What if These 50+ Activities Made Up 90% of Every School Day?

Given that I’m persistently arguing for reframing the nature of learning environments (ala the new book, Breathe: A Vision and Framework for Human-Centered Learning Environments), someone recently asked me what I want to see instead of traditional classrooms with desks rows, letter grades, and teacher’s directing and dictating while students have the primary roles of achieving expertise in compliance and conformity.

Here is my quick response…

I envision learning environments where one or more of the following 50+ items make up the bulk of every school day. I see schools where learning is rich, inspiring, meaningful, and transformational; and where the dragons of tests and grades no longer demand fear and submission. I envision a learning environment that is deeply human and humane, one that is responsive to the needs, callings, passions, proclivities, perspectives, and voices of all learners.

All of this is possible, but we must slay the industrial dragons that rule while boldly exploring and embracing the breadth of possibilities offered below (and beyond).

Note: There is plenty of overlap from one concept to the next in this list.

Adventure-Based Learning

Challenge-Based Learning

Quest-based Learning

Competition-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning

Experiential Learning

Phenomenon-Based Learning

Framing Study as Adventures & Quests

Engaged Citizenship

The Individual & Collective Pursuit of the Unknown & That Which has Never Been Accomplished Before

Service Learning

Acts of Service

Learner-Led Activities

Expeditionary Learning

Inquiry-based learning

Socratic Circles

Meaningful Engagement with Music, Art, Literature, & Performing Arts

Storytelling & Story-Making

Public Performances 

Learning in Depth

Self-Designed Projects

Self-Directed Learning Plans

Apprenticeships

Passion Projects

Genius Hour

Authentic Collaboration, Cooperation, & Teamwork

Positive Psychology Interventions

Random Acts of Kindness 

Game-Based Learning

Gameful Learning

Case-Based Learning

Gamification in Education

Real World Design Thinking Projects

Life Experiments 

Hackathons

Startup Competitions 

Games & Puzzles

Creation

Deliberate Practice Inspired by a Personal Goal or Aspiration

Deeply Meaningful Direct & Indirect Experiences with Mystery & Wonder

Rough and Tumble Play

Social Play

Communicative Play

Locomotor Play

Dramatic Play

Object Play

Explorative Play

Recapitulative Play

Deep Play

Creative Play

Socio-Dramatic Play

Symbolic Play

Mastery Play

Role Play

Fantasy & Imaginative Play

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Most People in Education are Just Looking for Faster Horses, But the Automobile is Coming

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

Remember the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford (although we don’t know if he actually said it), “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Most people in education are looking for faster horses. It is too challenging, troubling, or beyond people’s sense of what is possible to really imagine a completely different way in which education happens in the world. That doesn’t mean, however, that the educational equivalent of the automobile is not on its way. I am confident that it is very much on its way. It might even arrive earlier than even the futurists expect. Consider the following prediction.

According to this article in the Business Insider, the futurist Thomas Frey predicts that the largest Internet company in 2030 will be an online school. Yet, when you look more closely at his prediction, it is not that the largest company will be an online school, but that it will be an education-based company. I am not an economist and lack the business acumen to agree or disagree with his assessment of “the largest.” I will, however, comment on the more general prediction that there will be a single, massive Internet-based education company in 2030 that is a leading voice and holds a dominant position in the education space.

This is more than possible. He is probably right. For Frey, this relates to the growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, two trends that are clearly going to play increasingly larger roles in education this year and well into the future. Frey paints a picture of a future where robots take adaptive, individualized, and personalized learning to a new level; taking over the facilitation of massive open online courses and delivering better learning outcome results than teachers of the human sort. These robots will master the science behind the age-old principle of good teaching, “know your learners.” By mining rich and ongoing data about each learner, these robot teachers will be able to adjust the time, pace, pathway, and experience of learning to optimize outcomes, allowing students to master concepts and content in a fraction of the time that it takes today. That is how Frey sees it. These robots might not replace most teachers, but such a vision suggests that they will, at minimum, teach alongside and supplement what teachers do.

