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 individually and collectively to self-assemble ever bigger and more inter-connected learning webs.
The important thing to remember is that a Future School can be anything from one child learning at home to hundreds of children in a very large school or groups of schools. As long as the operating principles I have defined on this blog are used as a basis for organising the way that learning emerges (with school functioning as an enabling environment for self-organised learning to emerge), it will classify as a Future School.
I read an article entitled An Organic View of Educational Change by Sandor Szabados, Terri Bawden (1995) in which they said about an organic education system: ‘Rather than trying to impose a high degree of control much like a master puppeteer, participants must instead learn to dance’ (From http://www.21learn.org/archive/an-organic-view-of-educational-change/). I love this quote because for me the system that we create needs to be able to dance. It needs to be able to feel what its dance partners are doing so that it can change tempo or direction when necessary. It needs to be in a state of constant flow rather than fixed and rigid. However, dancing is not chaotic – it is the result of following a few simple pre-determined steps in a beautiful and rhythmic, but not always entirely predictable, way. So a dance is both structured and flexible. As long as we know the steps we can interpret them any way we like.
The blueprint for organic education is therefore only the dance steps, which the dancers can combine in a million different ways, and put to different music with different costumes for a rich and varied outcome.
How to Dance?
How to switch to a new system seems overwhelming if the focus is on trying to undo everything that’s not working in the existing system. This is what I like about the idea of offering people a simple pattern that they can interpret in numerous different ways. I believe that, as long as all players in the education system follow the simple principles I have listed on this blog, an organic education system will emerge.
What I know for sure is that the process of putting these principles into practice will result in a million different outcomes. It is often said that there are a thousand paths to God – well, I believe that there are many thousands of paths to organic education and through organic education. I am not attempting to lay down the definitive law here – rather I would like to open peoples’ minds to a possibility and start a conversation about how we might get this new paradigm to emerge now that we understand that it is possible for complexity to arise from a few simple principles (like fractals).
I realise that there are a million reasons why one could say that this cannot be done – what Diana Rhoten from Edutopia calls all the ‘yes, but’ reasons – yes it’s a good idea, but it is not possible for the system to shift so dramatically.
Rhoten says that ‘design thinking facilitators know that whenever any sort of change or innovation is discussed, the “YES, BUT” objections are inevitable. However, instead of allowing those resistance points to dominate and defeat promising ideas, design thinkers work hard to try and reframe the opposition into possibility by asking the question “how can we?”“Yes, but” keeps us stuck, whereas “how can we?” focuses on adaptation, forward progress and collective effort’.
‘Challenging barriers and other issues need to be put on the table and addressed, but without getting mired in negativity and defeatism. Both individually and collectively we have the ability to do and be so much more than our current reality reflects’ (found at dangerouslyirrelevant.org).
I know that it does not help to try to piecemeal your way to change because each of those small changes are seen by the rest of the system as a cancer and the whole system fights against that change and kills it off. I also know that it is very difficult for successful incumbents in the old system to consider or embrace change. However, instead of reaching the conclusion that change is not possible, I am much more interested in exploring the “how can we?” questions.
So, now that I have defined my principles for organic education I am asking “How can we get there from where we are right now?”
I realise that one of the biggest inhibitors in the emergence of an organic education system is the fact that the current system is so entrenched, and nobody can see how to stop doing education the old way. Even defining a blueprint for organic education does not explain how to stop doing mechanistic education.
I have said that I believe that, just as the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones but because a more effective medium for making tools emerged, we need a new education model that makes the old model obsolete – I believe that the model I have described would make the old model obsolete. Nonetheless, I know that it is not possible or practical to close down all mechanistic schools and education administration and start again.
There has to be a way to start to transition mechanistic schools and systems to become organic schools and systems. As an ex-management consultant I realise that one way to do this could be to re-engineer existing schools and education departments to fit the new mission and vision I have specified above. When companies re-position themselves in the market place they often go through a re-engineering process to realign their processes with their new vision. I believe that this would be no different for the education system.
