Why School?

Although the history of printing goes back thousands of years to the Mesopotamians, modern printing as we know it was invented less than 150 years ago, just after the industrial revolution. The promise of the rotary printing press – wherein images are curved around a cylinder – was that books could be manufactured at a much faster rate, allowing a greater number of people access to information. A significant step toward an era of abundance. Within a generation of this invention, literacy rates skyrocketed and our current concept of education was born.

The principles of our education system for the last century has been to create a curriculum and to push students through it like a factory assembly line. Each student is taught the same lessons at the same pre-determined intervals and is then tested for comprehension using identical metrics. This purpose of this system is to train kids to obey, follow a schedule, and be obedient members of the American working class. The problem is that while nearly every condition of our lives has changed over the last century, education remains woefully outdated and stubbornly stuck in the past. This is what Why School? is about.

The author of this book, Will Richardson, spent decades as an educator in the public sector and contrasts that experience with how children learn in the modern era. One of the larger arcs in this book is about the authors son, who is observed as he learns to play the popular computer game Minecraft. He doesn’t know anything about the game when he starts, but he begun by watching Youtube clips and joining friends and strangers in online video chats to discuss game strategy. As he read lengthy online articles and Wikipedia entries about game mechanics, he important scribbled notes on a notepad.

Basically, the kid knew that the fastest way to learn was to leverage the endless wealth of multimedia information available through the internet. The wealth of internet-distributed and peer-reviewed learning materials online is what’s killing the traditional model of education. Why restrict yourself to teachers down the street when the world is full of them, now that we’re all connected? The future model of education is built upon an understanding that we live in the era of abundance, not scarcity. In this model students make, do and share, not passively consume and then regurgitate.

Over the last 20 years, college tuition has skyrocketed in price. And since the economic crash several years ago, more students are pursuing post-graduate studies, making the private education industry a highly profitable racket. The problem is that employers and students increasingly put less emphasis on college degrees. Unless yours is from a brand-name university, your degree is likely to do no more than get your foot in the door, paving the way for years of experience-gathering in the real world, which is what the most in-demand positions require.

Another feature of traditional schooling is enabled by a flawed mindset that is prevalent: that life is meant to include decades of difficult sacrifice to eventually issue a reward (a status quo mentality that leads to widespread discontent). When my parents were in their mid-20’s it was common for graduates to work at one company for their entire career. But with a wealth of options for employees and employers, this almost never happens anymore. The skill that everyone needs to learn in this era is how to learn. Nearly everything else you learn in school is inferior to real-world experience.

Khan Academy

This book is concise, to the point, and well-written. At times I wish it provided greater detail on some subjects (especially the growing, often-free online education sector – Khan Academy, etc.) but it delivers plenty of thought provoking ideas. Want to learn something new? Get on iTunes U, Khan Academy, Coursera, or one of the dozen other online places to learn anything on your own time, at your own pace, and according to your specific needs, for free.

Favorite Passages

“Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University, sums up our world of abundance as being one marked by ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous information, ubiquitous networks, at unlimited speed, about everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices that make it ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate and publish. Does that sound like school to you?”

“In one version of reform, schools and classrooms are seen as nodes in a much larger learning network that expands far beyond local walls. Students are encouraged to connect with others, and to collaborate and create with them on a global scale. It’s not “do your own work,” so much as “do work with others, and make it work that matters. Assessments focus less on what students know, and more on what they can do with what they know. School becomes “real life,” not simply a place to take courses, earn grades, amass credits, and compete against others for recognition.”

“There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

Amazon link: Why School?

Learn more: Khan Academy, iTunes U, Coursera


4.5 Stars