1. The Idea

Once you start messing around with the paradigm of the textbook, as I did in my other post for this week, you quickly realize that different learning materials require different teaching and learning practices.  And those practices require different kinds of spaces and roles and responsibilities and expectations.  When you change one part of a complex system, that small change can cause huge ripples.  So, if you’re really committed to new kinds of learning materials, you quickly discover that you may have to create a whole new kind of learning environment to go with them.

2. The Problem

In my last post, I talked a lot about the problems with textbooks and with the teaching and learning practices that textbooks promote.  But if you move away from that factory-model paradigm of teaching and learning, you also need to move away from the factory-style approach to space and time that’s built into 20th-century style schools.  You also need to redefine the customer.  Of course, lots of schools don’t think they have any customers at all, and others are really confused about who their customers are.  But factory-model schools did, originally, have customers, as Seth Godin has compellingly pointed out.  They were designed to serve the factory system that needed a lot of well-trained, compliant workers; a few better-trained, competent managers; and a small number of visionaries who would come up with ideas for next-generation factories and products.

No factory system, no customers for the existing product.  But it’s really hard to rebuild a complex system to produce different results or to serve different customers.

I’ve tried to do that in my own classroom, and I’ve had some positive results … but I’ve also realized how hard it is to make fundamental change to a complex system.  If you work from below (which I’ve tried to do), the changes get swallowed up by the larger system.  But if you try to work from above, you quickly discover how little your positional influence and power really matter.  Systems, once built, tend to keep operating the way they operate.  If you want different results – disruptively different results – it’s a lot easier to get them by building a new system than by trying (and probably failing) to rebuild an old one.

3. How does our idea address the problem?

Three Column Schools will redefine the school as a joyful learning community instead of a factory, and we redefine our customers as learners and their families rather than the factory system.  That changes everything.

  • Instead of consuming pre-digested knowledge, student-learners work together to help each other learn.
  • Instead of presenting pre-digested knowledge, teacher-learners work together (with each other and with student-learners) to build an environment where active learning can happen.
  • Yes, there are skills that everybody should develop, and knowledge that everyone needs.  But the community addresses these requirements openly, together.  Structures beyond the school level can reclaim their proper role of assisting and supporting the school community, not imposing mandates or exerting authority.
  • Instead of passively complying with, or actively resisting, mandates from “them,” parents and community members are part of “us,” as actively involved as they want to be in building the learning environment and the learning itself.
  • The space and time are flexible because communities are flexible, not fixed because factory shifts are fixed.
  • Learners own the learning process; they’re building something for themselves and each other, not something designed by a far-away boss they’ll never see.
  • There’s a lot less need for “classroom management” (Wow! That really is a 20th-century term, isn’t it?) and a lot more need for leadership of learning.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in future posts!

4. Why?

People are always saying that “schools are broken” – but that’s really not true.  Schools, and other 20th-century systems from healthcare to finance to brick-and-mortar retail, sometimes feel broken, but that’s usually because they’re doing the job they were designed to do – it’s just not the job that we want done anymore.   I want to move away from complaining about that, or from trying in vain to rebuild the plane in flight (that’s important, valuable work, but it’s not my skill set or my passion).  Instead, I want to help build the communities that will build the structures that will do the new jobs that we need now.

Does anybody want to join a community like that?