In this blog I have started to explore some of the key aspects of the existing education system to figure out how to transition them from where they are now to an organic alternative.
I really liked Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk entitled “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley”. In this talk he describes California’s Death Valley, which is named as such because it is so hot that absolutely nothing grows there. He explains that in 2004 Death Valley experienced an unprecedented 7 inches of rain and the following year the entire valley was completely carpeted in wild flowers. He explains his opinion that (our) education system currently seems like Death Valley, but hidden dormant under the ground are millions of wildflower seeds waiting to emerge when the right conditions present themselves. For me this is an enormously hopeful vision which I most certainly agree with. I too believe that the way that our education system has been conceived and constructed has prevented so much underlying potential from emerging, but that does not mean the potential is not there – it is just waiting for the right conditions under which it can emerge.
I have explored some of the key areas which need to transform in order for an organic system to emerge and include some of my thoughts regarding how to make these changes. This is really the start of a much longer and ongoing conversation, but I have taken this next step to illustrate that there are ways and means to release the mechanistic system and allow the organic system to emerge. I will describe these thoughts on this blog over the coming days...
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 enough to facilitate learning’. He says that ‘the high performance (education) systems of the world individualise teaching and learning, they attribute high status to teachers and they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done (not politicians, etc). If you remove teachers’ discretion it stops working. Education is about humans/people and not machines’.
A lot of people might argue that people who are teachers in the current mechanistic education system will not be able to adapt to the role of the teacher that both Sir Ken Robinson and I have defined as a fundamental principle for organic education.
It is certainly true that the teaching profession will need to shift as part of the shift to an organic education model, but I do not think that teachers in the current system will necessarily have to leave. I think it is probably true that many subject specialists will find it difficult to stop focusing on teaching the content that they know and allowing processes to unfold and might wish to leave, but many would embrace the change and find it far easier than trying to force children to learn things that do not interest them.
What an organic system needs in classrooms are generalists who love children and the process of learning, and who are good communicators with children as well as good process managers/classroom managers. That does not mean that all existing teachers are redundant – many existing teachers have entered the teaching profession because it is their calling to teach children, and those will adapt with the system (many of them will feel far more comfortable in a less regimented system anyway – these are the “wildflower seeds” that Robinson is talking about). Some subject specialists who are passionate about their subject will still have a role as subject experts within an organic schooling system. I met a French teacher who lives in my area and divides her week up across four or five different schools. None of these schools require her expertise full time, but she has a full time job across five schools. This is a potential for teachers who wish to remain subject specialists. Many subject specialists do not enjoy the classroom management aspect of their jobs and might seriously prefer to work in this ‘expert’ way across a number of different schools (maybe each school region needs an ‘expert’ database of resources who can be pulled in when required). Some subject experts will no doubt be happy to be both an expert and a generalist, when each is required.
There will certainly be a process of attrition as some teachers in the mechanistic system find that they cannot or do not want to adapt to an organic system. However, I do not believe that the system will have to start from scratch or abandon everybody to start again. What will be needed is a process of redefining roles and requirements and figuring out what human resources the school already has available and what it still requires. There will also be a transition period as some teachers figure out whether they can adapt or not. This process is no different from the re-engineering processes regularly undertaken in businesses – it will require diplomacy and flexibility and it will not be done overnight. However, with a clear intention and direction it will be achieved eventually.
This brought me to consider the question of recruiting new teachers into the education system. In order to determine who to recruit we have to ask: ‘What makes a good teacher?’
I think this is a very good question that has not been considered very strategically by the existing school system, which has tended to focus on attracting subject specialists into teaching, and has been limited by the salaries that it could afford to pay and who might be willing to work for those salaries.
