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Moving Toward Life Learning – August 26, 2008
A few years ago, my mother’s trailer home was falling apart around her (at age 91, she hadn’t planned on outliving it). She was still relatively independent and not yet ready for a nursing home, so we invited her to move into a townhouse we were vacating but weren’t ready to sell. Since it was in a condominium project, we sometimes referred to it as “our condo.” She had never visited us there. When she saw it on moving day, she was upset because she had expected it to be a highrise apartment; she had seen photos of the interior and because it had many similarities to her trailer home and neighborhood, it never occurred to us that she might not expect a townhouse. I tried, unhelpfully, to explain that condo meant a style of legal ownership, not a style of architecture, nor was it going to change her lifestyle or attitude toward life in any fundamental way.

In the same way, charter schools, public schools and homeschools differ in the details of their legal and organizational structure; but all three can – and sometimes do – provide very similar types of educational experiences. If one views education as something that is done to people, that view will structure one’s educational experience, no matter the location or the organization. And until enough people understand that learning must be in the hands of the learner, our education system won’t change, in spite of all the tinkering that happens in the form of lower teacher-student ratios, more computers, more money, different textbooks, more testing, and so on.

I’ve been reading a book about how that paradigm shift is actually happening – by stealth, if you will. I’ve been predicting and, more recently, watching this happen for years, as computer technology puts control into the hands of learners and frees us from the straightjacket of someone else’s agenda. But Clayton Christensen in his new book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (2008, McGraw Hill), brings a lot of clarity to the process. Christensen is a professor of Business Administration at Harvard and, therefore, might seem an unlikely choice to write about radical education reform. But he uses his well known business theory of “disruptive innovation” to explain how technology is allowing young people to learn at their own speed, in their own style, when and where they want, and what they are motivated to learn. But more than that, he demonstrates how this disruption is bound to demolish the current legal and organizational structure of schooling, just like Sony’s transistor changed (and, ultimately, put out of business) the old tube radio companies like RCA, and how Canon disrupted Xerox and Japanese car companies disrupted North American car companies. This is just a part of what I see as a confluence of thought that will inevitably move us away from the antiquated warehouse style of schooling toward life learning.
2008/08/26 2:29 PM

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