So Leigh Blackall points to “The Personal MBA“, a “pdf version of a pay for text that guides people through an equivalent curriculum to a MBA.” It’s basically a reading list of all sorts of good stuff, from George Leonard’s “Mastery” (which I really need to read again) to “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki. It’s billed as an experiment in educational entrepreneurism, a way to save about $100,000 and still get the knowledge you need to succeed in business. Does it work? Well, I think the better question is “Can it work?” And to that, I would say, absolutely. Yes.
As Leigh points out, it won’t just work by reading the books in isolation. You’ll probably get a lot smarter, but you need the conversations and connections that the expensive MBA offers as well. So, Leigh says, leverage the social technologies we have at hand:
Enter a networked learning model to support this text perhaps. A way for people who are using this text to make contact and communicate about their efforts. Clearly the information doesnâ€™t change all that much, but the packaging (and the fees) change considerably. Is this the niche that traditional education ought to be looking at more closely? I think so.
I think so too. I don’t think there is any doubt that it is possible if you are motivated to learn and have the network building and organizing skills to pull it off. And it doesn’t hurt when the guys putting out the free curriculum build a site around it where folks can connect. As I know I say here a lot, we can build our own classrooms, find our own teachers, writing our own flexible texts and curricula as we go. Right now, everyone still gets hung up on the creds, I know. But we’re already seeing disruptions in that thinking. In this world, what you can do is a better assessment of what you know.
On a similar note, I’ve been struck by the mostly inside the box thinking about teaching and classrooms that’s been running through the responses on my recent post and on Clay’s post that spurred it. There are passionate defenses of teaching and classrooms and the importance of being with kids, all of them absolutely genuine and valid. For instance, Mark Ahlness says:
But this is what keeps me going: The 9:00 bell. That’s when the kids come in the door. Thank goodness for the kids. There, I’ve said it again…But that 9:00 bell keeps ringing. For one year my kids and I will have an incredible experience. Nobody can take that away from us, and my kids will remember.
I know a lot of teachers feel like that. I used to feel like that when I was teaching. The presence of Mark and others like him in our kids lives will always be important. But here is the thing. In the midst of the quote above, Mark writes:
Yes, it kills me when I see dysfunction in my educational system. Yes, it breaks my heart when I see 4th and 5th graders not using, and losing, the incredible tech skills they had in my classroom. Yes, it is incredibly frustrating when absolutely nothing I have tried in over a decade of encouraging technology use with my colleagues has made a bit of difference.
What jumps out at me here and many of those other responses is that despite what the system takes away from good teaching, few write about teaching as if it is something that can be done just as meaningfully outside of the system. That’s obviously what Clay is struggling with. And it’s what my brain continues to be chewing on. How can we start to think differently about teaching? How can we teach in meaningful, important ways outside of the current construct? How can we give good teachers the opportunity to teach without the inconsistencies and constraints of the system? And how do we do it in ways that can still serve all of the kids the system currently serves?
That last one is the really tough one…
(“Group Failure” by Cold Cut)
The first best part of the discussion here and on Clay’s blog is that it reminds me I’m not the only one who runs into brick walls of frustration in this business. Of course I knew that, but somehow I thought I was just being rebellious and recalcitrant while everyone else was remaining hopeful, cheery, and getting their dream jobs. Ha! More importantly, the other best part of the discussion is that the participants and comments are inspiring me to find constructive ways to move forward. This will include my attitude AND my actions, of course. Thanks for your continuing contributions.
Pat Wagner says
This is a very thought-provoking post. I’m not yet convinced that teachers don’t want to act or change, more that they just lack the motivation to do so at the moment. Maybe I’m naive, but it’s so easy for some of us to maintain the drive because in some small way we’re receiving the kudos for whatever happens. It’s too easy at times to only recall the kick that we get when things seem to stagnate.
I’d still like to think that positive school change will retain momentum when we can remember to acknowledge every small gain that we, and all teachers, are making.
I’d love to be part of your MBA though.
Hi Will ….your conference buddies from down-under again. We have been continued to follow your posts and thoughts since meeting at Lorne.
