Over the past five years we have grown from a master/apprentice relationship to an equal partnership where each of us brings a different generational, national and cultural perspective. Our fundamental shared view – and one which informs every word in this book – is that there should be a constructivist and apprenticeship-based approach to learning which takes full account of recent neuroscientific research. These leitmotifs are enlarged upon in the first chapter and returned to throughout so it’s enough to say here that constructivism expands on an old idea expressed by the Chinese philosopher who, more than 2,000 years ago, said: “Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; let me do and I understand.”

We draw heavily from our direct experience of living and working in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In a book intended for an international audience we make no apologies for this fact. What is currently happening in English schools puts them at the forefront of conventional school reform movements. We believe that the world in general would benefit from a better understanding of the unintended consequences of these efforts. The United States leads the world in its commitment to uninhibited economic expansion, and again we believe that citizens of other countries need to understand the impact this has on social structures, and in particular on those that are central to children’s learning. Our extensive involvement with other countries, especially Canada, makes us realize just how beneficial it its for policy makers and educational practitioners alike to use international experience to temper their own more parochial strategies.

Our five-year study of the science of learning and the biological nature of the brain has revealed a massive mismatch. The nature of learning is very different to the political mantras driving educational reform in most countries. This is a potentially dangerous disconnection because the welfare of individuals and communities – especially when set against rapid, social, technological, and economic changes – are increasingly dependent on their ability to continuously learn and adapt. The shift in our understanding of learning has already started, but is all too frequently frustrated by people’s attempts to fit it into pre-existing systems.

Schools as we understand them now are a product of political and economic compromises informed by assumptions about learning with their roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The historical chapters of this book show how the institutionalization of learning has led to the trivialization of community as a key component of people’s lives and, in particular, the bond between generations. The relationships within the community need to be so strong that you don’t need top-down solutions because there is such strength within ordinary people that they can sort out their own problems. Each person has a role and a responsibility.

We’re not repeating the old “School is Dead” slogan, rather we’re saying that schools should keep up with the times. What is recommended in this book – from the specifics in our graphs on intellectual weaning and current expenditure to our broader observations on the open-ended nature of learning – is predicated on fresh understandings. This book is our attempt to chart a course across disciplines that goes well beyond just what happens in the decontextualized setting of the classroom. We realize we have risked making fools of ourselves yet, if one accepts the constructivist model of learning as we do, then it becomes imperative to see learning as too interconnected to be left to schools and educationalists to handle alone.