Monthly Archives: January 2017

Why Alternative Ed? Is there more to the story?

For those who have been around the block with alternative education this article will be old news, or maybe just an affirmation. But I’m a neophyte and for others like me this information is extremely vital. I know that putting this together has helped me understand. So this is my small offering of sharing information at a level that newbies like me can grasp.

Why is this such a hot issue? Given the current state of traditional education and the economy’s and private sector’s need for a better qualified workforce with the right skills, and given our social unraveling it is painfully clear: we need to fundamentally change our approach to education. Self-directed learning is a more viable means to address issues than traditional education. But there’s more: we need to expand  our scope to “human development”.

Social and economic issues are a nasty one-two punch threatening to demolish our way of life; we’re being torn apart from the inside with apathy and disengagement at one extreme, modern lifestyle stress and related social-emotional health problems at the other. We are disconnected from each other, from the environment around us, from ourselves. We’re in desperate need of social healing and personal alignment. But who has time for all that?

Self-directed learning only addresses part of the problem and only for young people. The way things are imploding there’s no guarantee things we can hold it together long enough to give future generations a shot at making things better.

Proposed: self-directed learning on steroids.  Whole-person / whole-life learning, continuous whole-person growth…human development. Focus on the front end. To assure quality of outputs you must ensure the inputs are good, then pay attention to process itself. Develop the providers of whole-person / whole life learning, pay attention to the human needs of those providers, and engineer a robust process of human development.

One tiny example: there are fitness centers for health nuts and regular people concerned with their physical wellness. How about centers where people can learn about their social-emotional / mental health and do a regular exercise regimen? Think about a place where a person can reconnect, chill, detox from a stressed out lifestyle. How about a full indoor ecosystem (fancy word for greenhouse) to get a few precious moments of real, plant-purified air, walk barefoot in real grass (earthing) and get drunk on the sounds of nature and soothing stroke of solitude?

I could go on and on. But right now this human development stuff is just a Quixote-esque pipedream for me. Something I can do to contribute: critical mass and increasing evidence of success is great PR. We need to spread the gospel of self-directed learning and human development, and convince the powers that be and the general population. Then, of course, implementation support must be readily available. That’s a whole ‘nother story….

So what follows is a primer for self-directed learning based upon Why Our Coercive System of Schooling Should Topple by Peter Gray which outlines four reasons Self-Directed Education will replace forced schooling. They are compelling. Below: the four reasons with a few of my thoughts–please add yours! Later are some article excerpts. Highly recommended: go to the original for the full text.

Four Reasons, and Reflections

  1.  Our coercive schools have become increasingly and evermore obviously harmful to kids. My most compelling personal mission: find some way to impact young peoples’ emotional well-being. Far too many young people are struggling emotionally, medicated and otherwise being “treated”, needing “special” education services, committing suicide. A national epidemic and a disgrace. The education system is to blame to a large degree, the system MUST change.

WE ARE CAUSING SERIOUS and IRREVOCABLE DAMAGE TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE!

  1.  Evidence has mounted that children and adolescents can educate themselves remarkably well without coercive schooling. Further, learners show markedly better results than traditionally educated kids. And there is no comparison between the level of social-emotional well-being: fewer kids diagnosed with “learning disabilities”, fewer kids needing meds or other treatment. It hasn’t been measured but it’s a simple causal link: kids are more well-adjusted, less stressed = fewer suicides. It has been proven: SDL CAN be done with great results.
  1.  Self-Directed Education is easier to pursue now than it was in the past. For various reasons,

SDE has struggled to gain broad acceptance. Two biggies: to too many it’s weird and for most it takes too much time. But results and success has led to growing acceptance, even among educators. And more championing centers have emerged, giving parents much-needed support.

It’s becoming MORE ACCEPTABLE and ACCESSIBLE. Not mainstream, but working on it!

  1.  Changes in the economy favor the skills developed by Self-Directed Education. The workplace demands thinkers, not memorizers. It demands employees who can adapt to changes and quickly accept and learn new things. It requires confidence as well as competence. When comparing traditional and SD education, it’s clear that only one system builds those things, while the other may actually discourage them. The “customers” are learners, parents, private sector, society. SDE meets customer needs

Excerpts From the Original

  1.  Our coercive schools have become increasingly and evermore obviously harmful to kids.

…over the years, the school system has intruded increasingly, and ever more disruptively, into children’s and families’ lives.  The length of the school year has increased (it now averages 5 weeks longer than in the 1950s).  The number of years of required attendance has increased.  The amount of homework has increased immensely, especially in elementary schools.  Recesses have been reduced, or even been eliminated…art and music have regularly been dropped from curricula in favor of more time for worksheets and test preparation.  Teachers have been given less freedom to depart from the standard curriculum, and ever-greater pressure has been placed on children to score high on standardized tests.

