Shut down the public education system??

EdutopiaFeb07My previous post appears to have generated quite a bit of discussion (off-line at least), reinforcing for me the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in, and the fact that for so many of those involved in education, working within the constraints of existing systems and bureaucracy makes it difficult to take a truly detached perspective and develop some big picture ideas about what schooling in the future might be like.

Two people who have never had a problem thinking about the future are Alvin  and Heidi Toffler, and when thinking of the issues of schooling in the future I remembered back to an article that appeared in the February 2007 edition of the Edutopia magazine, featuring an interview with Alvin Toffler in which he expresses his ideas about schooling in the future.

When asked about the most pressing need in public education right now, Toffler’s response is “shut down the public education system“! When asked why we don’t simply readjust what we have in place now and whether we really need to start from the ground up, Toffler provides a clear insight as to what he thinks about the dilemma I raised in my previous post;

We should be thinking from the ground up. That’s different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

I remember reading Future Shock when I was training as a teacher,  and participating in discussions about how far fetched many of the ideas appeared to be and how much of a stretch the thinking involved – but now most of it reads like a history book 🙂 You have to remember that it was written 20 years before the WWW was launched on the world – before it was even conceived of, and yet it was predicted in what the Tofflers wrote. I wonder how close to the mark they are with this prediction of schools in the future??

This is challenging stuff! The concept of simply shutting everything down and starting over is not new – but is almost never considered seriously as an option for school reform – the costs are considered too high, both in dollar terms and in terms of the social and emotional investment in what we have at present. That said, we should be prepared to take these ideas seriously – particularly in the situations where we are building new schools! Toffler’s list of fundamentals at the end of the article make a good starting point for discussion:

Alvin Toffler’s School of Tomorrow

These are the fundamentals of the futurist’s vision for education in the 21st century:

  • Open 24 hours a day
  • Customized educational experience
  • Kids arrive at different times
  • Students begin their formalized schooling at different ages
  • Curriculum is integrated across disciplines
  • Non-teachers work with teachers
  • Teachers alternate working in schools and in business world
  • Local businesses have offices in the schools
  • Increased number of charter schools

5 thoughts on “Shut down the public education system??

  1. John Taylor Gatto proposes something similar in his book “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. He proposes we shut down the system, and he notes an undeniable conclusion: the school model that is currently operating is designed to create industrial employees (and sheep-like consumers of the goods created by these industries, according to Gatto. He has some shocking quotes by Carnegie, Rockefeller, and other industrialists to back up his conclusions).

    Regardless, the world of commerce is fast, flexible, and adaptable, but schooling continues to be slow, rigid, and predictable. It needs a major face-lift.

  2. Mr. Toffler’s pedictions are probably correct.
    The list can be summed up in one word: Choice. Educators would do well to take note of what countless home schooling parents have learned about how to educate children. Children have to be able to explore options and make their own choices, with the appropriate assistance of knowledgeable adults and parents, based on what the individual child is compelled to do.
    The current education system is build on a premise of no faith what so ever, in a child’s common sense of what is most valuable for her or him.
    Picture this: children, in effect, shopping for the education they need, much as they do today, in malls. The difference being that, instead of choosing from mass produced cheap material goods, they are seeking and choosing the teacher, the teaching style, the information, that suites them best, when and as much as they need.

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