It is becoming clear to everyone—teachers, parents, the government, and the experts—that education must change. Our children are bored at best with the old way, and in the worst-case scenarios, they are being deeply damaged by a system that runs totally counter to their natures. Unless we do something, our children are not going to listen to us anymore.
They are longing for an educational system that has heart as well as knowledge, a system that is innovative and perhaps surprisingly unique, as the computer was when it appeared. An educational system that brings back curiosity and wonder.
There have been a few innovators, such as Drs. Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori, who explored new possibilities of teaching. But for the most part their proposed educational systems were and still are on the outer edge of acceptability.
Now, however, the world is catching up with the necessity for change.
Everywhere, we can see the buds of a new educational consciousness getting ready to burst into flower. The rote memory system which is still the mainstay of our children’s schooling will soon be replaced by concepts that would have been undreamable a few generations ago.
People like John Taylor Gatto, winner of the New York State Teacher of the Year award and author of Dumbing Us Down, have made it extremely clear that we have major problems in our school system. Gatto has put the United States on educational alert. He, and others like him, have made it clear, not only to the schools themselves but to those who are in power, that we must change now. Tomorrow is too late.
But the situation is complex. Much more is contemplated, for example, than simple changes of curriculum. In some cases, like the Sudbury model, curriculum is eliminated entirely, with surprisingly positive results. There are in fact a myriad of different concepts found around the world showing how our educational system can best be recreated to meet the needs of our children.
In recent years, homeschooling has become a normal and accepted practice.
And despite what we may think of as the simplicity of this approach, home schools are contributing new ideas which may change education forever. Many of these ideas are being fueled by the computer revolution.
(In South Africa, homeschooling is in its infancy, but there are the courageous few that are embarking on this journey. From the reports, the results are excellent both from the student and teacher perspective—Ed.)
1. Computer Education
Computers have changed every other aspect of our lives more than they have changed the way in which education happens in our schools. And, according to Intel CEO Craig Barrett, although “over $40 billion dollars has been spent in the United States on computer hardware for schools … very little has been invested to train teachers how to effectively use the technology.’’ Our educational system is steeped in conservatism, and innovative approaches are not as well accepted here as in the business world.
But what some are finding is that the interaction between humans and computers could well be the beginning of rapid forms of accelerated learning that are only in their infancy at this time.
2. The Internet: A Virtual School
Although this seems to be a subset of what is possible with computers, the Internet affords an entire world of educational magic that is in the process of transforming how we learn.
MIT University announced in April 2001 that their entire university curriculum—everything that MIT offers to its tuition-paying students—is now available on the Internet free of charge!
When asked if this were going to hurt them, MIT officials answered in what I feel is an honorable manner. Teaching, they said, not money, is the purpose of an educational institution. They pointed out that MIT also offered the first free library to the world, and that people thought they were crazy then, for the same reasons. MIT has suggested that all universities and colleges follow their example and publish their curricula on the Internet, creating a vast, incredible database for anyone who wants to learn.
At the same time, Dell Computer recently put up over 100 million dollars to create an Internet education system for the world where anyone, anywhere, has free access to the information.
And in its “Teach to the Future’’ program, Intel, with support from Microsoft Corporation, will invest $100 million in cash, equipment, curriculum development, and program management over the next three years to train more than 400,000 classroom teachers in 20 countries around the world.
These corporate and university giants are seeing something about our educational future that we should perhaps become aware of: that the Internet may possibly make obsolete the entire concept of physical schools, replacing them with the “virtual school.’’
In its simplest form, distance education, through video conferencing, makes it possible for one teacher to speak in many different classrooms at once.
But the virtual school is much more than simply a replacement for school buildings. It will be open 24/7/365. And it will go beyond home schooling, for it can and almost certainly will enter the realm of accelerated-learning techniques, enabling languages and other complex subjects to be absorbed in months instead of years. Which leads us to…
3. New Learning Technologies
This is the area in which I perceive the greatest possibility for truly revolutionary change. Especially with the increased availability and sophistication of what is now being called VLE, or “virtual learning environments,’’ interactive Internet programs could make obsolete our entire concept of “schools.’’
The newest area of learning, beyond VLE, is called VLT, and this holds out even greater possibilities. VLT consists of 3D virtual environments using specialized frequencies that “tune’’ the brain to accept information, and specialized programs that give direct, “virtual’’ experiences to the student. VLT can create a “virtual campus,’’ similar to that offered by CALT—Center for Advanced Learning Technologies—with its Virtual Worlds. The VLT curriculum can use games, for example, as the basis of delivering material to be learned, or even completely subliminal methods, or subliminal methods superimposed over ordinary techniques.
These areas of learning are new, but it seems obvious that VLT will become dominant if teachers and students find that the success rate for learning is higher than for other methods.
On the far side of new learning technologies is the seemingly miraculous work of people like Viasheslav Bronnikov in Russia/Ukraine. To learn more about his work go to www.spiritofmaat.com or read The Bronnikov Method: Teaching Blind Children to See, and also The Bronnikov Method: Creating Genius
Bronnikov teaches people to read a book simply by picking it up in their hands. It then appears on the “inner screen’’ of the mind, complete with illustrations.
Obviously, if Bronnikov’s work, and that of others like Sr. Guillermo Altamirano (Inge Bardor’s “Memo’’) and Russia’s Boris Zolotov, can be brought into the mainstream, then the future of learning will someday make a turn that is so simple—not even needing computers—it will alter learning, and indeed our entire concept of who we are, forever.
There’s a problem, though, and it is clearly stated by Harvard University professor Chris Dede: ‘‘Moving the minds and hearts is definitely the more complex process than putting the infrastructure in place.’’ Speed-reading, for example, was actually introduced way back in the ‘60s.
And, as Chris Dede’s statement predicts, even though it proved to be far more powerful and actually worked better than anything that had come before, the conservative nature of traditional education has kept this technique from even being considered for use in our schools.
Now, with the advent of the home computer, interactive learning programs such as VLE and VLT, as they progress into maturity and cover more and more subjects, may make everything else we have talked about irrelevant.
4. The Need for Self-Esteem
One of the greatest dangers in educating our children by traditional methods is that so many of them are emotionally damaged or lose their self-esteem in the process. Many young adults come out of our school system feeling—for whatever reason—that they are not able or even worthy to reach for the stars.
No matter what direction our educational system takes, the way in which it disempowers our children has to become a primary focus of necessary change.
Who Learns What and Why?
Not only the way in which we teach our children, and where we do it, but what we are teaching them has begun to take center stage in the considerations of educational change. And even though this area is of paramount importance, we will say very little about it here, because it has been a warring ground from the beginning of education itself.
I am certain this war will never end, and perhaps rightfully so. Everyone has diverse concepts as to what is important in life, and what we should teach our children.
We will not enter this endless debate, but with Larry Weshon (see A Child’s Right to Pursue Happiness) we can at least question whether or not it is up to us to make this decision at all.
(And you can, if you wish, write to us at Biophile with your own ideas!) Let’s test the proverb that says “The pen is mightier than the sword.”