don’t apply for this resource and leave thousands of dollars on the table that their students need.

    Posted by Jamie Steckart | March 5, 2011, 5:01 pm
    • Jamie, Access–opportunity for learning, for me, is at the center of this, just as you name. (And thank you for any reference to John Holt. Maybe we can put together a John Holt conference?) Those who are already most privileged would (and do) take most advantage of these new freedoms. I am impressed by your big pipe. Do students who need it most take advantage of it?

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 6, 2011, 11:07 pm
  9. Kirsten,

    What I take away from this post is a new synthesis. I see the potential to put the values associated with SLANT and unschooling at opposite ends of a spectrum (not that your explicitly are) and I think this would be a mistake.

    There is nothing wrong with holding an expectation for any person in the world, student or otherwise, to sit-up, listen, ask questions, nod, and say thank you (SLANT). Of course this shouldn’t be the only thing we ask of another.

    This is a baseline polish of social etiquette that the world could use more of. How many times are you interrupted in meetings? In general, we have lost the ceremony of social interaction. Kids are often speaking to one another in drug references “what’s good?”, and posturing for violence, “what’s poppin?” Adults don’t say thank you or excuse me as they push by you in the grocery store, and as you well know, being from the Boston area, Kirsten, they sure as hell aren’t being gracious on the roads.

    So, I stress this point, because I think we often lose the rigor and importance of social ceremony needed when we begin trashing techniques designed to reinforce them. Now, this can go too far, everything needs to be applied with balance and in a timely fashion.

    Also, to be a successful entrepreneur, isn’t social intelligence and grace often an important component? Can’t this be emphasized as important as well as self-determined learning?

    Anyone who lacks social intelligence–manners–is going to be at a disadvantage, especially someone who doesn’t have access to material resources. This lack of polish, of tacit social awareness, can be a real detriment to those trying to get out of hard situations. I saw it frequently when I worked with homeless youth. Kids that employed SLANT-like behaviors did far better to improve their situation then those who didn’t.

    I know this is what you were going for in this post, Kirsten, but it’s what obviously struck a cord in me. I dig the term and concept learning entrepreneur, this is what I am.

    I think the co-op should work together on developing an educational structure that supports learning entrepreneurs. There’s some already out there, we can co-opt those and build on them or start from scratch. Why don’t we put out some coherent toolkits, models, or guides, developed from the wealth of knowledge and resources buried in the 300+ posts here on the blog?

    Posted by Adam Burk | March 5, 2011, 7:05 pm
    • Adam, With a very polite wave I am yielding the right of way to you! You are so right.

      About SLANT I have said a bit above. There are thousands of powerfully good things about knowing how to behave as a learner. There are also consequences to existing in a very, very highly controlled intellectual environments for the learner, over the long run, on the spirit, on cognitive development, on one’s sense of agency. So I acknowledge both benefits and profound consequences–and the need for discussion of them. That’s what I’m saying, we need to talk about this. Also because a lot of the social and racial dynamic of these schools is upper middle class and middle class teachers, often young and idealistic, “doing right” for very poor kids by controlling their behavior exquisitely well has some colonialist implications that are also very rarely on the table for talk. That troubles me very much.

      I would love us to put coherent toolkits, models and guides together around the concept of learning entrepreneurship. That’s exactly what I’m working on in the next book and hoping for collaborators for here. Which is already happening, proving the point about how ideas develop in our new world. Let’s do it.

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 6, 2011, 11:18 pm
  10. Ryan and Adam, I appreciate your comments about SLANT and I, too, acknowledge the value of positive interpersonal relationships to learning. What I read in Kirsten’s post is a criticism of approaches to instruction and behavior management that privilege the teacher and a limited scope and sequence of instruction and assessment at the expanse of the student and lost opportunities for learning.

    My students and I have built exceptional trust over the course of our years together. While we don’t get the relationship piece right every day, we are a community. In our interpersonal interactions they and I both expect positive engagement from one another. There are interpersonal skills that benefit us in our learning, but they benefit us so much more in dialogue with one another than they do when one of us plays captive audience to the other.

    The next bit is just me thinking out loud.

    We all love classrooms that encourage civil discourse; we all value equality and humility in relationships between learners.