In my mother’s era teaching was one of the few professions that women were welcome in, and so many very brilliant women went into teaching (my mother being one of them). In my generation, if you were considered ‘intelligent’ you were benignly steered in the direction of one of the more high profile (and better paid) professions like law, medicine, accounting. I know so many unfulfilled business professionals who would make exceptional teachers but were never encouraged to consider teaching as a desirable profession because they were told they could ‘do better’.
I myself have spent 20 years in a wide variety of professional roles (economist, management consultant, entrepreneur) and now I find myself teaching at a small school that I have started. I have realised that I am actually a good teacher – I love being with children, I love watching children think and interact and play, and I love supporting their learning. I am really ideally suited to being an educator in an organic learning environment. Ironically, the experience that I have had outside of teaching makes me even more suited to the role of teacher today. The fact that I am a mother too makes the thought of teaching children even more appealing. I realise that I am the sort of person that schools should be targeting to become teachers, and that there are many more people like me out there who could be attracted into teaching under the right circumstances. The four inhibiting factors at present are:
teaching is not considered a high profile or aspirational profession,
teaching qualifications are narrowly defined which dissuades many people from considering becoming a teacher,
teachers are not given much freedom to decide what and how to teach (they have to follow a long list of rules as determined by everyone from national education departments down to school administration), and
teachers are poorly paid.
These four things will have to change if the system hopes to attract the right sort of people as teachers going forwards.
It is imperative to get society to value teachers more – not easy but imperative. Instead of saying that it is impossible to pay teachers more on existing budgets, the education system needs to start exploring how this might be possible if budgets could be re-prioritised. That being said, money is not the biggest motivator in many people’s lives. As Daniel Pink explains in his book ‘Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us’ (From educationalurbanism.wordpress.com – What Motivates?), our traditional understanding of motivation is – if you reward what you want then you’ll get more of that, and if you punish what you don’t want then you’ll get less of that. However, he explains that ‘The carrot and stick model is greatly successful to motivate people during routine tasks, but miserable for motivating people to do creative, conceptual tasks. Large rewards lead to poor performance – creative work needs more human and less material incentives’.
Pink describes the non-material incentives that motivate in the knowledge economy:
1. People need to be paid enough so that they don’t have to think about money.
2. Acknowledge the 3 driving forces for creativity at work:
Autonomy (self-directed engagement)
Mastery (we have the intrinsic need to get better at stuff)
Purpose (more and more people seem to need a transcendent purpose in life)
Pink says: “Human beings are purpose maximisers, not profit maximisers”
What drives employees?
We want to be self-directed
We care about mastery very very deeply
I believe that this is true of would-be good teachers too. I know it is very true of myself – I currently work for free because I am so focused on purpose maximising over profit maximising. This is not to say that I would not prefer to have an income than not to have one – merely it highlights that an income is less important to me than the feeling that I am doing something meaningful to me. The education system needs to work out what ‘enough’ is for would-be teachers, and to figure out how to pay this.
Another thing that the system needs to do is to accept that people from other professional backgrounds could make good teachers. The system needs to define the characteristics of a good teacher and to seek these over teaching qualifications. Almost every teacher I know says that their teachers’ diploma was just common sense and it could have been taught to them in far less time than the year that is usually allocated for this. I think the education system needs to start accepting people who have qualified in other professions as potentially excellent teachers – and suitable experience should not just include previous teaching experience, but should also consider life experience and character. We need to define a process for identifying people with the right abilities and interests to become teachers.
Finland is one country where teachers are well respected and well paid and where the best and brightest are therefore attracted into teaching. (From The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System (film by Robert Compton), quoted by Sir Ken Robinson) In Finland only the top 10% of students are recruited from university to become teachers. Qualifying to become a teacher in Finland is difficult. Teachers are well-trained, well-supported and given time to reflect about what they are doing, including during the school day. The system includes no tests and no inspectorate – it trusts people to be accountable for themselves. There is no huge set of national curriculum standards either, just a small collection of broadly defined standards that allow for local interpretation and implementation. It would be worth studying the Finnish system further to figure out how other countries might emulate it, not just when it comes to teachers. I will discuss it further at a later stage.
