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They Call It A Grassroots Education Revolution: That’s Funny

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They Call It A Grassroots Education Revolution: That’s Funny

By Linda Dobson

They’re calling it a grassroots education revolution, probably to get you all excited. But I’ll let you in on a secret.

It isn’t a revolution at all.

In fact, their “grassroots education revolution” has been in practice so long now I have friends whose children are enjoying “the revolution” with their grandchildren! It’s been around so long it’s known by many names at this point. It’s alternately called homeschooling, unschooling, home education, radical unschooling, eclectic education, child-led learning, relaxed homeschooling, growing without schooling…well, you get the idea. We were joined by the pioneers who opened alternative schools on shoe-string budgets with parental volunteers and a similar vision.

Those involved in “the revolution” two generations ago used text books – or not. They brought home library books by the bagsful. Their children learned with mentors and apprenticeships and volunteering. Often, they were the first person on the block – or neighborhood or town! – to see the potential of putting a computer in their homes and let the kids explore what they could do ’til their hearts’ content. (See “The Homeschooling Legacy.”)

Painting Education Revolution

While these families gave themselves different names, went about homeschooling in a million different ways, and defined success on their own terms, they held a common guiding philosophy.  They understood that education isn’t something a learner receives; it’s something learners achieve. They trusted and respected their children as unique individuals and natural learners, and treated them accordingly. As a result of their trust, they saw wonderful things happen when that control of one’s education was best held in one’s own hands.

So what’s so funny? I can only keep track of just a smidgen of education news, and I can tell you it is full of much hand-wringing, meetings, debates, speeches, union maneuvers, budget wrangling and, most detrimentally, federal government meddling, all of which take up a whole lot of time and energy, cost a whole bunch of money, and do absolutely nothing for the children in classrooms.

Apparently, behind the backs of this army of public school policy makers, union leaders, politicians, administrators and other employees, public schooled kids now are leaving them all in their wake and taking control of their own education, according to “The Control Shift: A Grassroots Education Revolution Takes Shape” by Tina Barseghian. The article’s subtitle is “Kids are taking charge of their own learning as educators grapple with their new roles.”

The Education Revolution Has Moved Beyond Homeschooling and Alternative Schools

For as long as anyone can remember, adults have played the role of information owners, meting out what they believe kids should know. Whether it’s the classroom teacher imparting expertise in American history, or a parent explaining the birds and the bees, adults have always tried to control what children learn.

Now, with open access to every imaginable kind of information found online, kids are happily seeking and finding it on their own — and on their own terms. The balance of power has shifted irrevocably.

So what does this mean for educators who are trying to figure out their role in this age of kids’ self-guided discovery?

Given the condition of state and federal budgets, one would think it means spending a lot less money perpetuating the status quo of adults holding their hands on the controls, opting instead to realize that “learning coaches” or counselors can tear public schools out of the industrial age. Whoopee – an education revolution, moving forward, saving money…it’s the answer to parents’ prayers!

Wait. Not so fast.

“The control piece is really big, because if it’s acknowledged, it leaves educators with this empty hole,” says veteran teacher Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. “‘Well, if we’re not doing that, then what are we doing?’ That’s where the conversation needs to be. But it’s a hard one to have. It’s very difficult for people to see themselves in a decidedly different role. But at the end of the day, we have to examine what we’re doing in terms of content in classroom. It should be more about learning, [emphasis added] giving kids power to get content on their own.”

According to the article, all of this online technology and the “power shift” are “under the radar of most teachers.” (What happens if there’s an education revolution and no one shows up?) And there need to be more meetings (of the minds, among them), conversations, debates, experimentation, and finding “what we want our children to learn.”

Authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown might say it’s the ability to learn on their own, to create and be part of a community, to iterate and continue refining their own and others’ projects, to learn from their peers, to create their own learning patterns. All this happens when the teacher creates space and opportunity, [emphasis added] and gives students control, they say in their recently published book A New Culture of Learning, Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

Dear parents, this is the educational approach, the education revolution, the space and opportunity, that homeschoolers have been pursuing – and advocating – for a couple/few generations now.  And we were able to do so because we were free of the rules and regulations and unions and policies and money chase and top-down practices inherent in public schools. We were – and continue to demand to be – left alone to give our children space and opportunity where we find the necessary flexibility and customization of education for our children. Flexibility and customization and, therefore, the dream learning goals outlined in the quote above, are impossible in a system of education.

According to the article (which I highly recommend you read in its entirety):

“Traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with a constantly changing world. They have yet to find a balance between the structure that educational institutions provide and the freedom afforded by the new media’s almost unlimited resources, without losing a sense of purpose and direction,” Thomas and Brown write. “The challenge is to find a way to marry structure and freedom to create something altogether new.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an invitation to this marriage. There can be no marriage between structure and freedom. Public education is big business, lining the pockets of many to whom structure, another word for control, is essential. To break the structure means taking away control of learning which means there will be no need for billions of dollars and would reveal the emperor has no clothes.

Structure and freedom cannot coexist.

The emperor will not give up control via structure. Your family must seize its own freedom, the prerequisite to putting that control in the hand of the learner where it rightfully belongs. Then – and only then – will your child benefit from the real grassroots education revolution that thrives in individual homes, beyond the control and structure of public schooling.

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4 Responses to “They Call It A Grassroots Education Revolution: That’s Funny”

  1. The article you quote reminds me of a lecture I watched. Professor Sugata Mitra ("Hole in the Wall" project) spoke at an education conference and said "If children have interest, then education happens."

    Watching the audience (mainly teachers, I believe) applaud these words (and his vision of a child-lead educational experience), I wondered if those audience members would actually be willing to cede control.

    I sense that they want to, but in practice I kind of doubt it.

  2. Bridgette, In *The Learning Coach Approach* I wrote "Curiosity creates interest, interest increases attention, and attention gives rise to learning." Same observations, to be sure!

    In practice, it's totally different than everything teachers have been "taught" to date. As parents are too well aware, believing the words isn't the same thing as the action required to implement. That's why I believe there's going to be a whole lot of talk and study and blah blah blah…and certainly today's children won't benefit from anything that comes out of it.

    Thanks so much for being here – it's great hearing from you!


  3. Thanks for this! Freedom is what it's all about—definitely! : )

  4. So glad you "get it," Susan. Thank you very much for being here.


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