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In my last post here, I defined the common pain problem of 20th-century textbooks and 20th-century schools as a paradigm that no longer fits current reality.  It would be like trying to navigate a busy city, c. 2012, with a map made in 1952 or even 1972.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the map would still work … but in many parts of town you’d get hopelessly, helplessly lost.

Sadly, when that happens to learners in school, to readers and users of textbooks, we usually don’t blame the map.  All too often, we blame the users – the students and teachers and parents – instead of looking at the system.

The shared difficulty of 20th-century model schools and textbooks is the notion that knowledge is scarce.  If you believe that, you’ll build a system where

  • the focus is on the knowledge itself
  • the people (or resources) with the knowledge are more important than those without it
  • the core purpose is to transmit the knowledge, as is, from those who have it to those who don’t.
  • anything that gets in the way of transmitting the knowledge is seen as a problem.

Think about your favorite (or least favorite) textbook for a moment, and think about your experiences in school … and those of any children you know and care about. Especially think about the ones who’ve been labeled as gifted or exceptional, advanced or delayed.

See what I mean?

1. What does your solution do?

In a nutshell, it changes the central paradigm from transmission of scarce knowledge to curation of – and co-creation with – hyper-abundant knowledge.  It replaces those 1952 city maps and Yellow Pages ads with the up-to-date Maps app on your smartphone, with crowd-sourced recommendations of places to go and things to do. 

2. How does it work?

Check out the Tres Columnae Project website, and check out the vision statement for the Three Column Schools.  Teachers and students work together, as partners and co-learners, to “build something meaningful together.”  We acknowledge there’s more knowledge, more information, than anyone possibly use or acquire … so why not explore some of it together, make sense of it together, build things with it together?  Why not build a joyful learning community together?  Why not learn how to learn by actually learning – learn how to do by actually doing?

3. Why would someone want it?

Because an accurate map is a lot more helpful than an outdated one!  I love old maps – my favorite right now is this interactive map of the Roman Empire in the 1st Century C.E. – but when I’m at a conference in an unfamiliar city, I use Google Maps, not a printed map from 1952, 1972, or even 1992.  And when I’m working with my students, I seek to use tools and approaches they value, ones that help them make sense of the world they live in now … not the vanished ones I knew in 1992 or 1972.

4. If helpful, draw a picture of your solution.

Let me use the one I drew to illustrate the pain, but focus on the right side of the picture:

What do you think?  Would you rather learn “stuff” from a 20th-century textbook – or from a 21st-century learning community?  Would you rather have pre-digested knowledge transmitted – or build knowledge, skills, and understandings by participating in a joyful community?  If I’m right about the solution, I think I know how most learners, most families, most communities will answer.

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