I love this prediction. It is informed, provocative, rooted in changes that are already well underway in several sectors, and it serves as a great discussion starter and source of reflection for those of us in education. It forces us to go beyond the faster horse mentality. Every technological element that Frey describes already exists and there are multiple education (or non-education) companies investing in educational applications of them. Some of these technologies are already deeply embedded in various educational systems and applications. Yet, even Frey tempers his prediction by noting that these will likely just be supplements to human teachers.

We are largely just looking for better horses in most education reform and quality improvements. We talk about how to improve retention rates in school instead of diving right into how we can re-imagine education where concepts like retention rates become irrelevant. We talk about how to get as many people as possible to earn a college degree instead of talking seriously about how we can create an model where we have the most informed and educated population in the history of the world. We talk about GPA as a good predictor of school performance thus focusing upon how to increase GPA instead of asking whether the entire grading system itself is helping or hindering what we do in education.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking faster horses in education, but that will eventually reach a limit. Horses can only go so fast. Switching from faster horses to faster humans for a second, it is certainly true that we have succeeded in creating a generation of faster humans. The 4-minute-mile barrier was broken, but there is going to be a limit when we are talking about human legs and anatomy, at least until we change the rules of the race, allow new technologies, or something else more drastic than most people might be thinking. Humans can go much faster than a 4-minute-mile. Just put them in a jet-propelled car that goes over 700 miles per hour.

There are limits to the current models of education. Tackling some of the priorities that people seem to have about learning and education in the 21st and 22nd centuries calls for automobile-level changes. We might not like Frey’s predictions. We might have moral concerns. We might want to fight for our fondness of the current system. We might want to protect our own jobs and how we do them. Yet, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t have those inhibitions and they will be working to move from faster horses to educational automobiles. I have no reason to doubt that more people will eventually embrace the innovations that come from the efforts of such people.

Frey might not have it right in terms of the specifics. Yet, I suspect that he does have it right on at least a few.

  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not bound by current educational policies. That means companies like MOOC-providers who don’t have to worry about the regulations and restrictions of K-12 and higher education institutions. This can just. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not dominated by faster horse people. Again, that probably means different types of organizations than what we typically think of as schools. This too can change. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Technologies attached to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and new forms of adaptive learning will play a key role in these educational transformations.

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

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The Future of Education: Ignore, Prepare, Predict, or Create?

When it comes to thinking about the future of education, there are four basic approaches. Some ignore thoughts about the future, arguing that it is out of reach and that there is plenty to focus on in the present. Others take the approach of preparing for the future. While it might be unknown, we can prepare ourselves by being agile, alert, responsive to subtle and significant changes and trends, and by doing what it takes to position yourself for the unknown. Then there are those who work to predict the future. While this is not a certain science, there are ways to notice trends and develop a nuanced ability to track that which is likely to stick and shape the future of education. Yet, there are those who go beyond all of these, aspiring to create the future.

Of course, there is no rule against embracing more than one of these, In fact, I suggest that there is much wisdom in takings lessons from all four emphases. Let’s look at them more closely.

Ignore

Maybe “ignore” is not the right word, but there is something to be said for not obsessing about the future. There are instances where people are so worried about or focused on what might happen in the future, that it prevents them from investing in the present. In that sense, there is a time to set aside our thinking about the future, instead dealing with the important tasks of today. By investing in creating something great today, we might be better preparing ourselves for the future anyway. As Mother Theresa is quoted as saying, ““Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” There is plenty of work in the present. Yet, there is a limit to this. Completely ignoring signs of change in the near future can be detrimental.

