“What we need is not alternative schools, but alternatives to schools”
The main objective of this blog is to show that we can promote and drastically improve education by creating a learning society in which schools basically play no role (except, perhaps, that of temporary custodians of people who have no other place to be).
An enormous effort and a fantastic amount of money are dedicated nowadays to attempts to promote and improve education by changing / innovating / transforming / reinventing schools. The results are dismal. This effort has been a waste of time & money.
This blog will propose a different route – which is not in any way new.
In 1970 Ivan Illich wrote his path-breaking book Deschooling Society. At that time the information and communication technologies (ICT) we have today still did not exist. And yet Illich proposed something very similar to what his friend Paulo Freire was demanding, more or less at the same time, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed: that we educate one another through interaction, personal exchanges, dialogue, collaboration – without any need of schools and professional educators.
Today we have fantastic ICT that allow us easy access to the Internet’s universal library and, more important, that give us easy access to one another, to people with sophisticated competencies, knowledge and expertise that, incredible as it may seem, are often quite willing to communicate with others, on a one-to-one basis or in more general environments, to share what they know and know how to do, in order to help other people learn what they are interested in learning, want or need to learn.
It is now possible, through the many social networks and media, to bring the maieutic learning methodology proposed by Socrates to scale, offering everyone a Personalized Education that satisfies their interests, wants and needs.
In times past (and present) we worried about teaching methodologies – didactics. It is now more than time that we move on to worry about learning methodologies – mathetics, an idea from Jan Comenius that Seymour Papert more recently relaunched and amplified (and Papert was a good friend of Freire and Illich as well).
In 1983 I wrote an article questioning those who viewed ICT as ways to automate teaching through teaching machines and programmed instruction. I then proposed instead that we view ICT as tools to enable and facilitate human learning. At about the same time Bill Gates, in his first book (Business @ the Speed of Thought), insisted that the revolutionary potential of ICT in Education was in the fact that they put people in contact with people, and gave them access to information so they could do whatever they wanted or needed to do to promote their interests and transform their dreams into reality.
To learn, as Peter Senge showed in The Fifth Discipline, is not to accumulate information (to become “mentally obese” with information, as Rubem Alves said): to learn is to become capable of doing that which we could not do before (and, often, wanted or needed to do). As simple as that. To learn is to build capacity. To learn is to build competencies. To learn is to develop as a human being, to make ourselves into that which we want to become, to define a life project for ourselves and to act to transform it into reality.
Differently from many other animal species, we are born not knowing much and not knowing how to do almost anything. We are born “inautonomous” (not to say incompetent), unable to take care of ourselves. That is why we have to depend on others for quite some time – until we start learning things and, most importantly, until we start learning how to do things. (We are born knowing how to learn). We take about one year to start walking, two to three years to start communicating verbally in a minimally effective manner… Some kids (?) in our society require about 25 to 30 years to find out what they want to make of themselves and to become financially (and otherwise) autonomous in the care of themselves.
Fortunately we are born with three characteristics that are essential to human development:
- Our genetic programming is minimal and open: within limits, we can become almost anything we want;
- Our innate capacity for learning (in the sense seen above) is incredibly large, flexible, and quite effective;
- The set of our total individual traits or characteristics is unique and, despite our basic common human substratum, makes us different from everybody else.
Given these features, mass education, education of the type “one size fits all”, should be abandoned. Personalized Education is imperative. And, today, we all can achieve it, with the help of already available formidable technologies. Today we can bring socratic maieutic to scale so it can benefit everyone.
So, the time is ripe to deschool and personalize education and to make ours a true Learning Society.
São Paulo, August 22, 2017