Will Our School System Survive Transition to the Creative Age?

I’m fairly radical when it comes to education reform. I just think formal education as it’s known today is massively screwed up. I’m fortunate I made it out of four years of intensely rigorous and formal high school education without losing my creative / entrepreneurial / free-agent instinct. And I’m hopeful that, as education reform becomes more topical due to the hyperventilation over China, alternative approaches to education will be part of the mainstream picture and not reserved just for kids who "don’t fit in."

Edutopia has a fascinating interview with Alvin Toffler in which he thinks we should "shut down the public school system". Toffler says our current system was built for "industrial discipline" (assembly lines or farming). He paraphrases Bill Gates by saying we need to replace, not reform.

Richard Florida adds interesting thoughts worth reading slowly:

The school system we have now will not survive the transition to the Creative Age…

The Industrial Age because of its underlying logic (Marx) gave rise to large-scale vertical bureaucracy (Weber). It also suppressed human self-expression and initiative in favor of control (Freud). Our school systems, like our factories, large scale organizations, and governments are in effect structures ("prisons?)" for bureaucratic control.

The Creative Age logic requires something very different – self-expression, flexibility, and individual initiative….

Put that all together and you can see the need for a very different system for learning, one that optimizes flexibility over control, intrinsic reward over extrinsic (grading), lets talent thrive instead of squelching it, allows self-expression to flourish, challenges students, and lets them learn asynchronously, on their own time-scale and work flexibly.  The excuse is that schools are a place for "socialization" is just that – an excuse.  Most people can socialize in much more effective ways than pep rallies, ball games, the prom committee, or yearbook planning (but I digress). The community, broadly defined, can do that much better anyway ala Jane Jacobs.  It already does, as parents seek to supplement what their kids aren’t getting from schools with all sorts of extra-curricular interactions from play-dates and tutors to rock school. Most of the good stuff already happens at the margins. Gates and Dell both dropped out of college to build their companies in their dorm rooms.  Wonder why. 

Our schools are the opposite of what is needed: hierarchical, mind-numbing, creativity-squelching machines. So the need for transformation: But, what exactly comes next? Toffler is right. We need to shut the whole thing down. Let’s no longer confuse real estate, our current education factories/warehouses with learning. 

It’s hard to sketch the system out in advance, but the core principles to build around are readily apparent: a shared curriculum on a technology platform that enables flexible and asynchronous learning anywhere, anyplace, anytime;  challenge and intrinsic reward over grades (and ridiculous standardized tests); community based engagement and socialization;  and a wide range of ala carte instructional offerings. This kind of system is one that simultaneously empowers and enriches students, parents and teachers.

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