Sir Ken Robinson says that ‘a system is just a set of organising principles and the human resources to put it in place’. He argues that we need to think differently about the challenge of education – we need to recruit good teachers, we need to trust them, and we need to allow diversity of approaches and outcomes. I agree with him entirely.
Thom Markham (from www.thommarkham.com) says ‘Assess and develop the core personality strengths necessary for inquiry-based educators: flexibility, resilience, open-mindedness, divergent thinking. Incorporate/integrate heart-based teaching styles, socio-emotional learning and communication and collaboration skills into daily routines in the classroom. This translates into deeper learning’.
Markham also comments on the fact that teachers need to act more like coaches and practise the ‘art of ruthless compassion’ with children: ‘In a traditional classroom human variation is muted by rows, a standardised lesson, and the teacher’s ability to keep an eye on every student. In project-based learning personalities bloom, tendencies (good or disruptive) emerge and students often confuse the freedom to inquire with the licence to mess around. Messiness can be cured only by coaching individual students to perform better – speaking to their strengths, helping them see their challenges – returning at all times to the standards and norms for top performance – the art of ruthless compassion: give every student maximum support and require every student to perform at their best’.
Parents Expectations and Fears
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-murals, they will somehow be set up to FAIL in life. Parents are therefore very anxious to ensure that their children don’t fail, and this usually results in their choosing the safest options, rather than the most creative options, for their children’s schooling. This is also what motivates parents to persuade their children away from doing things that they really love and towards doing things that ‘make sense’, mainly in terms of future jobs. The problem with choosing the safe option for your children is that it is often not the option the children would choose for themselves, or the thing that they are really best at. For example, so many children are steered towards becoming accountants or lawyers or doctors because they are intellectually capable of it, rather than because it is what they really want to do.
I believe that many parents will be quite resistant to an organic education system – mainly because it is something new that they don’t completely understand, and where the outcomes are not 100% certain. I have spoken to several teachers from expensive private schools who complain that many parents have very clear ideas of what they want their children to get out of school (usually good enough marks to get into the right university), and that this often means the school is operating to satisfy the demands of the fee paying parents, rather than working on what makes most sense for the child.
Fear of change is also a big part of what keeps human society repeating the mistakes of our past. The parents of most children today went to mechanistic schools, and although they may not have enjoyed school much, or got a lot out of it, they assume that this is just the way that it is. There is a task required in shifting the collective consciousness of parents so that they start to understand that different is not always bad. This book is my attempt to explain to parents that the old way is not necessarily the best way and to open their minds to the fact that organic education might be an attractive alternative. Many parents are open to sending their children to Montessori or Reggio Pre-schools because they are ‘child-centred’ and yet they will not consider options like these for primary school or high school because they fear their children will be disadvantaged and not able to keep up with children who have gone to mainstream schools. I hope that this book has started to illustrate why that belief is not at all true, and why the so-called ‘alternative’ schools might actually be better equipping children for their future.
How to manage parents’ expectations is an important question to answer as part of the process of transitioning from a mechanistic to an organic education system.
The other aspect of parenting that I think might also cause a few challenges is parents’ fears for their children’s safety. Fear for their safety is what has resulted in so many security measures in modern schools. Modern schools often resemble prisons in the way that they keep children in and everybody else out. I know many parents who worry about paedophiles, serial killers and rapists attacking their children and would far rather lock them away safely in school than allow them out into the world. I realise that recent school shootings, particularly in the USA, perpetuate this belief that we need to protect our children from the real world. However, I would argue that the institutionalisation of children might be part of what causes such anti-social behaviour. I know that this is just my opinion, and that many people will argue that I am irresponsible for considering risking children’s lives by inviting community into school and taking children out into the community. I believe that we have to try to think differently about this and ask ourselves how we could still include our children in their communities whilst keeping them ‘safe’. I would say that nobody is ever completely ‘safe’, even if they never get out of bed and avoid every perceived risk. I love my children as much as anybody, but I realise that I cannot watch them every moment of every day or prevent anything bad ever happening to them. To attempt to do this is the mentality that sends pre-schoolers to school with crash helmets on and sues the school for every scratch. This route has no end and becomes increasingly ridiculous as people try to cover the risk of every single potential eventuality (this is like European Union legislation, in my mind).