This topic is one we have been discussing for quite some time now ….and all going round in circles. I’ve posted a question asking for a definition of a teacher these days. Seems central to the arguement to me. What should the expectations be?
We are all sick and tired of working our butts off, only to have all the work undone the following year when disinterested, chalk and talk teachers take over. But what to do ….. how to get the system into gear? Everyone seems to be getting fed up with tiptoeing around and are ready to resign (Clay)or get really radical. Its as though there is a global call-to-arms going on. Trouble is its only having an effect on those who are already converted …… no matter how much we jump up and down, the inertia of the system seems to absorb all of our energies.
You say this is the most difficult question. I think it is the only question.
What is the point of isolated and passionate teachers highlighting the needs of 21st century kids, if a large majority of the teaching population thinks these needs are being met by the old traditional methods?
Will Richardson says
Hey Graham…thanks for reading. Glad to hear the conversation we started in Lorne is ongoing! I agree with you that the definition of what a teacher could be is changing. And I do think there are more and more people who are beginning to come into the same line of thinking when they themselves experience the new learning opportunities available to us. There are answers to that question out there, but right now, they don’t seem to scale.
Janice Friesen says
Can you please add to your reflections thoughts about what to do with education on a larger scale? I think you are right that we are stuck in the box and that the box is not working for us. But so far change is such an elite thing which influences only a few kids, but does nothing for the larger society.
hmmmm Good to be thinking about this…
Will Richardson says
So, it seems like there are two options, right? Get someone in the White House who has some vision and some guts to really take a hard look at what’s going on and make change, or work for a critical mass of teachers, administrators, board members and parents to heed the call. I just don’t think the latter happens without the former. So we have to build alterantive models that are sustainable and that work in the interim. We have to model the change, be the change with our own kids. I’m starting to think pretty seriously about starting a school…
Now, does that scale? ;0) Obviously not. Which is why I’m gearing up for this election. We need to make some waves at some point…
The most interesting thing that comes to mind for me, when thinking about your post, is that I truly believe that the kids all realize now that schools are way behind the times, and most of them realize that there must be a better way to get an education than going to a traditional school. However, their hands are tied much more than ours are. They are not in a position that they can do anything about it (unless they have a parent who is open to other ideas about education), but we are.
In my search to find a better educational opportunity for my children (which finally led me to a rather unschooling approach to homeschooling – the only thing I am forcing them to learn right now is how to type, since I realized that this is the one thing that is truly preventing them from fully experiencing the benefits of the web), I stumbled upon many different schools that are doing things differently, and doing it successfully. From the North Star Learning Center in Hadley, Massachusetts, to an alternative high school in Ithaca, New York, to charter schools and Waldorf schools and Sudbury schools, to free schools – there are so many schools that have developed a different model that the public schools could be looking at and learning from, if only we could open our eyes and minds a bit. But, like you said, we are tied to the traditional public school idea so tightly (since we all went through them, we all teach at them, most of our kids all go to them, and our government endorses them) that most teachers won’t even think about doing anything drastically different. In addition, too many people are afraid of change – it’s easier to just stay with what they are used to.
I, for one, welcome change!
I am a fairly new reader to your blog, but your ideas have added a new dimension to what I have already thought about within the educational system. I am a certified elementary school teacher but left the classroom after a year. Now with 2 children, I am homeschooling my oldest, and this blog has helped me to think about the vast potentials available to my children because they are removed from the dysfunctional institution of schooling.
Experts are all over online and there is more and more content and knowledge available at our fingertips. Last week I “donated” to the one laptop per child project in the give one/get one campaign. I then provided a child in a developing country a laptop and got one for my 5 year old son to use. We will be daily incorporating technology into our studies and hope to be able to connect with students around the world using these systems.
If the system will not change, that doesn’t mean we have to deal with the broken system…we can change it one child at a time if that is the only way available to us.
Thanks for your discussions…
Janice Friesen says
Michele (and everyone),
I am in agreement with the statements you make above about the status of the educational system. When my children were in school (25 and 23 now!) I often debated that solution. I was not someone who could start a school like Will is considering and we didn’t have enough money for private school.