Prepare

The “prepare” camp is sometimes skeptical that you can actually predict the future. At the same time, those in this camp also see it as unwise to ignore the future. Instead, the goal is to figure out how to best prepare for it. In fact, this sort of mindset is arguably essential in education. We are preparing people for a future that doesn’t yet exist. As such, we have to find ways to prepare for the unknown. As Malcolm X wrote, ““Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Or, FDR said it this way, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Predict

As I wrote in a recent article, the future might seem to sneak up on us in unexpected ways, but it rarely happens in an instant. With attention and study, we can notice the signs of change. A good place to start is with the past. The past might not repeat itself, but studying the past can give us a better sense of the changes to come, which is the spirit of what Marquis of Halifax meant when he wrote, “The best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory.” In addition, there is ample wisdom in this quote from an unknown source, “A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organized.” If we can see patterns in what seems like randomness to others, we can sometimes make sense of it.

Create

Others realize that we all play a role in creating the future. Abraham Lincoln allegedly said, ““The best way to predict your future is to create it.” It isn’t just some distant, disconnected and abstract thing. Each of us has a role in making it happen. Even small actions can have a ripple effect on future lives, organizations, communities and more. I’m especially fond of how Buckminster Fuller put it when he wrote, ““You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The models, metaphors, and ideas that we create or promote help shape the future. Having been involved with tracking trends in education for over twenty years, I am confident that we can do this to a degree that is helpful, but we must also do it with a healthy dose of both humility and skepticism of our own predictions. That is why I appreciate the wisdom in Stephen Hawkings way of thinking about the topic, “One can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance.”

A Combined View

Yet, instead of sticking with any one of these, I am both an idealist and a realist. I choose to learn from each of these approaches, seeing them as complementary more than competitive or discrete approaches. There are times when it is best to focus on the present and not let thoughts of the future distract us. Then there is wisdom in doing what we can to prepare ourselves for the future, even if it is unknown. At the same time, we can do the hard work of studying the past and present trends so that we are more informed about possible futures. Yet, we don’t have to be fatalistic about it. We have a role to play in shaping what is to come, and recognizing this fact is an important starting point.

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Education Lessons from Alvin Toffler

Less than a year before I was born, Alvin Toffler who recently passed away, published a book that would later inspire me think more deeply about the impact of change in society. In this book, Toffler popularized the term “future shock”, the disorienting result of living in times of rapid and constant change. This first book extended to two more, The Third Wave, and Power Shift. Through these books and other efforts, Toffler established himself as one of the most known and influential futurists of the last fifty years. His ideas inspired a generation of futurists, not to mention a growing interest in trying to make informed predictions about the future impact of emerging cultural and technological trends in the world.

Among other things, Toffler popularized and introduced many to the concept of information overload, a theme that certainly gained traction even more as the Internet emerged. Amid that development, many people found it easier to understanding the implications of trends that Toffler spotted decades before the expansion of our contemporary digital world. In fact, people today will use the phrase without realizing Toffler’s role in shaping its usage.

Toffler saw and wrote about many future innovations. These ranged from cloning to cable television, the Internet to mobile devices and communication; as well and many sociological, psychological and economic implications of these and other developments. While he certainly did not invent such things, his writing sparked curiosities that influenced what came to be. After all, when you have as large of a forum as Toffler developed, your predictions quickly blend into a shaping of the future. In fact, he knew this well and stated as much when he wrote, “Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it…to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.”

Toffler on Education

Already in Future Shock, Toffler developed a growing perspective on the future of education, partly represented in a widely used quote from the text, “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to unlearn.” Yet, I sometimes lament that this quote is truncated from the surrounding sentences in the text which provide an even richer set of ideals and context.

By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education. Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: ‘The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.’

This grew out of his larger observations about the rate of of change. If the future will perpetually arrive prematurely, as Toffler noted, this has massive implications for life, work and education. The knowledge and skill necessary for a given job will change more rapidly resulting in the need to both learn and relearn. This also means more shifts from one job to another as certain jobs become obsolete or at least in lesser demand. In such a context, it is no longer about building a set of skills that will serve you well for a lifetime as much as developing the capacities to adapt, learn, unlearn, and be the the designers of your own learning goals and pathways.

The Affect and the Future

Yet, some might miss that Toffler also tempered this with the need for people who have more than head knowledge and skills. The world of the future, as Toffler saw it, needs compassionate people as well. “Society needs people who…know how to be compassionate and honest…Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive; they’re emotional, they’re affectional. You can’t run the society on data and computers alone.”