I believe that we have to equip our children to be able to take reasonable care of themselves and others, and then trust them and trust life. This is not to say that nothing bad will ever happen, but there is as much chance of bad happening in a mechanistic education system as in an organic education system.
I believe that somehow the education system needs to take parents along on all aspects of the journey to organic education, including overcoming fear of the unknown. There is more thinking to be done regarding how best to do this.
Our current system of education administration 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 at a national level. It is definitely worth learning from this example to figure out how the Finns have achieved a national consensus on education that is very organic, decentralised, self-regulating, cooperative and resourceful. I will discuss this further later in this book.
At the school level, schools need leadership that is creative and committed to organic education, as well as a core group of teachers and parents who support the shift to organic education and will drive it even when hiccups materialise in the process. I also believe that schools need to develop a collaborative culture where all stakeholders attempt to solve problems together and that this will go a long way to enabling the shift to occur. I think schools will become less hierarchical and far more flat-structured in an organic system. Both children and teachers can also be the leaders of the school and schools will not need multiple layers of department heads to manage an organic system.
I think that if a school defines a mission and vision related to organic education and if the leadership and key stakeholders are committed to seeing organic education emerge, then they will find creative ways to make this happen together. Just because something is difficult does not mean that it is not worth doing.
Access to Information
Some people might argue that the cost of providing ubiquitous access to information (and in particular, technology), which is one of my fundamental principles for organic education, is prohibitive for most schools. I realise that technology hardware is currently expensive and requires ongoing maintenance and that many schools do not have the budget for the hardware or maintenance of technology options. I agree that this requires some creative thinking to solve, but I strongly believe that the future is about everyone being able to access information from anywhere. I have mentioned before the impact of smartphones on the uneducated farm workers that I know. Almost every farm worker I know (minimum wage earners in South Africa) is using WhatsApp on a cellphone. Our domestic worker has friended my husband on facebook from her cellphone and we now communicate on WhatsApp when she knows I am at the shops and she’s forgotten to ask me to buy something. Technology is the most exciting thing in most poor people’s lives and they prioritise access to technology above almost anything. This makes me convinced that ubiquitous Internet access is not decades away, and it certainly is not limited to the rich alone. Once again, if we decide that we want to create an organic education system then that requires a different thinking process from the process that would be required to upgrade all schools to the highest mechanistic standards.
I believe we need to start asking ourselves how we could do this, rather than assuming it would be too difficult or too expensive.
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 beneficial.
I know that the Finnish education system offers general curriculum guidelines that can be loosely interpreted by teachers. Perhaps we need to explore the sorts of curriculum guidelines that would be enabling of organic evolution in education. This does require that we trust teachers to do a good job, which once again comes back to the need for appropriate teachers.
I also believe it would be worth systematising good ideas through an education website, the way www.Pinterest.com has done for crafters of all types. I would love to see more open source ideas for topics, learning journeys, and all learning areas. At the end of this book I have begun to list my first thoughts on my own IDEAS FOR ORGANIC CURRICULUM MATERIALS AND PROCESSES. Organic education would certainly support the continuing emergence of new ideas for learning processes and content and I think the Internet provides a wonderful tool for systematising these ideas and making them accessible to all.
How can we take this thinking further?
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 remains a barrier to innovative teaching’.
‘Tests should be diagnostic – they can help, but they should not be the primary focus of education. They should support learning, not destroy it’, Sir Ken Robinson.
