Getting an Education

This week I was pleased to finally nail down the dates (and one of the locations) for Peter Gray speaking events in NYC and Charlotte. I love Peter’s work and I’m super excited about having connected with him and some other great folks he’s working with these last few months.

I hosted a couple of tours at ALC-NYC this week. One of them was part of a city-wide, week-long, micro-school tour that Manisha Snoyer put together for her project, Cottage Class. Later in the week, I was able to attend an open house at AltSchool at their new location in the LES. It has been great to see more things like AltSchool and the XQ Project coming out of mainstream industries (AltSchool is started by a former Google exec and XQ is funded by Laurene Jobs).

It’s very clear that support for education transformation is going to come from innovative businesses, change-makers, and thought-leaders in management and entrepreneurialism. In our culture, agree or not, success is working for Google or creating the best-selling app, or having your startup acquired by Facebook. You probably saw those articles being passed around a couple months back about Elon Musk un-schooling his kids and more recently funding a small school for them to practice self-directed learning. These are the people who will influence public education to make slow changes overtime — not politicians, and sadly, not local communities.

The last thing I want to do is paint myself or ALC as adversarial to projects like AltSchool, XQ, or any other (new?) Progressive Ed model. I want to both cheer these ideas on, and, at the same time, draw a really important distinction between what they do and what ALC does.

There’s a quote by Peter Gray that sums it up better than I could:

My argument to society at large is that we need to stop thinking about educating children and start thinking about how to provide the conditions that maximize each child’s ability to educate himself or herself.

Everyone hates testing. Duh. It’s easy to see how preparing for and scoring well on a test has nothing to do with anything outside of that menial task. It’s great that people are fighting back against that and demanding changes to public education. It’s great that publications like KQED’s MindShift and Edutopia exist and that there’s EdChat on Twitter and teachers who are passionate about their profession are creating and finding outlets to explore better ideas.

It’s great that Laurene Jobs wants to fund some new high schools and that her organization sees emotional intelligence and student choice as fundamental to an effective education. It’s fantastic that Mark Zuckerberg and other silicon superstars are backing AltSchool, and that they too want to broaden the definition of education to include more than what the industrial era sold us.

All of that is better than none of that. Yet, there is a fundamental and utterly essential distinction between educating kids and supporting them in self-educating. If education is viewed as preparation for life, then the child is learning that there’s always something else to strive for and chase — that they’re not already equipped with what they need, they’re not yet whole. If education is something that educators are responsible for, then children are learning the lesson every-single-day that they’re not in charge of their lives.

When I call the New York State Department of Ed and they need paperwork from me for something, they almost always give me a fax number. I try and remain calm and remind them it is 2015. “Can I have an email address to send a photo or scan to instead”, I usually ask.

It’s worse when it is a massive institution, but the metaphor works on a micro-scale, as well. Parents, grandparents, or teachers who grew up in a completely different world are supposed educate kids about how to live in one that doesn’t even exist yet. The biggest economical and social issues we face as a global society cannot be solved by continuing to pass them down to the next generation, leaving them no choice but to accept them as true. “Deal with it” — the most significant lesson learned in any school.

We have to learn how to cheer our children on as the creators of a new world and as painters of possibility. It can’t and won’t happen until we make their education, their education.

One comment

  1. Vincent Grady says:

    Very thoughtful blog. I would like to learn more about how issues of social justice, structural racism, gender oppression and the massive economic gap that has widenwd not decreased despite the exciting opportunities that businesses and entrepreneurs have greated for the select few. I agree that education within the mainstream model is defunct and a revolution needs to happen, but I hesitate to look for moral guidance from the business class—whose primary goal is not social justice or humanistic goals, but rathet making money in a competitive capitalist framework. I will follow up and look more into the work of Peter Grey. Thanks for sharing.

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