    I imagine I also speak for us in saying we love classrooms where teachers pay as much attention to students as students do to teachers, and that we’re less enamored of classrooms that single kids out for exclusion, humiliation and/or punishment when kids fail to behave just so. I’m not commenting on any particular classroom or school here, but there are systems at some traditional public schools and at some charter schools that accept the ritual compliance that comes with SLANT-like approaches in place of the messy and sometime spirited human dialogue and engagement in more authentic and inquiry-driven learning environments.

    Learning to treat one another well should be part of what we do when we learn together; insisting that students revere us before we deign to begin instruction should not. We have to build relationships; we can’t insist on them. An entrepreneur has to build a relationship to get a client’s attention and business; he or she can’t require a potential client to sign an agreement to practice SLANT during a sale pitch or stop the pitch repeatedly to chastise the client for inattentive behavior. SLANT can’t be a blame-the-audience excuse for educators or entrepreneurs seriously engaged in self-reflection and improvement.

    What would we have here if everyone had to sign a SLANT agreement?

    Adam, let’s talk more about targeted curation and publishing from the archives –

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 5, 2011, 8:40 pm
  11. Chad, just to add to your thinking, I wonder, can really powerful learning, deeply engaged learning in which all parties are aware that they are being transformed by the interaction that is occurring, happen if there is not equality and humility between the parties? That a sense of vulnerability, and openness, and a willingness to be changed by YOU is in fact at the heart of the exchange? That whatever our external positionality, we are in fact, co-journeyers?

    In solidarity and humility,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 6, 2011, 11:23 pm
  12. I love the idea of a Learning Entrepreneur (Edupreneur? No that’s pretty lame). It seems to me that for an Entrepreneur to be successful they need to have the freedom to pursue their own goals and their plans to reach those goals. They also need access to resources and people. In an ideal form this vision fundamentally transforms the entire school system, but I wonder if we can create significantly more flexibility within an enclosed school campus. What if teachers taught courses they were passionate about, and the student body were free to attend whatever classes were of interest to them? Or perhaps students would have access to a set of school campuses, thus increasing the amount of choices available to them? Or do we make teachers completely beholden to the interests of the children, doing whatever they request? Or do we even have formal teachers anymore in this environment?

    Kirsten, I guess what I’m struggling with is the question, are you thinking within the context of a system with mandatory high stakes testing? Do you see any mandatory requirements of all learners within this system? Or by pursuing this are we asking for a fundamental deconstruction of schools as we know them?

    Posted by Corey Brooks | March 8, 2011, 12:53 am
    • Hey Corey, thank you for joining us here. Coopsters, Corey is a fabulous masters student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who is going to teach in Baltimore next year, and going to try out some of his ideas (many of the type we have here) in his classes. I’m hoping he’s going to blog about it here, so we can all join in in learning along with him.

      In regard to your questions, I’d say see Kim Farris-Berg’s comment below. Kim has actually been engaged for the last year in researching how kids feel about their learning. What I imagine is that gradually “learning” will be less and less constructed around anything that looks like conventional school. Maybe kids go to school in some places to learn how to read, and then move out into doing essential questions kinds of explorations for the next several years–sometimes coming to school, sometimes engaging with learning groups around the globe that they connect with online, sometimes being overseen sometimes by teacher coaches. Increasingly, there will be no one right way to do schooling, as more and more options for engaging with learning will develop and as we begin to understand more about what actually helps people learn. I don’t think that this vision can develop within a context of mandatory high stakes testing, because we do not currently have tests that are sufficiently sensitive, effective or reliable in terms of telling us what we need to know about what kids are actually learning. Incredibly, I find that I am not out on the edge on this, as I have just read Ron Wolk’s back page vision in Ed Week. (Ed Week is surely not one of the great innovative voices of our profession and Ron Wolk is a founder of Ed Week.)

      As a “radical educator” in graduate school in the late 1990s, when I proposed some of the things Ron Wolk describes I was told I was a mad, soft, dreamer. (You can understand that feeling, right Corey?) Which is just to say, the discourse is changing. We are engaged in a change right at this moment, in the mainstream talk, about what matters and how we measure it.

