What are the first principles of education? Can we borrow from Silicon Valley and break the entire system, from K-20 and beyond, down to its constituent parts and build a new system that works for the world today? This may actually consist of two elements, the core purposes and the available technologies. A couple of intriguing pieces I’ve read recently suggest that this approach has value, if not immediately at least as an exercise to introduce ideas into the current system to help begin the transition to something better.
Shane Snow took this idea of first principles and applied it to reforming the prison system. He puts together an amazing thought experiment on how to use items like trailers, treadmills, Oculus Rift, and Soylent to handle the various needs of the inmates while potentially radically reducing the cost. Likewise, Frederic Filloux puts together a shorter piece, based on current financial reports and with the same goal as the prison reform in mind, contending for two changes that would push the New York Times into the future. The two moves are to abandon the daily print edition while creating a higher quality Sunday/weekend edition and aggressively moving into foreign markets.
I was a terrible student in the traditional setting. I was tested for a learning disability in the 3rd grade and scored at the junior/senior level in high school. I was bored. My high school GPA was 2.03. It took me 14 years, including flunking out twice and changing majors 4 times, to finish my BS with a 2.35 GPA. I also finished my M.Ed. in 15 months with a 3.97 and am moving through a PhD where my only difficulty has been financial.
What changed? What caused me to suddenly be able to do better? What was the reason I went from constantly bored/on the verge of dropping or flunking out to someone who will almost certainly have a terminal degree in education? I can attribute it to the methods used in online learning being far more in line with well researched learning theory than the traditional setting where I struggled.
With that said, I believe we can still do much better. I’m going to give you a list of the elements I’m currently viewing as the essential parts of education, the first principles. These are based on my study in the field, on discussion with fellow students and educators at the graduate level, and gut feelings born from my own experience. Hopefully these can help us move forward in a meaningful way that finally disposes of Horace Mann’s outdated approach.
What Are The First Principles Of Education?
- Where will education occur? Is it actually important in an increasingly connected world to have a permanent physical location for learning? Would it be better to utilize our surrounding in a more comprehensive manner where schools, libraries, community centers, and other civic institutions are all considered part of the physical structure of education?
- Job & Life Skill Development
- Most subjects required for college entrance were determined by a small number of administrators over 100 years ago. Our educational system needs to focus on useful skills for life outside of academia for those whose interests are elsewhere. Personal finance over algebra, reading what interests before reading what is considered good or important, learning how to find, assess, and implement knowledge, and other real world skills should be emphasized.
- Standards, not Standardization
- There are now over 900 colleges universities in the US that either don’t consider, or make optional, the SAT or ACT for admissions. The SAT itself was not studied for validity or predictability of college success for 20 years after it was implemented. Finland’s entire set of mathematics standards through the end of high school is shorter than any one single year of Common Core. We should have standards, not standardization, as our goal is to produce citizens and not cogs in a machine.
- Organized Freedom/Relevance to Individuals
- To borrow from Lisa Nielsen, I’m going to say that we need to stop organizing by date of manufacture. Physical, mental, emotional, and other aspects of our person develop differently. Why do we think educational maturity could/should occur at the same time in the same way for every student? Adding to that, beyond real essentials like the skills above there needs to be greater focus on developing individual interests and proclivities in an effort to maximize each person’s potential.
- Permanent Access to Information
- I’ll write more on this in a later post, but the current and emerging reality means that what we’ve done and learned shouldn’t disappear anymore. I can’t access much of what I did in K-12, and that makes sense as the idea of it being online was still just a dream. I can’t access my old M.Ed. courses despite the fact that they were completely online and that information shouldn’t have gone anywhere. That needs to change. I would love to see something akin to a permanent portfolio that is set up from the beginning of formal education.
- Safety (Physical, Mental, Emotional)
- Our current forced class system and forced test structure is one that contributes to the conflict students encounter on multiple levels. No system should make a place of learning, whether in person, hybrid, or fully online unsafe. Wherever our learning occurs, it needs to be safe for our physical bodies, safe for our mental growth, and safe for our emotional development.
What Are You Going To Do About It?
What parts of this do you agree with? Which ones do you disagree with? Would you add anything to the mix?