Air Date 5/29/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at some of the fundamental problems with our education system, and explore alternatives to spark ideas for improvement.
And note that last point about sparking ideas. That really is what we're doing here. You're going to be hearing some ideas for educational systems that directly contradict one another. So this isn't our list of solutions that we endorse, so much as we think it's worth hearing about all of these ideas to get a sense of what's out there as well as the desperation that people feel for something outside our current system.
Clips today include a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, Second Thought, New Ideal, VICE News, Amanpour and Company, Vox, the Social Europe Podcast, and The Bunker, with additional members-only clips from Andrew Parker and Education on Fire.
Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson - TED - Air Date 1-6-07
SIR KEN ROBINSON: Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason. The whole system was [00:01:00] invented -- around the world, there were no public systems for education really before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.
So the hierarchy is written on two ideas: Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the ground you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not gonna be a musician. Don't do art, you won't be an artist. Benign advice, now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.
And the second is: Academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities design the system in their image. If you think about the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequences that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not. Because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way.
In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more [00:02:00] people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. More people. And it's the combination of all the things we've talked about, technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population. Suddenly, degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn't have a job, it's because you didn't want one. And I didn't want one, frankly.
But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA and now you need a PhD for the other. It's a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet.
We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence. We know three things about intelligence:
One, it's diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms. We think in movement.
Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as [00:03:00] we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn't divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
And the third thing about intelligence is it's distinct. I'm doing a new book at the moment called Epiphany, which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who most people have never heard of. She's called Gillian Lynne. Have you heard of her? Some have. She's a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did Cats and Phantom of the Opera. She's wonderful. I used to be on the board of the Royal Ballet in England, as you can see. And anyway, Gillian and I had lunch one day. I said, how'd you be a dancer? And she said it was interesting. When she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties wrote to her parents, said, we think Gillian has a learning disorder. You [00:04:00] couldn't concentrate. She was fidgeting. I think now they'd say she had ADHD, wouldn't you? But this was the 1930s and ADHD hadn't been invented at this point, so it wasn't an available condition. People weren't aware they could have that.
Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it, because she was disturbing people, homework was always late and so on, in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, Gillian, I've listened to all these things that mothers told me I need to speak to her privately. So she said, he said, wait here, we'll be back. We won't be very long. And they went and left her. But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, just stand and watch her. And the minute they left the room, she said she was on her feet moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and he said, you know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't [00:05:00] sick. She's a dancer. Take her to a dance school. I said, what happened? She said she did. I can't tell you so how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me: people who couldn't sit still, people who had to move to think, who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz. They did modern. They did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School. She became a soloist. She had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School, found her own company, the Gillian Dance Company. Met Andrew Lloyd Webber. She's been responsible for some of those successful musical theater directions in history. She's given pleasure to millions, and she's a multimillionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
Al Gore spoke the other night about ecology and the revolution that was triggered by Rachel Carson. I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our [00:06:00] conception of the richness of human capacity.
Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip mine the earth, for a particular commodity. And for the future it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.
There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk who said, if all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish. And he's right.
What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we've talked about. And the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are.
And our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future. By the [00:07:00] way, we may not see this future, but they will, and our job is to help them make something of it.
The Problem With American Education - Second Thought - Air Date 3-9-21
JT CHAPMAN - HOST, SECOND THOUGHT: Over the past couple of decades, various federal initiatives have provided parents the option of using federal funds to send their children to private schools, whether by providing so-called school choice vouchers, or allowing for the possibility of school transfers, where students can move from low-performing schools to higher-performing private schools.
This has led to a number of problems. The most obvious is that by spending federal money to incentivize parents to enroll their children in private school, they've robbed public schools of badly needed funding. Why spend money to move kids around when you could simply fund the schools that are designed to be funded by that money?
Because of this practice, public schools face a vicious cycle. There's not enough money to pay teachers, so teachers leave, which leads to more students in each class. Which overwhelms the remaining teachers. There's not enough money for school supplies or even basic school maintenance, which leads to unsafe learning environments. These problems compound over time, which makes the schools perform worse, which then suggests to the federal [00:08:00] government that they're doing the right thing by incentivizing the move to private schools. Okay, but if the private schools perform better and the average parent can afford them, why not just abandon public schools?
There are a few reasons, some innate to how private schools operate and some based on the responsibility of the federal government. First and foremost, it has been long established that the state has a responsibility to provide access to free education to every student. This is non-negotiable, at least for now.
If public schools didn't exist, there would be students who could not afford to go to private school. Since education is a right, this is unacceptable. So for the time being, the federal government cannot reasonably get rid of public schools entirely.