Shaping the Future as a Moral Responsibility

Toffler was far from a luddite. While he wrote about the dark side of the future, his writings indicated a conviction that we can help shape the future by our words and actions. He further challenged readers to neither put their heads in the sand nor to completely resist change. In fact, he saw change and the emerging future as an opportunity for us to bring about more favorable conditions in our communities and world. At the end of his book, The Third Wave, he said it this way on page 443: “The responsibility for change…lies within us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.” Similarly, he warned that our accomplishments of the past are no guarantee of similar outcomes in the future, represented in another widely shared quote, “The first rule of survival is clear: Nothing is more dangerous than yesterday’s success.”

Multiple Futures

I do not agree with many of Tofflers political and ideological positions, but his work unquestionably influenced my thinking and provided me with insight into the role of future studies in education. Yet, among all his ideas and words, there is a single quote that continues to inspire my work and writing. In fact, this quote is partly behind a core part of my vision for the future of education, namely the idea that there is not one future but many, that the most humane and compelling future of education is a vision of multiple futures. On p. 463 of Future Shock, he wrote: “We need a multiplicity of visions, dreams and prophecies – images of potential tomorrows.” In education, I expand this to say that we do not just need multiple visions and dreams. We need for multiple visions and dreams to become a reality.

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Can Badges Help Education (and Society) Recover from Credentialism?

I continue to wonder if open badges can help education and society recover from credentialism. When I first started writing about badges, it was because I saw possible futures where open badges could de-monopolize current credential issuing organizations. I saw the potential to increase access and opportunity for self-directed learners, those who took alternative learning pathways, and those who sought to design a personal learning pathway that mixed learning experiences across contexts and organizations. I saw it as a way to force the hand of more formal learning organizations to invest in the quality of their communities, learning experiences and their benefit to learners (not just employers). I looked at the education landscape and lamented instances where education institutions expected to keep their doors open by trusting that people would come to them with the promise of a quick-to-degree route or the hope of some sacred piece of paper that only these institutions had authorization to dispense.

With the growth of open badges as I saw it, these organizations could no longer depend upon people enduring archaic, subpar, and disempowering practices simply because the institution held the keys to the credential that the learner must have for her/his desired future. This was and is not prompted by a personal desire to hurt formal education. I wanted to help it find its way back to what has always been best about higher education; being a rich, immersive, intellectual, curious, transformational learning community and not a diploma-issuing factory. The best institutions today get that, but many do not believe it enough to have a financial model built around such a vision.

I saw badges as a means of helping to create a future where the increased percentage of college graduates was modest but the education “level” of communities was, nonetheless, greater than past eras. I looked to the example of open professions and intellectual communities in society and saw that many of the thriving communities are among the least enamored with credentialism (with the major exception of the health care industry that I will address momentarily). I saw this in entrepreneurial endeavors, many tech industries, sales and marketing, service industries, as well the tech-meets-social sector that continues to grow. In open professions, the high school diploma or college degree is still a common and respected pathway, but not at the exclusion of other, admittedly less traveled routes. I saw badges as a way to validate and expand these alternatives.

The same is true for those seeing the benefit in a broad and liberal arts education. As long as academia touts its pathway to the liberal arts as the only or superior one, we are hurting the expansion of the liberal arts in society. I’ve long contended that advocates of the liberal arts should be the first to promote informal learning, continuing education, and liberal arts learning beyond the classroom. The liberal arts is in full bloom when people value their books and music, they use their library cards, congregate for book clubs, participate in public lectures and gatherings to explore topics of personal and social import. It happens when museums and galleries are well-funded (due to the desire of the people and not just the lobbying of a small élite); these museums and galleries are valued and frequented places in communities; coffee shops, diners and pubs are robust places of idea exchange; when individuals self-organize groups for growth and learning; and when people value the intellectual life as an important part of their home and communities.

