Some as yet unanswered questions about transitioning to organic education...

I still have many unanswered questions for myself when I think about how to transition from a mechanistic to an organic system. Two things that I am still unsure about are: Is grading according to age the best way to organise children in an organic education system? Should attendance be compulsory in an organic education system? Whilst I do not have definitive answers, I do have some thoughts. Regarding dividing children into grades – recently I watched my children play on the beach with a boy slightly older than themselves. The older boy modelled what they could not yet do and they watched him and learned. They absolutely loved his interest in them and his guidance and they both blossomed a

Making schools beautiful for organic education

I realise that almost every school in the world operates on an extremely tight budget and that my fundamental principle that ‘all schools should be beautiful’ sounds like an impossible dream from this perspective, and a definite block to transitioning many ugly schools to beautiful organic schools. I would like to make the comment that beauty comes in many different ways and need not be expensive. I believe that children are endlessly creative if they are encouraged to participate in personalising their space, as are parents and other community members. With regard to cost, gardens can be created at no cost from slips out of parents’ or interested community people’s gardens. Reggio Emilia ha

Transitioning assessment of learning for organic education

Assessment is a huge part of how our current education system works, and it is not something that many people would consider giving up lightly. Many people argue that assessment is necessary in order to see whether children are learning anything by going to school. As I have discussed at length, I do not think standardised tests are really proving that children have learned anything more than what they needed to know to pass the test. Thom Markham argues that teachers who are in tune with the needs of their students sense the disconnection between the curriculum and reality and would like the freedom to respond more directly to students’ needs. However, ‘standardised information and testing

Transitioning curriculum for organic education

Some people might worry about the lack of a set curriculum in an organic education environment. I believe that organic education does not require an absence of curriculum, but rather that curriculum guidelines should be more general and flexible than under the mechanistic system. I do believe that having some structure at the primary and secondary level, rather than simply relying on learners autonomously dipping into and out of continuous learning flows, is important because structure exposes students to the need to persevere and it can thereby deepen learning. On their own children might become quickly bored and move on to something new – I think a balance of structure and freedom would be

Transforming education administration for organic education

Our current system of administering education from the national level down to the school level is designed to support authoritarian, centralised, mechanistic education, and people might argue that it would be very difficult to shift this to enable organic education. Attempting to graft an organic learning culture onto an industrial framework is likely to be very difficult unless this effort is accompanied by an organisation-wide commitment to change and innovation. I believe that in order for this to be possible the system as a whole needs to commit to organic education as a desirable and achievable objective. From my understanding, this is something that Finland has succeeded in achieving a

Transforming parents expectations and fears about their children's education

One of the biggest inhibiting factors that I have observed blocking the process of transition from a mechanistic system to an organic system is parents’ expectations of and/or fears for their children. Parenting has become a huge industry and parents receive so many messages about what their children need and what children should be capable of, and what risks there are that children will not succeed in the real world if they do not accomplish xyz by the time they are x age. Fear of failure seems to be one of the biggest drivers of parental decision making. Parents are terrified that if their children do not go to the right schools, or get the right marks, or participate in the right extra-mu

Transforming teachers for organic education

I believe that the transitioning from mechanistic to organic education requires a process of identifying the underlying potential in the system and supporting it to emerge. One of the key areas of either potential or blockage for our education system’s transition is human resources. In his “Death Valley” talk Robinson talks about the need to ‘individualise’ our education system. He lists three principles on which human life flourishes: diversity, creativity and curiosity. He highlights the fact that no system in better than its teachers: ‘Great teachers mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage. If there is no learning, there is no education going on. Being engaged in the task of teaching is not

Transitioning our mechanistic education system to an organic system

I am interested in how our society could create an education system that works for all children. To turn my model for an organic Future School into an education system is easy because the operating principles that I have defined are fractal. This means that they can be applied over and over again at any scale from one individual child to hundreds of schools across the globe, and as a result of implementing these same principles over again and again a wide range of learning outcomes will emerge. Just as the Internet is a constantly growing self-assembling intelligence, an organic education system that works for all children will be an interconnected series of Future Schools operating individu

Organic education is already being practiced everywhere...