The other issues stem from the private schools themselves. By their very nature, private schools are not beholden to any kind of governance when it comes to what is taught within their walls. All they have to do is provide proof that their education meets basic educational standards. This has led to an upsurge in what can be considered "reactionary" or, as the schools prefer, "traditional education."
What this means, in essence, is that most [00:09:00] private schools skew intensely religious, conservative, and insular. Their student body is overwhelmingly White, Christian, and wealthy. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with a parent wanting their child to get a religious education. But the problem is in the US, Christianity has been co-opted by conservatism.
Gone are the days when people understood Jesus to be a brown communist from the Middle East, who railed against the rich and preached inclusion, decency, and the value of living humbly. Most American Christians have grafted the language of conservatism onto their faith: homophobia, racism, unfettered free market economics, and a rabid hatred for anything that could be considered even remotely socialist. This is not by accident. The political right has adopted religious patriotic language in an attempt to secure a large and dedicated voting block: evangelicals. And it's worked. In modern private schools -- and I should know, I attended one -- it's not uncommon to see Prager U. videos shown in class. It's not uncommon to see economics classes that espouse the suicidal free market ideology of Friedman and Rand. History classes portray the [00:10:00] US as the good guy in every conflict, including those where we were clearly in the wrong. Today's supposedly Christian education would not be recognized as such by the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, it's a new religion: the religion of free market conservatism.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that those in power are doing their best to get more students enrolled in private school. Indoctrinating them into the cult of capitalism while they're young is the only way they can produce more pro-corporate voters.
Heck, judging by what we've seen recently, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see public schools go the same way. The previous administration even suggested the creation of a commission for "patriotic education": a slate of pro-America capitalist imperialist propaganda.
This disturbing trend towards privatization and capitalist indoctrination aside, what's perhaps the bigger problem with American education is the fact that the entire system is simply outdated. Remember the Massachusetts School Board, the one established in 1837? Well, that's when the standards for education were established. The stated goal was to educate young people. But if you take a look at how school was and is [00:11:00] structured, it becomes more clear what education was actually for. Like it is today, the school day was strictly regimented. Teachers expected absolute obedience. The bell instructed students when the day began and ended. And punishment was doled out for any perceived non-compliance. If the students retain some basic arithmetic, great. But the real goal was to produce obedient, servile workers for the factories of the Industrial Revolution.
Step onto a factory floor and what's expected? Obedience. Focus. The ability to follow instructions for hours on end. The day even began and ended with a bell. School was then and remains today an instrument to instill discipline, to mass produce agreeable little cogs for the industrial machine. The standardization of schooling ensured these cogs were nice and uniform, easily replaceable and expendable.
Today, nearly two centuries later, factory labor is no longer the prime driver of the economy. Companies still need workers, but they demand a new set of skills. Young people entering the workforce are expected to be able to be flexible, creative and on call at unreasonable [00:12:00] hours. Even from a capitalist perspective, modern day schooling does not adequately prepare our students for the real world.
Of course, preparing students for a lifetime of servitude should not be the goal of a good education.
Let's examine the main issues in regards to outdatedness. Which of these two hypothetical classes sounds more applicable to real life: Latin, or home economics? Guess which one is more commonly taught? If the goal of school is to prepare kids for the real world, as we're meant to believe, we are doing our students a great disservice. Why don't we teach home economics classes? Why don't we teach high schoolers how to file taxes? What about useful things like basic first aid? We simply don't teach applicable skills.
Then there's the fact that school curriculum just hasn't kept pace with advancements in modern technology. Basic computer classes are offered as electives, if at all. Even less common are video production, digital art, coding, web design, 3D modeling, and countless other modern skills. We are letting students down when we don't acquaint them with modern tools.
Okay, so what are some solutions we could pursue? It's all well and good to say, [00:13:00] teach better classes, but that only addresses part of the problem.
The root cause of many of the issues our education system faces is that we simply don't have an incentive to teach our students. As with anything in America, if there's no financial incentive, nothing will change. The profit motive is the bottom line. Private schools have an incentive to at least prepare students for standardized testing, so that their parents will be happy and keep paying tens of thousands of dollars per year for tuition. But that education comes packaged with truly damaging ideology. So making private schools more accessible would not be a long-term solution, as those students would go on to pass even more ludicrous free-market education reforms.
Vocational schools are an option if we truly believe the only purpose of education should be to prepare students for the job market. There's a lot to be said for picking a trade and excelling in it. Electricians, welders, AC technicians -- these are all critical roles in our society. One problem with vocational schools is that they typically come with a tuition, which can be a difficult burden for many families.