I worry that pushing the liberal arts credential as the only way to becoming a cultured and informed citizen limits the potential of the liberal arts. Yet, in a world of more open learning, the liberal arts college or curriculum doesn’t diminish. It plays a more valued role as one of many important institutions contributing to the humanities and the liberal arts in society. If the only noble place to study or experience Shakespeare is in the college classroom, Shakespeare is on life support and his prognosis does not look good.

As I’ve mused about the role of badges in shaping the future of learning and education (not just schooling), I’ve long recognized that training for healthcare is a major exception in that future. The regulation and oversight of training and credentials associated with these careers likely means that the monopoly on credentials leading to these healthcare jobs is secure well into the future. It is also possible that the model set forth in these programs is part of what is spreading to entire Universities and accrediting bodies, but I still see the open badge movement as a way to help prevent such a future.

My hope for these more open futures is fueled by the connected learning revolution. The digital age opened access to content, communities, open courses, human networks, personal learning tools and resources, and educational software. More people are using these elements to build learning communities, enhance their lives, and achieve personal learning goals. As connected learning expands, I have no doubt that value for this broader world of learning with expand with it. As that happens, open badges have a role in amplifying the effect of the connected learning revolution and de-monopolizing the issuing of valued credentials.

We are not there yet, and there is no certainty that such a possibly future will become reality. There are corporate influences at work that could either help or hijack the potential of open badges. Government and regulatory agencies have the power to create policies that limit or expand the influence of open badges. Lobbyists (many of whom would never see themselves as such) within formal education continue to have a strong voice in these matters (as I think they should), and an unwillingness to objectively assess the affordances and limitations of such a future is also a potential barrier. In addition, decisions about which direction to take with the future of the open badge infrastructure has the potential to speed or halt progress toward this future. As much as any of these, there is also the momentum of the existing system and framework in society that continues to be in favor of giving up power (even if unknowingly) to existing academic monopolies.

This does not need to be adversarial, but I am enough of a realist to know that it will be so. Such a broad change is painful. It creates new winners and losers. It challenges the agenda of desired future of influential people in government, business, and the education sector. It risks devaluing some existing credentials. It challenges people to a higher standard and level of learning. As it empowers more people, that means others will potentially lose some of their existing influence, and they are unlikely to do that without resistance. With such considerations involved, the future that first captured my interest in badges is less than certain, but I continue to see it as an interesting, if not promising possibility and path to recover from credentialism in society.

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Advice to Learning Oranizations: Be Yourself and More of that Self

What does a school, University or learning organization need do to grow and thrive in the future of education? Follow my blog enough and you will read a dozen answers to that, but here is one that you haven’t heard from me before. We need learning organizations that are “all in” on being themselves, but the best and most distinct version of that self. This is not advice to ignore all promising trends and emerging practices. There are times to embrace and assimilate new practices, but there are also times to kindly pass on a trend because it is not you.

I realize that some people will misread that first paragraph, thinking that this is an invitation for the Sweet Briar Colleges of the world to refuse any changes that might give them a fighting chance to survive and even thrive, but it isn’t that. In my consulting, visiting and learning from different organizations; it has become clearer to me when an organization really knows itself. This is because a person who really knows himself or herself tends to have this interesting blend of rigidity and a willingness to explore the possibilities. It allows one to explore the other with this delightful dispassionate curiosity. You can even experiment and explore with new options while staying grounded in who you are, your core values and identity. It might baffle some and frustrate others, but it makes sense to you and you stay the course.

Those organizations that do not have a strong sense of their collective identity are the ones that either blow in the wind or stand firm, fists clenched, like a stubborn child standing between a tornado and his beloved sandbox. The wind blowers float from one trend to another, hoping they can stay in the air longer or maybe soar above all the others. The stubborn children clings to traditions, practices and policies with religious fervor, ready to close their doors for good instead of making the slightest adjustments. Or, they remain unchanging, striving to convince themselves and others about how all the changes around them are over-stated, over-rated, and unworthy of our serious attention or consideration. “Ahh. That isn’t a tornado! That is just a strong wind.” Often enough, they throw some strong moral language, righteous anger or intellectual disgust into their statements, just enough to add some extra resolve and derogate the other. To add some humility to what I’m writing, allow me to confess that I’ve been the wind blower and the stubborn child, but I still hold up this ideal of the organization that knows itself and holds to that even as it moves into the future.

