To achieve this model of learning, we must re-appraise the school system and its current use of resources and turn it upside down and inside out. Early childhood learning matters enormously. We must progressively show the youngest children that a lesson about American history, for example, can also be a lesson about how to learn how to learn and remember. As children grow older, they start to become their own teachers. The older the child becomes the more he or she becomes a productive resource of value to the community (Abbott 1994).
In such a model, we should create smaller classes in the early years of elementary education (using developmentally appropriate styles of teaching) and progressively provide children with an ever richer array of learning resources and situations. Learning need not be confined to an institution – it must become a total community responsibility. It is not merely teachers who can teach, not just pupils who need to learn, and certainly not just the classroom that can be the major access point to knowledge, information, and skills.
Our new understanding about learning is paralleled by radical developments in technology. The technological revolution holds the power to alter our education system, our work, and our culture. Indeed, this revolution puts learning and our traditional, conventional education systems on a collision course. The essence of the coming integrated, universal, multi-media digital network is discovery – the empowerment of the human mind to learn spontaneously, independently, and collaboratively, without coercion.
Such a new learning environment would be highly compatible with the natural functioning of the brain; with what we know about human aspirations; and, in particular, with the adolescent’s need to feel involved and of value. It offers the greatest hope for an improvement in people’s intelligence and the development of thoughtfulness. The current crisis in learning has originated not so much in the failure of our classrooms as in the failure of our communities to capture the imagination, involvement, and active participation of young people. A society motivated by a vision of thoughtfulness will quickly recognise that broadly intelligent young people will revitalise the whole community. We must escape from the 19th century assumption that learning and schooling are synonymous. Good schools alone will never be good enough – we need communities that think differently, work differently, and are even designed and built differently.2
Such communities would make for a better, more exciting world in which living, working, and learning come together again and recreate vibrant, self-sustaining communities. I would love to live in such a world.
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Perkins, D. (1992). Smart Schools: From Training Memories to Educating Minds. New York: Free Press.
Perkins, D. (1995). Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence. New York: Free Press.
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Wills, C. (1993). The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness. London: Basic Books.