Educational reform

It's not possible to reform educational systems. That's been proven time and again during the past century of failed school reforms. Talk of change gets stuck in the idea stage because education systems are "the exhaust coming out the tailpipe". The engine is government and education is a side effect of how the governing happens. Education will be transformed when governments change regimes.

The industrialized world is governed by industrial democracies. They consistently create results that cannot be produced by agrarian and nomadic societies. Industrialized economies proliferate solutions made possible by centralized controls, applied metrics and systematized efficiencies. Mass production joins co-dependently with mass consumption. The lifestyles in these democracies are materialistic and addictive. The harm to the planet and the disruption of communities are regarded as insignificant: a small price to pay for all this manufactured splendor.

The inability to educate effectively is built into the industrial paradigm. Individual attention is inefficient and too costly. Allowing each student to develop uniquely is a quality control breakdown that lets deviant and defective components out of the factory. Giving the student freedom to explore independently is a regression to nomadic and agrarian (primitive, uncivilized, peasant) paradigms.

The perpetuation of industrial democracies lies in the conformity produced by "big business" delivering textbooks and standardized tests. The unyielding devotion to classrooms, tests, grades and certification is built into every post-agrarian democracy's need for industrialized education. Without that, the jobs would be filled by "a bunch of farmers" who have no clue how to vote in elections about sophisticated, technological and industrial issues.

We are currently in a transition to networked democracies. Corporations will see their charters rewritten as the principles of Capitalism 3.0 (PDF)take hold. Centralized production and distribution facilities will be replaced by distributed and democratized methods. Journalism and broadcast media are currently undergoing that change from consolidation by conglomerates to citizen rejuvenation by Web 2.0. Democracies will evolve into more direct participation with less centralized representation that gets tainted by industrial lobbyists. Quality control will be emergent from the networked, leaderless, distributed participation.

The new institutions that emerge will fit William Strauss's and Neil Howe's model of a "first turning". A preliminary disintegration is a necessary part of the process. Dave Pollard provides a constant supply of insights into this fourth turning. His recent "A crooked broker society" characterizes much of this darkness before the dawn. As Dave says:

It is evidence of a culture in the terminal stages of decline and disintegration.

All this leads me to the following conclusions:
  1. It is futile to reform education. It will change naturally when we shift to networked democracies.

  2. The democracies will change as the economies, systems and premises of capitalism change.

  3. These changes have been initiated by technologies, but will take hold when the next generation takes them for granted as they come into power.

  4. The ways industrialized democracies have governed and educated their citizens will not make sense to children raised in the freedoms of vast networks.


  1. As you know, I agree with you. Now what?

  2. While I agree with most of this, I don't agree that things will "change naturally" as "systems and premises of capitalism change."

    The existing state of education, rather than being one in which the "engine is government" is one designed and controlled to a large degree by industry, with the willing compliance of government.

    Industry will not easily let go of its control of education. Nor will it easily surrender to "distributed and democratized methods." What industry preserves is not merely a certain way of doing things but also a social order in which the 'captains of industry' enjoy disproportionate wealth and influence.

    Nothing about a transition into a new order is inevitable. And if it occurs at all, it will occur, not naturally, but as the result of very deliberate rebellion and reform against this established order.

    Perhaps it makes more sense to direct our efforts toward the reform of government and industry, content to allow school to follow. But there is a risk in this.

    The conflict between new and old is being waged at the level of information: who creates it, who controls it, who distributes it. It is a conflict not of machines and ammunition, but of people and ideas.

    Schools - or more generally, education - is the 'ground zero' of any conflict involving people and ideas. If people grow up believing society should be ordered a certain way, it becomes very difficult to change that view. That is why such change takes generations.

    You write, "The ways industrialized democracies have governed and educated their citizens will not make sense to children raised in the freedoms of vast networks." But if they do not actually have such freedoms, then they will not come to such views.

    "School reform" per se is probably not necessary, because it is like "factory reform." It seeks to modify the old engines of production, without an understanding that the nature of production has changed.

    But "education reform," more generally, is of the utmost importance, and at the core of this reform must be the enabling of freedoms in networks. This will give our students the capacities they need to change the structure of government and industry.

    And - as always - I think that the best way to educate our students in this is to model and demonstrate this reality, to conduct ourselves as though we already *have* such network freedoms: preserving our autonomy, having our conversations, sharing our ideas, working cooperatively.

  3. Harold: Thanks for validation and your question.

    Stephen: Thanks for this rich set of insights. You've drawn out many of my own hidden assumptions by addressing each issue so precisely. I'll create several postings this week to explore the issues you've raised here.


  4. Tom, thanks for the great post. Glad Barbara Brier pointed me over here. At Education Revolution, we're trying to answer Harold's question.

    And, I've linked to your great post.