      The issue with the learner entrepreneur vision is that, to some extent, this decoupling of learning from school is already happening for kids with privilege, kids with money, kids with social capital. Fabulous learning experiences can be bought, had, constructed right now, if you know what to do and have access and play the game of school well. It is the kids who are not privileged, who do not have parents with time to oversee their educations, who do not have the money to buy off-program and up-the-line learning who will suffer, who will be stuck in outmoded, old-fashioned instructional environments with the “least chosen” teachers unless we make a public and sustained commitment to transforming the whole institution. For all.

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 9, 2011, 10:29 pm
  13. First, great post Kirsten!

    A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Julie Evans from Project Tomorrow (they interact with 100,000s of young people every year). She said that teens already very much see learning this way, whereas most adults (educators, parents, and others who are rooted in their own experience) see school as THE place where learning is “delivered”.

    Teens recognize they learn everywhere, often without any “delivery”, and they know school is just one resource for it. The questions are: Will we adults formally recognize everything else they are doing as learning? Could we arrange to give credit for this learning (some very good colleges already acknowledge adults’ life experiences for credit, but when it comes to under-18s forget it!)? Could we stop with the “four year college for everyone” drill and recognize that people can get family-supporting jobs that suit them better without a BA?

    Bottom line, to encourage learning entrepreneurship we must investigate whether we should, how we could, broaden our working definition of student achievement. How “achievement” plays out in policy can make all the difference in whether learning entrepreneurship becomes the mode of operation.

    Teens will be exploring this question themselves in a national Students Speak Out project here (we’re currently seeking teen commentators for the project):

    It would be great to have folks from here involved as part of the conversation!

    p.s. I know of a few schools where teens are learning entrepreneurs and where the teachers have broadened the definition of achievement… Check out Avalon School in St. Paul, Minnesota New Country School in Henderson, MN, Phoenix High in Kennewick, WA, and TAGOS in Janesville, WI. At the elementary level, Mission Hill in Boston is a good model.

    Posted by Kim Farris-Berg | March 9, 2011, 9:55 am
  14. Oh Kim, it is so good to have you here again. One of the things I love about this blog is that it’s like a great party, or pub, where you can go down and grab a pint at the end of the day and hang out with people whom you love and respect. So I’m sending a glass down the bar to you.

    How can we help spread the word on national Students Speak out?

    I know New Country School very well, and intend to go to Avalon next time I’m in St. Paul. How can we get you writing a little here about what you’re doing?


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | March 9, 2011, 10:33 pm
  15. Kirsten — Thanks for the drink, and I’m so flattered you would like me to write a little more about the awesome work I get to do with Students Speak Out/Citizens League and Education Evolving. As you know, I’m doing a project examining teacher autonomy and what happens when teachers control what matters for school success. I am working diligently to write up all the findings from my work on that project, and can’t wait to share everything we’ve learned. Between that and a pending maternity leave I’m afraid I will have wait to get more into the sharing come late fall! I am excited to be more of a regular here because I think there is a lot of quality thinking going on in this space.

    Anyone who wants to help spread the word about Students Speak Out’s project examining whether we should broaden the definition of student achievement can share the link with their networks : Teens and adults alike are welcome to participate, and currently we’re seeking lead teen commentators. We are also open to teachers incorporating this into classroom or project-based learning. Anyone with questions or who would like to apply can visit the Web site or contact us at

    We’re on Facebook:
    Also, Twitter: @SSOTeenVoices

    Also on SSO in the coming weeks, Minnesota teens will get an opportunity to work with MN Dept of Transportation on a project envisioning the state’s transportation future. We just wrapped up a project with the MN Department of Natural Resources considering how to best spend sales tax revenue (which teens pay!) to improve the state’s Parks and Trails.

    All learning entrepreneurs are definitely welcome! Students participating here learn a lot about civic participation–informing and building solutions for public problems. What if schools began to use this platform as a civic learning resource??? Low cost; high impact.

