The Ideal School

Some Incidental Notes on the Problem

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 87 (November/December 2005)

Throughout the past century, schools have not been willing to accommodate change and meaningful reform. This is partly due to lack of incentive. Bureaucratic structures are not well noted for being results-oriented. Any change represents also change in power relationships, by definition. Those currently at advantage in power relationships can be understandably less than enthusiastic about such changes. There is little in the incentive structure of bureaucracies to offset that factor. The powerful have strong incentive to cling to the status quo.

Widespread dissatisfaction with the results — and the costs — of schooling, all levels public and private, has placed strong pressure on schools to improve. Throughout modern times, however, this has merely resulted in widely ballyhooed “reforms” which were window-dressing only and changed nothing substantial, even though each of those window-dressing “reforms” was hailed at the time as the salvation of education.

These conditions are not expected to change in the near future, except for the worse — as public support erodes and schools begin to break down. We can expect no substantive new reforms to succeed, though a few more window-dressing reforms, each hailed as the salvation, might cycle through before the end.

When sufficient outside pressure is brought, schools do change. Witness the effect of technology giving rise to distance learning though this, in turn, could be made far more effective. Once distance learning is made more effective, existing schools will face severe Darwinian-type pressures, in addition to their self-inflicted difficulties.

Or, we can turn some effort toward creating alternative educational programs and schools, alternatives which model a far better way of educating. One may create the examples to which people can turn. With live alternative examples visibly in place, when the sudden startling collapse of American public education comes, people can jump to the alternative models instead of panicking and making matters worse.

Let us sample some of the options from among the various proposed alternative educational models —

Improve existing systems

  1. Improvements in input to the learner
    1. Intellectual improvement —
      • Jerome S. Bruner’s “Spiral Curriculum” and the integration of knowledge. See our summer school proposal.
      • General systems theory as a “Rosetta Stone of Knowledge.”
      • Sequencing issues, e.g., the Waldorf schools of Rudolph Steiner (see also “Models of Human Development, below).” Specifically, the issue of matching style and content of instruction to specified stages of human development and functioning.
    2. “Wholistic” improvements to the learner —
      • Summerhill didn’t produce any leaders — did its program eliminate drive?
      • Attempts to emulate Walden Two have run into serious psychological problems.
    3. Specific curriculum goal reforms —
      • Schools and proposed schools based upon environmental learning.
      • Schools and proposed schools for peace, for social reform, for other specific social aims.
      • Religious and “new age” and/or revealed knowledge schools and proposals.
  2. Improvements in the learner
    1. Models of Human Development — enhance learner’s ability to learn and to get value from the learning.
    2. Modern, Project Renaissance, methods for improving learner ability.
    3. Special disciplines, especially physically-based, such as oriental Martial Arts.
    4. Proposals for wielding incentives to higher performance.
  3. Improvements in Method
    1. “Learn by doing” (John Dewey) and feedback (Montessori, O.K. Moore, S. Ramon y Cajal, Marion Diamond).
    2. Learn by output from the learner — Socratic Method.
    3. Learn by observing sensitive-to-data inner imagery (Einsteinian Discovery Method).
    4. Learn by observing “strays” and “sidebands” of awareness.
    5. Bodies of specific techniques, such as Georgi Lozanov’s Suggestopedia or Luis Machado’s Emotopedia.
    6. Cooperative and team-learning systems.
    7. Technology-assisted instruction, including AV aids and computers.
    8. The solution to all school problems is to go over entirely to phonic reading — or — The solution to all school problems is to go over entirely to “look-say” reading methods. (This is “the Hundred Years’ War” in American education.)
    9. Aiming instruction to individual learning styles and to Gardner’s various multiple intelligences, not only educational levels. These differentiated needs are all too real, but can any teacher, much less teachers generally, serve them by present didactic methods?
  4. Improvements in delivery
    1. Various mixes of human and technology-based instruction.
    2. Automated learning systems.
    3. Are schools really the best delivery system for education in the first place? What are all the possible alternatives we can think of? Which of them might be interesting?
    4. The Home Schooling Movement
      • Pros and cons
        • conditions in the schoolsuncontrolled conditions at homecompared costs for the results gottenintellectual advantages of the studentssocial development issuesmoral development issuessafety and securitycitizenship issuescosts to parents, including opportunity costs
      • Possible ways to facilitate
        • Possible ways to collaborate between schools and home-schools, to the learner’s benefit.
        • Are there ways everyone can come out ahead on this?

What level school?

  1. The younger the child, the greater lifetime difference the intervention will make.
  2. For historical reasons, Project Renaissance methods are presently best developed for older children and adults, though their principles apply at all levels. Some existing methods would have to be interpolated and adjusted for use with younger students.
  3. Graduate schools have the advantage as regards the convenience of having your alumni graduates reporting back immediately from science, the professions, and commerce into which they recently graduated.
  4. If the new school is a university, it can serve all other levels of education by building “lab schools” at those other levels. It also makes sense for a university-based lab school system to test out more than one model for whatever level, even though no university lab schools to date appear to have done that, only rarely testing even specific methods or techniques side by side. Multi-model testing would be a basic feature of the lab schools created by the proposed Renaissance University, itself a proposed alternative model new school.

Strategies for getting an ideal school going 

…(subject of a later article)

Alternative Models

  1. Discover your own system and/or method and/or basis for an alternative model school. Set up specifically for this purpose is the procedure that is posted on a self-taught basis for Toolbuilding. To succeed in inventing your own powerful basis for an improved way of educating, training, or childraising, let yourself be surprised by the experience you find there in “Toolbuilder.”
  2. Select which model(s) you want, and the strategies for bringing them into being.

This has been a partial listing of various proposed ideal educational models, some of them desirable/workable/do-able and some of them perhaps not so. The need of a preferred ideal alternative model school is highlighted by the continued self-inflicted difficulties of the present school system, which are not expected to change for the better.

This writer’s strong preference is for the proposed Renaissance University, whose preliminary draft prospectus is cited, but other models are also possible and desirable. An even stronger preference would be for existing schools to examine and test out some of the many various Project Renaissance methods, saving us the arduous labor of creating schools, but thus far that has not happened.

We also seek allies and partners — preferably with their own strong clear vision of an ideal school — together with whom we can co-create something much better for our children than the existing schools. And we need to create something much better for ourselves as well, not only for our children, in a changing world economy where the average American adult has to change careers every few years, learning a new field or profession.

Distance Learning

  1. The main change needed to make distance learning far more effective, is
    • to require several students together at each terminal, and
    • to cue them to “buzz-group” prior to answering on the chief points of the lesson — points which have been made into questions.
  2. Students need to interact with each other for all the same reasons as they need to interact with lesson context, only more so and face-to-face. Keyboard and screen are too narrow a context — interaction with fellow students broadens that context greatly, rendering much easier the transfer of learning from initial context to other situations. Motivation is also a key factor, in an industry where the rate of drop-out exceeds 90%.
  3. Some various of these are on display, in self-taught form, throughout much of this website.
  4. Can, however, most teachers — or even any teacher — really do that? On the other hand, with Socratic drawing-forth, each student comes from his or her own strengths, reinforces these and builds around them, with no special effort required on the teacher’s part. Thus, modern Socratic Method is a much easier answer to this consideration.
  5. Please see the very preliminary prospectus for Renaissance University posted here for comment.

An earlier version of this paper was prepared for the 2004 annual conference of Project Renaissance, Double Festival XIII, Pasadena, Maryland.