Bring on the Learning Revolution!

We live in an era of momentous change.  The industrial revolution feathered out and the information revolution feathered in over the course of the last century and the world is a different place. The digital revolution is transforming every aspect of our lives and economic activity is becoming more and more virtual. 

This massive shift in the economic activity of our workforce required and continues to require a retooling of the American worker. Retooling is achieved by re-educating the existing workforce and by reforming the educational system of the future workers. Corporate America has done well with retooling its human resources, offering training, guidance, career paths and so on that facilitate the shift.  Our schools, however, don’t appear to be making the grade.       

In 2002, UNICEF compared public education in 24 industrialized nations worldwide.  The United States ranked 18th amongst its peers. In the 1960s America had the highest graduation rate in the world, now it is struggling to hold onto #19.  Why this alarming trend?  Let’s consider it for a moment.     

Our present educational system traces its roots to a time when the great need was for industrial experts, white and blue collar workers capable of running the machinery that drove the American economy. Industrial thinking is very linear, inputs go through a process and become outputs.  Raw materials go in, finished goods flow out.  The more standardized a process, the better. Our schools, to put it bluntly, were designed in large measure to produce reliable factory workers.  The institutional architecture, the bells ringing on the hour and the standardized curricula created an environment and a mindset that produced an ideal worker for the era. 

Enter the information and digital revolution.  The world, once highly centralized, now is much less so. The American workforce as a result is now more mobile than ever, job changes often mean geographic changes and the idea of life-long employment one company quickly gave way to workers who change employers on average every two years.  An increasing number of the American workforce never visits the office, taking advantage of the opportunity to telecommute, working from home or perhaps a beach somewhere.

The needs of the former age – uniformity, conformity, predictability – are quickly giving way to the needs of our common era, namely: creativity, diversity and adaptability. Sir Ken Robinson, a fascinating and inspiring speaker presented a compelling talk at TED 2010.  He argued that education dislocates people from their natural talents and that human resources, like natural resources, tend to be buried deep underground.

Sir Robinson feels that simple reform is insufficient can calls for a revolution in education.  A revolution requires innovation, but how do we innovate fundamentally?  By challenging what we take for granted, what we think is obvious. Robinson makes the point that the challenge in any revolution is found in the tyranny of common sense. It can be quite difficult to get people to look beyond the model that they have been shaped by and the model in which their lives are deeply woven. 

Robinson uses this brilliant quote from Abraham Lincoln to emphasize the point: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.”

Enjoy his presentation:

We, as a nation, tend to be enthralled by the concepts of conformity and linearity, which as I said is the filmy overlay of times gone by. Much like biofilms in nature, these old memes can be hard to shake. Perhaps we can agree on one thing, for starters.  Human talent is tremendously diverse. Wouldn’t you agree? I am often amazed at the depth and breadth of talent contained in one person let alone across the spectrum of humanity.

Our education system, to be effective, must meet today’s needs.  There is little point in asking W.W.H.M.D?  (What would Horace Mann do?) as the world now is a very different place than when Horace Mann instigated educational reforms in Massachusetts that made educational available to all via a new public school system based on the earlier Prussian “common school” model. What must we do now, in our era, based on the unique configuration of factors that we face, to design an educational system capable of creating morally and intellectually strong young adult workers?

Robinson makes the case that the “industrial” model of education must yield to to an “agricultural” model. The need is for an organic model, not a mechanical one. We must  create conditions under which children will flourish, just as a farmer or a gardener would a field. We must personalize education so that the inherent and unique configuration of talents can be drawn forth, rather than stamped or painted on as would be the case in the linear, conformist model.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

By the way, Sir Ken Robinson has a great website worth checking out. See it here:

Have a fabulous day!


6 thoughts on “Bring on the Learning Revolution!

  1. Colin

    What a great post on education. Everybody knows that everybody’s different, so why is it that everyone needs to take the same educational path in life? There are so many possibilities now open that weren’t ten years ago! Maybe one of this blog’s readers will create the revolution in education….


  2. K. Newell

    Creating an environment for children and young people to flourish is the passion behind why I chose teaching as a career. I specifically chose to work within the public school system because, even though there are ‘archaic’ methods and requirements in the system, I know how much even just one bright teacher can make a difference in the life of a child who may have no other means of exposure to a world beyond the various ‘conformities’ and limitations imposed on him or her. I cannot thank you enough for broaching this topic today – it warrants a lot of my creative meditation to make sure I am updated in my thinking and approach.


  3. Mark Miller

    Thank you for the historical context on this subject. As you pointed out yesterday, understanding such a context is important if we are to make progress and not simply live on the basis of doing things “as they’ve always been done”. That is a recipe for stunted development and deterioration within the actual context of the needs of our times. Appreciate the eye-opening post!


  4. Mauree Kai

    I strongly agree we need to rethink education in this country. I chose to home school my son with the intention of creating an environment he would thrive in and feel safe to pursue his interests. The focus is not on test scores but rather on his strengths and interests. The studies are created around the things he wants to learn more about. When a child’s mind is fully engaged in a creative manner, they are self driven to learn and explore. Then true learning takes place. The present educational system in this country seems more interested and focused in making the school look good with overall test scores rather than investing time into what would make the children look good or what do they need to thrive and maximize their individual talents and potential. I notice more and more young people in the workforce who lack common sense. I believe they have become so conditioned that they are losing touch with themselves.


  5. Brad

    This is an excellet post and TED link!
    My wife and I choose to homeschool our children, not because we simply want our children to have more fun with education, not because we are “anti-establishment”, not for any religious strong hold, but for the very reasons you and Sir Robinson mention here – education needs to be dynamic with an emphasis on creative thinking, so that we all can “rise WITH the ocassion”.
    We’ve recently been reading a book on experiential learning & parenting by Kim John Payne called, Simplicity Parenting – I highly recommend it to anyone in a position of Parenting or teaching others. Mr. Payne speaks of the principle and value of using resources wisely to support creative thinking rather than simply pasting “more” on from the outside – ie toys and “stuff”, which often reinforce linear thinking.
    It’s time we do more than just think outside the box, perhaps even step outside the box!


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