Children now often spend more time at school and at homework than their parents spend at their full-time jobs…

It can no longer be believed that schooling is a benign experience for children.  The evidence that it induces pathology is overwhelming.  (evidence in original)

  1.  Evidence has mounted that children and adolescents can educate themselves remarkably well without coercive schooling.

Over the last few decades, many thousands of young people, from a wide range of backgrounds, have educated themselves through these means, and follow-up studies have shown that they are doing very well in life. They have had no apparent difficulty being admitted to or adjusting to the demands of traditional higher education, if they choose to pursue it, and they have been successful in the full range of careers that we value in our society.  As adults, they generally report that their experience with Self-Directed Education benefited them by allowing them to develop their own interests (which often turned into careers) and fostering…personal responsibility, initiative, creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, and ability to communicate well with people regardless of status.

… partly because of increased awareness of the success of Self-Directed Education and partly because of the growing toxicity of coercive schools, evermore families are choosing Self-Directed Education for their children.  As more families are choosing it, more others are getting to know people who have chosen it and can see firsthand the evidence of its success.  At some point, when everyone sees the evidence, the gates will open and the coercive schools will begin to empty out.  People will begin to demand that some of the public funds currently spent on coercive schools be spent on learning centers and other facilities that support Self-Directed Education, so all families, regardless of income, will have that option.

  1.  Self-Directed Education is easier to pursue now than it was in the past.

One reason for this lies in the increased numbers of families taking this route and, consequently, the increased acceptability of Self-Directed Education in the culture at large.  The availability of schools and learning centers designed for Self-Directed Education has been increasing, and the number of homeschoolers engaged in Self-Directed Education has likewise been increasing.  As Self-Directed Education becomes more common, as more and more people, including education authorities, know young people taking this route and see their success, the social barriers against it are decreasing.

Another reason: technologyanyone with a computer and Internet connection can access essentially all the world’s information.  Self-directed learners who want to pursue almost any subject can find articles, videos, discussion groups, and even online courses devoted to it.  They can gain information and share thoughts with experts and novices alike, throughout the world, who have interests akin to theirs.  Students in standard schools must study just what the school dictates, in just the ways that the school decides; but self-directed learners can find subjects and means of study that match their own particular interests and styles of learning.  Self-directed learners are not held back by the slow pace of a school course, nor are they rushed ahead when they want more time to think about and delve deeply into any given aspect of the interest they’re pursuing.

  1.  Changes in the economy favor the skills developed by Self-Directed Education.

Because of changes in how we make our livings, the skills exercised by coercive schooling are even less valuable, and those exercised by Self-Directed Education are even more valuable, now than they were in the past.  We don’t need people who can memorize and regurgitate lots of information; we have Google for that.  We don’t need many people to do routine, tedious tasks dictated by others; we have robots for that.

What we do need, and will continue to need, are people who think critically and creatively, innovate, ask and answer questions that nobody else has thought of, and bring moral values and a passionate sense of purpose into the workplace.  These are the kinds of skills that are continuously honed in Self-Directed Education.  In coercive schools, the requirement that everyone follow the same curriculum, motivated by reward and punishment rather than genuine interest, guarantees that most students will not develop passionate interests, deep understanding, or a sense of purpose other than that of making it through the next hoop.

A Few Final Thoughts From Gray

  • “…these are all good reasons why our forced system of schooling should topple soon; but will it topple soon?”   Yes, it will, because it really is reaching the end of the line.
  • Much of the increased odiousness of school has come about precisely because of the increased recognition that our schools are failing.  Stupidly, in recent times we’ve tried to “fix” the schools by doing more of what doesn’t work.  But that can’t go on forever.
  • The revolution will come not because authorities within the coercive school system become enlightened, but because a growing number of families who are victims of that system will realize that they have an option—a good option—and they will take it.

Let’s not just wait for that social change to occur; let’s push it along.  Let’s develop an organized movement to inform people about this option and how they can pursue it.  That’s the purpose of a new nonprofit organization that I’m a part of, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.  Maybe you’d like to join it.