Maybe this is why I’m drawn to organizations with a distinct flavor. There is no guarantee that people will always favor their flavor, but scanning the contemporary educational landscape, it is a pretty good bet that building on your distinctions is a solid strategy. This is not about resisting change. It is about being who you are and even more of that self. It is about knowing the innovations that amplify, clarify and extend your core identity and values. What this means and looks like with vary by organization, but distinct organizations that know themselves have a way of drawing a following of people who value that identity and share the same values.

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From Power Struggles to Open Discourse About the Future of Education

What is your greatest concern about the future of education? I’ve been asked this by more than a few people over the past year. My answer, it seems, is not provocative enough. My greatest concern is not the funding of higher education, the charter/choice debates, how to achieve access and opportunity, 21st century skills, reimagining the school, testing, the Common Core debates, re-inventing schools, protective core values of the Academy, the role of teachers, the role of technology in education or any specific issue. Some of these are personal passions that drive much of my work and thinking, but there is still something more fundamental. It has to do with how we discuss and consider the future of educationMy greatest concern relates to our capacity (or what sometimes seems like a diminished capacity) to have deep, rigorous, candid, persistent, extended but open-minded public discourse about current and future policies, issues and innovations.

I have as firm of convictions about education as anyone else, but for me, one of the most important places to start when considering the future of education is to get deeply informed about the possibilities. This requires an openness to looking, listening, learning, and candidly sharing our own comments and questions. People will get emotional. After all, we have deep-seated convictions about education. We will slip into ad hominem arguments. The need to make timely decisions will force us to compete for our cause to win out long enough for a policy to pass, a decision to be made, or a bill to pass (or not pass). These are realities. Yet, somehow, amid all such realities, how can we still make progress toward discourse worthy of a our most fundamental democratic values? I don’t know the answers, but I have a few tentative thoughts on the matter. These thoughts may well be as contentious as any specific debate in education, but I offer them for consideration nonetheless. For the sake of this post, I’ll limit my comments to 9 suggested starting points.

1. Recognize that any educational decision will have both affordances and limitations, and invite canid discourse about both.

If I am going to arguing strongly for something, it is important for me to know that it has limitations as well. That is true for virtually every educational practice or policy. There are winners and losers, benefits and limitations, unexpected blessings and curses. Such a perspective is a huge part of Neil Postman’s legacy and contribution to the discussion about education. His examination of affordances and limitations led him to be deeply skeptical about claims of technological progress, but the means of analyzing trends provided equally powerful tools for critiquing some of his own ideas and proposals. This is good. Having the humility to publicly recognize the good, bad, and ugly of our proposals may not be in the recipe of PR perfection or political prowess, but it is a key ingredient for candid public discourse about education.

2. Resist the urge the demonize the “other” side as if the person’s policies and decisions represent a grand conspiracy to take over the world.

Again, many of us have strong opinions and convictions about various aspects of modern education. There are people deeply passionate about tenure for professors and strong teacher unions. There are others who believe strongly in giving educational administration and leaders with more power and influence among professors and educators. Yes, I have a few convictions about these topics, but it is really important for me not to over-generalize and turn the person with the other perspective into a member of some vicious army desiring to undermine the entire system. There are likely people with such sinister goals, but our public conversation would be better off if we saved going there as an absolute last option. I’ve done this, mostly in my mind, sometimes out loud; so this is a challenge for me as much as anyone else.