In the process of exploring what is emerging in terms of new ideas for the education of children I found so many examples of future-oriented schools and innovative programmes and ideas and organic thinking about education all over the place. Not all of these ideas are new – some of them have been around for almost as long as our mechanistic education system has, but many of them ARE new and are rapidly evolving and enormously exciting. I believe that an organic education system is not only attainable, but actually it is in the process of emerging everywhere already. The more I read and explore what is going on in the world of education at the moment, the more I realise that organic education

Designing Organic Future Schools

Based on my initial hypothesis that it is perfectly possible for our education system to function in such a way that it enables all children to thrive and reach their full potential, I defined our education system’s functional purpose as follows: The purpose of this education system is TO ENABLE each and every child to acquire the skills and knowledge and develop the capacities necessary to reach his or her full potential as thriving adults in the twenty first century. I have now clarified that the way in which the education system will enable children reach their full potential is by providing an enabling environment for children’s self-directed learning to flourish. Because natural systems

How natural systems function as a model for education

Many of the people who have written and or spoken about education reform have reached the point where they agree that what needs to emerge is an organic education system to replace the old one-size-fits all mechanistic system. Although many people involved in education say: “Yay! Wow! An organic system is exactly what we need” when they hear this suggestion as an alternative to our current system, they then go back to their highly mechanistic schools and suggest they need an organic approach, and are treated like a cancer that needs to be killed off as quickly as possible by the system. This is because people fear what they do not really understand. Even if many people within the system real

Schools as Learning Webs

Once I had made up my mind that some sort of school system is necessary, I found Ivan Illich’s book called Deschooling Society which he wrote in 1971. This was a radical critical discourse on education as practised in "modern" economies. Giving examples of what he regards as the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education, Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements. He says: “Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the p

Do children need school at all?

Having defined how learning is a natural and continuous process for all children, and how the capacities they need to develop in order to thrive in the twenty first century are already latent in them (they just need to be practiced), there is a fairly strong argument in favour of children actually not needing school at all. There is an education movement called the Unschooling movement (this is also called Life Learning) which is premised on the theory that learning will naturally emerge for children if we take all of our man-made constructions away and allow them to function according to their inherent capacities. Unschoolers (Life learners) argue that ‘It is natural for children to read, w

Can we know what children’s full potential looks like?

If we agree that the list of skills and/or capacities I defined in my previous posts are what children need to practise and build in order to thrive in the twenty first century, is this also the list of all the skills and/or capacities that children need to have in order to reach their full potential as human beings? Can we really know what children’s “full potential” is? I would suggest that we actually have no clue what our true full potential as human beings looks like. Most of us have been so limited by our social, emotional and cultural programming that we cannot imagine what ‘unlimitedness’ actually looks like. Even the Hollywood movie titled “Limitless” was, I thought, a rather limite

What is the role of content in twenty-first century education?

Largely thanks to the internet, information is everywhere. People are able to find out anything they want to know by simply ‘Googling it’. The need to store a lot of scarce information in our heads for later access is no longer necessary – all we need is access to ‘the global brain’ (The Internet) and the skill of knowing how to sort and use the information we access. This has dramatically and fundamentally changed the answer to the question of what an education system needs to provide for children. Obviously developing children who know how to think for themselves, who are able to find and use all available knowledge (including making new connections that have not been made before), who can

What do children in the twenty first century need to know?

Whilst this topic is inherently subjective, there is nonetheless a broad consensus emerging amongst education experts globally that our society needs to take the rapidly shifting cultural, political, economic, environmental and social factors that are prevalent today into consideration in figuring out what children need to be able to know and do to thrive in the twenty first century – these have been termed “21st Century Skills”. There are two key features which define our global society at the beginning of the 21st century. These are: Widespread systems collapse, and Rapid technological advance Widespread Systems Collapse There is a growing collective realisation that the systems on which w

Who are children and how do they learn?

If the reason that our mechanistic education system is failing is because children are not standardised machines that need to be told what to do all the time, but rather they are organisms, then how do organisms actually function? There is a fairly new multi-disciplinary field of study called Biomimicry, which studies how natural systems function. Biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, in which Biomimicry is defined as a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems". Biomimicry has focused on identifying the types o

Re-Imagining Education

Rather than accepting that the mainstream education model is the best that it can be and the problems I described in my previous post are just inevitable facts of life which our society has to cope with, I believe that it is entirely possible for all children everywhere to thrive. Humans have an inbuilt instinct to grow and evolve our thinking and to keep on innovating to make things better. Rather than stagnating with less than perfect outcomes by saying ‘this is the best we can do’ – we always think again and try again until something better emerges. Looking wider than education it becomes obvious that our society is stuck in a series of human systems that does not serve us. Education is j

What is wrong with the status quo in education?

All of our human systems (the way our society is organised) have evolved as a result of a starting assumption (or founding philosophy, idea or way of thinking) that was predominant at a specific time, which in turn defined a pattern of acceptable behaviours and actions from that time forward, and ultimately resulted in habitual ways of doing things that became more durable than the people who operated within the system (even when the people within the system changed, the operation of the system persisted). A human-created system or model, by its very nature, is never neutral – it is influenced by factors such as culture, politics, economics, as well as environmental, spiritual and social fac

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