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The Perfect School: How We Can Make Our Education System Relevant Again

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 | 13 Comments

Warning- this post has nothing to do with running, barefoot or otherwise. If you’re not into random tangents, skip this one. It’s simply an experience-based rant.

Schools suck. As much as we would like to pat ourselves on the back and trumpet our few successes, the modern school is a abysmal failure. We’ve developed a system where we’re teaching skills that are minimally relevant to our society, tested with measurement tools that are neither reliable or valid, and set up putative measures when schools fail to meet the crappy-ass benchmarks set by the tests.

Schools are effective… for a small handful of students that excel in the current structure. Unfortunately they fail the majority of the time… and they’re becoming less and less relevant in today’s world. The factory-worker-turned white-collar-worker-production-factory format is irrelevant in the age of the Internet.

Schools should no longer be training workers to get the best jobs. They should be training people to make the best jobs. As Seth Godin has commented, schools should teach two things- real leadership and how to solve interesting problems.

Here are my solutions:

  1. Make school non-compulsory. People learn best when intrinsically motivated. Forcing students to learn anything is a really bad idea. Even if a few students are intrinsically motivated, they’re short-changed by teachers that are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to motivate students that don’t want to be there.
  2. Open schools to people of all ages. This is required because of #1. Also, this will teach people to interact with individuals of all ages. As it currently stands, schools segregate kids into groups of people one or two years apart. Students learn to socialize with people their own age… with limited interaction with people from other generations.
  3. Eliminate curriculum as it currently exists. Make schools a problem-based institution. The school would be a centerpiece of the local community and serve to solve problems. If the community has a problem, the school would be responsible for developing a solution. Various subjects would be taught as a means of solving these problems. For example, let’s say the community wants to attract more businesses to a downtown area. Some groups would be responsible for financial analysis. Others would be responsible for construction. Maybe one group would work on marketing. Through processes like this, all subjects would be taught through practical, relevant application.
  4. Eliminate grades. Grades are nothing more than an external motivator that sap long-term motivation. Furthermore, they’re poor predictors of future success… unless you’re measuring success in academics. The groups in school would have a problem to solve. There would be no failure, only successfully solving the problem. If the problem is not solved, they would try another solution. This would continue until the problem is solved.
  5. Eliminate the current structure of control. There would be no school board, superintendent, or principals. Schools would be run by the participants. Each person involved gets a single vote regardless of their role regardless of age. It’s true democracy in action. If a bad decision is made, the school will face the consequences and learn from the mistake.
  6. Anyone could teach any subject. Teaching would be de-certified. Any motivated individual in the community that has skills to pass on would be allowed to teach their skills to help solve the community problems. The teaching force would be entirely volunteer for reasons of motivation- it would be important for the teachers to be intrinsically motivated to pass on knowledge, not make money.
  7. The “school” is the community. It may consist of a physical building, but much of the work would likely occur off-site. Where appropriate, classrooms and necessary supplies would be provided.
  8. The school operation would be entirely funded by the local community. They would choose to spend as much or as little as they would like. Since the lines between the community and school are blurred and the school operation directly benefits the community as a whole, there’s a clear motivation to provide the school with the necessary resources to serve its purpose.

There you have it- my solution to making schools better. It’s a radical idea, but it would make schools hubs of innovation that would teach relevant skills in a socially-responsible way.

What do you think? 😉


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  1. Chadisbarefoot
    July 14, 2012

    None of those work without #1, and the bleeding hearts would NEVER let that happen. Shame.

  2. John
    July 13, 2012

    Very similar to my own concerns. I was going to school for secondary science ed. but got (annoyed, disillusioned, fed-up, angry, pick one, doesn’t matter) with what I feel is a very backwards style of motivating those who do not want to be motivated. It worked (sort of) when it was first conceived, but in this age, with just the sheer number of different personalities, needs, desires, inherent skill sets et al. we need to revamp how kids are “taught”, and it is my belief that “dirt under the nails” would be more motivational than just getting some “certified” figurehead to drone incessantly at a podium. Kids are active creatures and need activity. Make them do, not listen. If they do, their inherent curiosity will make them ask, “Who What Why Where How When” and that is how they will learn, because they will WANT to listen if it is a question they ask and wish to learn.

    • John
      July 13, 2012

      Also, those who raise, “The Price Of Ignorance” did not have $40,000+ of student loans to repay. Knowledge should be free. End of Rant.

  3. Glenn
    July 13, 2012

    Granted college is kind of one big elective, I think these principles apply to college curriculums as well. Nothing zapped my motivation in school more than taking useless gen ed courses to help me become a more “well rounded” individual. I just want to take courses relative to my interests and future goals. Perhaps we would see a reduction in debt for post grads because students wouldn’t be forced to spends thousands of dollars on classes they don’t give a shit about. Although that may put a dent in the profit margins of those businesses…. I mean, colleges.

  4. Tuck
    July 13, 2012

    Love it. You’re taking education back 150 years. As a card-carrying reactionary, I approve.

    • Jason
      July 13, 2012

      Good point about 150 years ago, Tuck. I would argue our society today has more in common with pre-Industrial Revolution Europe than 20th century America. The Internet has returned us to an age when everyone is essentially an artisan producing goods and services for a small community, only our small community is global. It makes no sense to teach kids as if they will be cogs in giant organizations.

      Even if they decide to work for a giant organization, they’re not going to be lifers. They will be hired mercenaries that bring a specific skill for a specific task and will change organizations as needed.

      I could go on and on, but the point should be obvious.

  5. luke
    July 13, 2012

    Good points, Jason! Do you have any books, or articles, or specific writers that you found interesting and talk about the flaws in the current educational system, or have solutions similar to the stuff you’ve brought up? I’d be uber curious to read deeper into this.

    • Jason
      July 13, 2012

      It’s sort of a combination of some ideas from John Gotto, Seth Godin, Chris Guillebeau, and I believe Socrates. Most is a direct result of my own experiences as a teacher. When I started, teachers had a ton of freedom to meet the needs of individual student needs. The fallout from NCLB more or less ruined that by forcing teachers to teach to the tests.

      Also, for 11 years, I taught electives. My last year I taught a required class. This taught me the importance of intrinsic motivation. Forcing kids to do anything is counter-productive.

    • Andy
      July 13, 2012

      Check out Matt Hern…

  6. Andy
    July 13, 2012

    Sounds like you’d dig my kid’s old school, Windsor House, in North Vancouver, BC. It’s a non-coercive, publicly funded, democratic, parent-participation school that goes from kindergarten to the end of high school. Check it out: and a video:

    Although my kid chose to go to a “normal” school this year, he knows that the option is still there and is thinking that he’ll return for high school. Going to this school for the first five years of his education (as if all life, not just time spent in a school, isn’t education… but you know what I mean) gave him confidence to make his own choices in life.

    You should come check Windsor House out some time and then stick around to run in our awesome North Shore mountains.

    • Jason
      July 13, 2012

      I’ve heard of the school. it sounds somewhat similar to the Sudbury school, which has some similarities to my “utopia.” There are other influences like High Tech High in San Diego: and the home school, free school, and unschooling movement.

      Basically all take a slightly different approach to the same problems.

  7. trissa
    July 13, 2012

    Good stuff. Kinda like taking homeschooling to a newer…or deeper level.

    • Jason
      July 13, 2012

      Exactly. Specifically, it takes unschooling to a deeper level by adding community involvement in a democratically-controlled environment… much like “real life.” 🙂