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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, School Stories

Education: The Past, the Present and the Future

Recently I read an article from District Administrator magazine entitled,

The Three New Pillars of 21st Century Learning”                                                                                 What happens when our basic assumptions about schooling no longer apply?

and it began:

The textbook, The lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem. The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

We’re getting ready to do our annual Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction  (CAI) Institute in my county (Albemarle, VA), and one piece of it is to look back over the lat 9 years of it, since this one will be our 10th!  The plan is to think about “The Past, the Present and the Future” of our CAI Institutes as we look at how we can help our students prepare for their future, exploring and defining what that means. Recently, Becky Fisher and I were talking and brainstorming about this work and potential ways to highlight various artifacts, and we came up with one dichotomy that I think fits with the first paragraph of the article I read. In our 100-year-ago one room school houses, students researched (mostly through reading or being given it orally by the teacher) and they showed what they had learned through recitation, so the model was research and recite. Then as the Internet and powerpoint came in, students began to research and present.  A later model for researching is to research and do– become a producer, not just a consumer–share your knowledge, but also do something about it, make a difference!  One pretty obvious parallel between the three is that the student moves from being mostly inactive to being highly engaged and active in order to do something that will make a difference in our world.

The author of “The Three New Pillars” also said, “In the 21st Century, the Internet has ushered in an online learning environment where information is abundant, teachers are plentiful and learning is global.”

In looking at the dichotomy Becky and I came up with,

Past: research and recite

Present: research and present

Future: research and do

Do you have others??

So, think of the role of the teacher—

Past: Sage on the Stage

Present: Guide on the Side (although we still have a lot of the sages in practice)

Future: More Experienced Learning Peer Who is Near? (emphasis here on the learning, not teaching)

Resource for the Course?

If you were looking at helping folks see differences and growth from past education models to future ones, what are the dichotomies you see and would want others to understand? How can we make the need changes explicit to folks who really don’t see a need for schooling to  be different?

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


7 thoughts on “Education: The Past, the Present and the Future

  1. Hi Paula,

    I love your post and invitation. It strikes me that this gets at precisely what folks in the holistic education tradition have been talking about for 25 years or so. Ron Miller, being the consummate historian talked about the educational PAST as “reductionist” – reducing knowledge into constituent parts isolated disciplines and individual disconnected skills & facts. The past is also referred to as “mechanistic” – like a machine, input (children) do work, mold, shape, pour in facts and skills, and spit out- graduate. This approach to knowledge acquisition is deeply rooted in the scientific method of the enlightenment which includes a vision of the knowledge seeker as objective, distant and detached from the object of knowledge, lest they get too close and corrupt the scientific process. This paradigm is also characterized by the term “modernism.”

    The PRESENT then is “progressive” or “reformist”-new, often much more effective and engaging methods but without really radically rethinking the modernist goals of acquiring a fixed body of knowledge. This is where Dewey and his colleagues set us on the road to all sorts of cool classroom improvements including cooperative learning and a more constructivist understanding of epistemology. Learners are not just absorbing, they are actually engaged in creating their own knowledge and emerging world view.

    The FUTURE is alternately referred to as “holistic” “ecological” “integral” or “post-modern.” What if there is no fixed body of knowledge to acquire? What if education isn’t about acquiring knowledge. It might be about coming into consciousness about self, in relationship to others including a living subject (Palmer) and within systems (Senge et al) (ecosystems, communities, etc.) and with awareness of something greater allowing for a sense of wonder, awe, and mystery. Not all is subservience to knowledge/science. There is more. A number of tomes have been written attempting to articulate this more fully and articulately than I can possibly do here.

    Jack Miller talks about this triad of educational models as “transmission” “transaction” and “transformation.” I think this is still about the clearest picture out there of this three-tiered view. A much more complex and refined picture of the progression of world views embedded in educational paradigms is the “spiral dynamics theory” of Don Beck, Chris Cowan and later, Ken Wilbur and others. This understanding describes the evolution of human consciousness over millennia and far into the future. The prevailing education system in a given moment simply reflects a much broader dominant paradigm or “meme.” Again tomes on this.

    So, my phrases:



    sit & listen; absorb
    cooperate & share: perform
    collaborate & create: transform


    Posted by Paul Freedman | June 16, 2012, 10:22 am
  2. Your question “How can we make the need changes explicit to folks who really don’t see a need for schooling to be different?” is a great one. We can’t lecture them about necessary changes (making us the “sage on the stage” we are advocating against). We have to show, not tell.

    We have an obligation to show parents that their child is learning. In the past, parents knew (or thought they knew) their children were “learning” when they saw evidence of work coming home in a backpack. We then began collecting portfolios of work – much of which didn’t regularly go home. Parents of my students began asking, “What are you doing in class?”

    At first, I was put off by the question – I thought parents should simply trust my professionalism (and many did!). I overreacted and started writing newsletters that were more like tomes, informing parents about everything that was going on in class.

    Technology now enables us to show parents that students are acquiring knowledge without lecture, textbooks, or worksheets.

    Here is a way to communicate by showing:
    1. Past: stuff we did in school.
    2. Present: and and
    3. Future: A project started by High School students:

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | June 17, 2012, 3:15 am
  3. Hello Paula, I so enjoyed this thoughtful post and the comments that follow. I’ve played with the ideas and posted them here: Education: Shadows of Society

    Thanks for the inspiration, as always. Sheri

    Posted by Sheri | June 17, 2012, 4:50 pm
  4. Paula,

    great post- here’s my version of shift …

    Gutenberg tools held us for 500 years in a mode of write-print-read-recall as core of 3-D teaching place
    Post-Gutenberg tools lead us to search-connect-communicate-make as core of 4-D learning space

    In a way, the post-Gutenberg mode almost returns us to a time before the press when people learned by doing, from stories, and the exchange of ideas, artifacts, and services across tribes.

    Posted by Pam | June 17, 2012, 10:13 pm
  5. Hi All
    I think the major dichotomy is whether educators should focus on process or results.
    As educators we should be agents to facilitate thinking and research skills using real life issues but our primary goal is the process not the results. As long as the student can back up his or her conclusion with facts, he or she will get a good grade.
    Do our students need incentives to improve their reading?
    Are our students at a loss for where to get relevant information?
    Do our students despair of getting through a mountain of articles and books?
    Are tips for organizing information gleaned so as to be retrievable needed?
    That is part of our job as educators!
    Perhaps joint study time could be included as class time.

    As to ‘right or wrong’ answers? That is for the expert in the field to say. I think there is nothing more encouraging than telling a student he or she is ready to meet the expert in that field.

    Posted by Shmuel Strauss | June 19, 2012, 4:27 am
  6. I’m with the National Writing Project and connected learning: make stuff with your students.

    What pillars are evident at CAI?

    Thanks for the prompt,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 21, 2012, 10:20 pm


  1. Pingback: Education: Shadows of Society | pause 2 play - February 18, 2013

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