3. Take our public discourse into the details and nuances.

“MOOCs are going to shut down the University as we know it.” “Higher education is oblivious to the real world beyond the ivory tower.” “The Common Core is an attack on children.” “Charter schools are a detriment to public education.” These may or may not have proverbial truth, but to have a rich discussion, we need to get into the details. Which higher education institutions, because not all institutions are alike? How do the offerings and function of MOOCs coincide or deviate from the that of Universities? What aspects of the Common Core are of greatest concern or worthy of the greatest praise? What about charter schools is a perceived detriment? What needs are they meeting that where otherwise unmet? We need to ask the questions that allow us to get back to the details, understanding that there are not always yes or no, black or white answers. There might just be room for a compromise. Charter schools are wildly different from one state to another, even one school to another, for example. By being quick to generalize, we might all miss out on a wonderful win-win option.

4. Recognize that there are multiple paths to a given conclusion and people arrive and certain words and phrases in different ways.

As a largely interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and a-disciplinary scholar, I run into this all the time. I might be discussing an issue with a person who has a PhD in psychology, sociology, history, or American literature. I use a term or phrase and it immediately conjures up thoughts of a lengthy discourse within their field of study, leading them to label me a certain way. Yes, it is important for me to take the time to learn about the different discourses around a given term or phrase, but words and phrases have multiple working definitions, and people get to their conclusions and vocabularies in different ways. As it stands, if you use the “wrong” word, you might find yourself quickly labeled with any number of groups: socialist, radical capitalist, racist, classist, trans-humanist, Luddite, or pretty much any educational term with anti- or pro- in front of it.

How do we address this? We ask people to tell us more about their position, how they arrived at it, and how they think it does or does not align with how a given group might use the term. We get really curious about other people and their perspective. We realize that there is a story behind the terms and phrases that we and others use, and we explore those stories.

5. Acknowledge that there is more than one way to go about education.

There is no such thing as a perfect educational system. As I mentioned before, they all have affordances and limitations. Similarly, there are usually many possibilities that will work. I realize each of us have strong convictions and preferences for certain systems and policies over others. I even respect the “slippery slope” concern that leads people to take a position on a given bill or policy. Yet, there are endless possibilities, many of which might offer benefits that we’ve never experienced before.

6. Valuing the role of data and research, but also recognizing that much of it needs context, and we want to be cautious when arguing for an absolute and widely applied policy or practice.

“We need this policy because all the research shows that it will lead to the best outcomes.” Well, that might be true if we keep the system “as is”, but most educational research is contextual. We suggest policies and practices for helping students with ADHD find success in “school”, but those policies and practices partly (sometimes largely) depend upon “school” having certain attributes. What if we put them in a Montessori school, self-directed learning academy, scripted directed instruction classroom, a classical school, a hands-on learning school, a school built on game-based learning, or sometime else? Do the same policies and practices stand? My point is that we want to value and learn from both data and research, but finding one or a dozen studies to “support” your policy doesn’t mean that the debate is over. There are still other options and possibilities.

7. Respect the right for a minority opinion or smaller group with a set of beliefs, values and convictions about education.

One of the strengths of democracy in the United States is that we have deeply held national convictions about individual rights and rights of minority perspectives. Yet, our debates in education do not always seem to tap into these values. Wherever we end up with an educational policy or practice, how does it honor and prospect the minority perspective and the rights of individuals?

8. Recognize the role of educational philosophy.

People have fundamentally different educational philosophies that often lead to their position on policy and practice. People sometimes change their philosophies, but this fact means that we are not going to have universal consensus. What we have to decide is whether we want to be a system or nation that honors a diversity of philosophies in education or whether we deem it better to force our philosophy on the rest of the community, state, nation, or world. By how I framed that statement, I suppose you know where I stand on the issue.

9. Be candid and leave time for discourse.

I’m thinking specifically of bills on the state and national level, along with other broader initiatives. It means that we don’t try to push things through unnoticed. It means we have to be willing and seeking to engage the broader public in conversations about where we will go. I know I’m being a bit idealistic with this one, but if even a few more people took this to heart, we would all be better off.

These are some of the perspectives that I think can help us have a more open-minded, rich, candid and substantive discourse about the future of education. What about you? Consider sharing some of your thoughts in the comment area or bring the conversation over to Twitter, LinkedIn or our favorite social outlet.

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