The issue that I grappled with and I think a central issue in this debate is the fact that the majority of our society is stuck in our “dysfunctional” education system and if all of us who can teach or work for change drop out of that system what will happen to our society?
I also don’t think that all of our educational system is dysfunctional. There are many terrific public schools and fantastic teachers out there.
I was glad to read your final comment because as I read through all of these comments I was struck by the term dysfunctional. And, still, I’m struggling with it. I agree with you that there are so many fantastic public schools and even more amazing teachers out there. But, where that leaves our educational system as a whole, I’m not sure.
As to the original post, that question, “How can we start to think differently about teaching?” seems key to me. Plenty of folks are doing so already, as evidenced by these comments, but how do we expand that thinking? The critical analysis of education today needs to be done by teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, and our communities at large. Inertia is a powerful force and it will hold us at the status quo without some significant effort.
Mark Wagner says
Will, I appreciate this post for a few reasons. First, I’ve been investing some time in my own financial education lately… so stumbling upon the personal MBA here is timely for me and I’ll probably be chipping away at the reading list this year. Second, of course, I’m excited about network learning and am interested in any efforts to find a formal system for implementing it on a large scale – and perhaps more importantly, monetizing it on some scale. I’m also excited to hear you “seriously considering” opening a school. It seems like a step many edubloggers have flirted with and I like to imagine what would happen if many came together and made it a reality. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’m not sure the consulting model is a sustainable (or particularly effective) one for many of us now engaged in it. I’m looking for a new system in which we might work… to make a living, and to make a difference… without burning out. And I think some new web 2.0 technologies might help make this possible.
It’s that last question that gets me. As Janice up above said, I don’t know how to balance out the desire to go find something else that works better with the need to ensure that those still “stuck” in public education aren’t being shorted. I know I can’t solve it all myself, but I stick to public education right now because I want these students to at least have one teacher who’s trying.
The starting a school idea is so sexy, and developing alternatives is important, but… Waldorf and Summerhill and Montessori and other alternatives have been around for a while. Have they made any difference outside of their own students?
Mark Ahlness says
Will, I remember when you announced you were leaving the classroom. I was really disappointed, feeling like the best, brightest, and most influential voice from the classroom had deserted us, had left town. With apologies to the many wonderful teacher bloggers out there, nobody has replaced you.
So I thank you for remembering the classroom when you write. And I thank you for pushing for change, even if you are outside the box now 🙂 All the best in your quest for that new system. – Mark
Bill Gaskins says
I stand amazed at what the education system continues to do to our kids. There is a lot of blame to go around- teachers,higher ed, administrators, and politicians, etc. No one wants to change! It is like a big ship lost at sea that has lost site of its vision. My last five years in the classroom with fifth graders we learned lots of tech skills together and we taught each other most of the time. Many kids come back to me and tell me how they miss the experience we had together in our classroom. No other teacher has taken them on such a journey and no other teacher had allowed them to learn so much.
Mary Healey says
Suppose that next week all students would attend schools in their communities based on names pulled out of a lotery; and FIRST NAMES ONLY! And, all children for this week would wear the same chosen outfits to school. wou
Can you imagine the changes that would take place!!!!!
l. Teachers could suddenly be jolted into the reality of what it means to deal with childrens needs.
2.The entrenched differences of dealing with children of the “HAVES” and “HAVE NOTS” would be HIGHLIGHTED for what it is(DISCRIMINATION).
3. Principals would be seen for their actual leadership abilities.
4. Parents would be paid for this weeks attendance at schools . Voluntarily they would dress in jeans and white tops.
I know this would never happen! But, until some gestalt
action is taken regarding the education of our children,
I for one feel that it will always remain the same old:
“rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”.
Technology can give us information faster. BUT, until those in education use this ability for systemic changes,
it serves us very little in this endeavor for change.
In a system that is serving the needs of the staff more than the needs of the children, the future seems very
certain to create a REAL CLASS DIVISION in our COUNTRY>
WE need to re-define what it means”to teach”, “to learn”
and how best the field of education can make these changes a reality for everyone.