I believe that if the education system is determined to measure children’s learning then we should start to look for ways for children to show what they have learned in a personalised way. I believe that children should be encouraged to document their own learning process on an ongoing basis. I have kept a written journal for decades and it is an amazing reflection of my thinking and learning processes over the years – as well as where I got stuck and how I got out of being stuck. I believe it is quite possible for children to document their learning each week as part of a formalised system of assessment. Perhaps children should have to present a weekly report back on what they have learned during the week (this could be written, oral, video, painting, or any other medium of expression) – this could be done to the whole class, or just to the teacher. If this is too time consuming maybe once per month would be sufficient. This could be extended to the whole year – to finish the school year and ‘graduate’ children could write and present their learning to their class/teacher/school/community at the end of the year. I know that all children at Waldorf Schools do a Grade 11 project which takes them the whole year and which they are required to present to the school at the end of the year in order to graduate. Children can choose whatever they want as their project for the year as long as they present something at the end to describe what they learned over the year and how. This is one example of personalised assessment in practice.
The portfolio system has been an attempt to get this to happen but has failed miserably in many parts of the world because of the time-consuming nature of checking the progress by reading the portfolios and by the high stakes attached to certain points in the school system that has led to cheating and manipulation by students of material produced by others to make it look as if they have created/ achieved this themselves. For this reason personalised assessment cannot be reduced to marks, especially not comparative marks.
Many people will argue that personalised assessment is too time consuming and unsystematic. I think that we need to think more creatively about how to do this, rather than simply assuming that it is impossible. How can we do this better?
Making Schools Beautiful
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 has a community run recycling centre where community members bring things that they no longer need and the Reggio school teachers and children can use it as a source of all sorts of materials that they need. If community members can be included in the school then there is probably a long list of skills that can be accessed when necessary at very little cost (for example: sewing, cooking, woodworking, gardening). I have found that children love to feel responsible for looking after something like a garden, and are happy to take care of it. Children also love projects – I was thinking of the example of beanbags – if children decided that they wanted beanbags to sit on at school, they could source unused material from their community, they could borrow parents’ sewing materials or even machines to sew the material together and they could stuff them with anything from used plastic bread bags to dried leaves. This project could cost almost nothing if it was taken up as a project. Once again, I believe we need to start asking how we can do this rather than saying it cannot be done.
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 amazingly. I also watch the children at our pre-school who range in ages from two to six. The big ones look after the little ones, and the little ones watch and learn from the big ones – it is like a big, extended family. I think that children definitely learn as much or more from children of different ages as they do from children of the same age and I think we need to start to consider how we might enable this in a school environment. Perhaps we could divide them into stages rather than grades, as follows:
stage 1: ages 2-6, learning mainly through collaborative play
stage 2: ages 7-10, learning through exploration and observation of the physical world – form simple hypotheses about the physical world and then explore and test them.
stage 3: ages 11-14, learning through exploration and observation of more abstract concepts. Start to form own opinions and express them. Start to develop sense of morality, ethics and personal responsibility.
stage 4: ages 15-18, learning through creating own goals and defining own objectives. Start to solve life’s big questions by seeking and using multiple sources of information and experimentation.
Regarding whether school should be compulsory – compulsory schooling was created partially because of the large body of content that the founders of our existing system felt that it was necessary for children to know. Compulsory schooling also keeps children busy while parents are at work so fulfils a social function that is hard to ignore. If we agree that children today should be taught how to think and not what to think, then it is possible that compulsory attendance for the same number of days as under the mechanistic system is not such a definitive pre-requisite. Perhaps schools could specify a minimum number of required school days and children could attend flexibly so long as they met the minimum requirement? Or perhaps school should be voluntary? This certainly needs further thought and could be done differently on a case by case basis. So, how can we do this?
I think that these and many other questions are not at the level of principles for organic education, but more questions of interpretation. For me organic is about being flexible and evolving continuously. It is possible that schools might decide on one answer to the above questions and then change their minds based on how the experience unfolds. This is entirely appropriate.