    Posted by Kim Farris-Berg | March 11, 2011, 1:52 pm
  16. I like the term “learning entrepreneur”. We already have similar terms in our provincial curriculum documents and school mission and vision statements (Canadian education). We say “lifelong learners” and “independent learners” and we continuously, as educators, state that we are developing these skills and abilities in our students. However, we do this in a highly controlled learning environment (curriculum, discipline, rules, schedules, etc.). Students already have access to world-wide everything (the good, the bad, and the ugly) through their home computers and cell phones. Cell phones are ubiquitous and some of our most marginalized and economically disadvantaged children have cell phones and communicate daily through this medium. We currently have the tools to develop learning entrepreuneurship. We have inquiry learning embedded through-out our renewed provincial curriculum; educators are just very slow about implementing it. In our schools, we have access to computers and the internet (we would benefit from greater access and better learning platforms). But we are trying to fit current technology into an antiquated and bureaucratic education structure. Our belief system is not as antiquated (Dewey is still amazingly relevant) but we don’t enact it daily within the classroom. Our classrooms still look very traditional and desks in a row resemble those industrial, large company office cubicles that ensure you work in a quiet, isolated manner. I don’t think we need more programs and structures to promote entrepreneurship (isn’t that contradictory); what we need to do is actually implement current strategies and resources. Most importantly, we need to promote this belief system. Put it into action with what we have.

    Posted by Laura Vilness | March 13, 2011, 11:53 am
  17. Hi Kristen,

    Sorry it took me so long to respond here. Been a negligent coopster lately, I guess.

    Of course, you know I love this idea. My school, Salmonberry School having the luxury of independence from many state rules, has adopted the title of “school and learning center.” As such, we can and do offer full time placement like any school, but we can also enroll kids for part-time experiences in different “classes” (flexibly defined.) Initially I baulked at this idea, feeling I needed all the kids all the time in order to create a whole experience and have Monday AM work integrated fully with Tuesday PM work, etc. I also felt that from the kids’ perspective they would feel lost and and their learning experience fragmented if they were not present for all of it. But, a couple of years ago, facing a tough time for tuition payers, we created the part time, learning center option. I have to say, it’s been wonderful. It has allowed all kinds of entreprenuership (how the hell do you spell that?) and “grazing.” Many kids now spend some of their life homeschooling, unschooling, working with tutors, instructors or mentors, and then spend some of the week with us, integrating into our regular classrooms. Their diverse experiences enrich our classroom communities. They learn a lot from the “institutional” experience of “schooling” without many of the trappings of compulsory 180 day, 1000 hour school-time. Pretty cool.

    Another “school” here in Washington, goes a step further. The Attic Learning Community, goes a step further. They have a rigorous “school-like” experience for kids, but only 3 days a week (an optional 4th day for more project-based explorations.) They proudly insist that it is critical for a child’s full and well-rounded education to have significant waking time outside of school to explore. They do not fill the off days with homework. And, by all accounts, the kids do great!

    Only thing, I’m not terribly drawn towards the business language of entreprenuership (I’ll keep trying different spellings). Could we call them educational adventurers? Explorers? Discoverer? Surveyor? The business model seems to stodgy, planned – not open to wonder, chance, spontanaity creative inspiration – maybe that’s just my old-school idea of the “E-word” (I give up). My dad was a businessman, in the Willy Loman model – didn’t seem to be a very joyful journey.


    Posted by Paul Freedman | March 23, 2011, 9:39 am
  18. Paul, I’m so glad you made it here, as usual.

    -Starting with the last first, I don’t love the business language very much either, and it’s intentional. I’m trying to do as much bridging as I can across worlds and domains, and so for the moment, I’m sticking with it. It connotes a lot of important and social movement concepts for young folks, as well, and a belief in small groups of people transforming the world. And of course, linguistic note taken.

    -I’m thinking that I wish this post could become a repository for people who are doing and creating the kind of mixed portfolio learning opportunities you describe at Salmonberry and The Attic Learning Community. (And places like The Purple Crayon in Tarrytown NY The Purple Thistle Center in Vancouver, BC

    All these places offer learners opportunities for mixed age, mixed experience learning entrepreneurship (yeah, I have to check up on that spelling a lot too), in community, around highly defined projects, or not. To me this is the way of the future for ALL schooling (what an absolute statement!), and I’m looking forward to learning more about how YOU do it when I visit your school for the Northwest Holistic Education Conference!

    Keep coming back here because the blog is better everytime you visit.

    Posted by Kirsten | April 22, 2011, 10:12 am


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