Homeschooling is another option, though in the US it [00:14:00] often carries a similar connotation to private schools. Many homeschooled children come from very religious backgrounds and are kept separate from other kids their age, which can lead to serious developmental issues. That being said, there are plenty of homeschooling programs that include on-location learning, such as in museums or on community college campuses. This offers a more diverse, hands-on experience for students and can provide an excellent learning environment depending on the child.
Now that right there is something we don't discuss enough in the US. Appropriate education depends on the child. We don't all learn the same way. Some students learn more quickly than others. Some require hands-on experience. Some learn simply by watching or listening. By creating one single standardized educational template, we are trying to standardize a whole spectrum of humanity, and that just doesn't work.
There are some types of education, such as those found in Montessori schools, that try to foster a more diverse learning environment, allowing students to learn at different paces, and having students who grasp subjects more quickly work with those who are struggling. This allows more room for personal growth, but also [00:15:00] fosters empathy and interpersonal skills. The jury is still out on whether Montessori schools are strictly better than more traditional education, but some studies seem to say pretty conclusively that their students fare better than those in standard schools.
Understanding the Principles of Montessori Education - New Ideal, from the Ayn Rand Institute - Air Date 5-19-22
SAM WEAVER - HOST, NEW IDEAL: You just mentioned that Maria Montessori had sort of a distinctive view of the way that children developed, the stages or the periods of a child's development. So what does she think adults should be doing to help children make their way through these stages of development and get the things that they need to develop successfully? Maybe focusing especially on the first two phases.
MATT BATEMAN: Yeah. So she thinks that adults should set up an environment for very young children where the children can be successful in navigating that environment, where it's comprehensible to them, where it's really designed for them. Like, simple things, like everything is in reach and they can use all the furniture.
The second [00:16:00] thing is she thought that you should, just in terms of the environment, she thought that you should, the environment should be stocked with learning materials. Which she kind of borrowed and expanded on and modified from a number of people, but especially French theorists and some German theorists, um, like Froebel and Sagoon who were developing kind of hands-on learning materials that instantiated abstract principles.
So she had these exercises that you would do with sensorial materials, with other kinds of materials where you would sort them and explore them in various structured ways. All of this was set up in an environment where if you did it right and you kind of set the right tone and had the right rules and set the right gravitas, and we can talk about how to do that, you could really let children loose in this environment. And they would be pretty orderly. They would go to a shelf if you kinda showed them how, get out a material, bring it to a table, work on it, practice with it for a while, and when they were done, bring it back to the material, and then look around the room and see what they wanted to do next. And they would do this for some hours for a really long time. And while they were working, they would be really, really [00:17:00] concentrated. And that phenomenon of really, really intensive concentration, concentrated work effort - she has different terms for it, we at higher ground call it work - that's really central, enabling and facilitating that.
So you're enabling and facilitating that. And then you're setting up the environment so that when children are engaged, when they're working, they're working on things that are valuable, that are intellectually valuable or practically valuable, that build the child's cognition, their sense of independence their confidence in their ability to kind of sort the world into useful categories, scaffold things like literacy and mathematics later and other kinds of cultural subjects too. So you want to prepare an environment where the things that children are excited to work on are very valuable and they up to the scope and sequence, but very, very fundamental to it is just that children are working at all.
So 6 to 12 is quite a bit different. it's similar in that she still thinks you should prepare the environment and she still thinks you should give children a lot of freedom. But children at this age are able to receive instruction. And learn from instruction and benefit [00:18:00] from instruction in a way that's qualitatively different. Remember, they're not in the absorbent mind. They're now conscious. So a lot of instruction is framed around big picture stories that kind of, what are called in Montessori, the great stories that set a kind of framework for understanding anything that you might wanna study. And then children are using a mixture of hands-on materials that are really extensions of and continuations of what happens earlier, and then there's also a lot of reading and writing and there are presentations that are more kind of content full. I think it's okay to have a fair amount of didactic material in elementary. You don't want it to dominate the classroom and it's not like you're sitting and listening to lectures all day, but children love hearing lectures if you make it interesting for them and you do it right and it's embedded in a kind of very active scope and sequence. So there's more presentations that are like that, especially when it comes to history. And to some extent when it comes to science and literature, too.
So, you're still. Independent, you're still choosing work off the shelf and working on it. You're still organizing your own time. You keep a [00:19:00] work journal or you have some other mechanism of kind of managing your time. You meet with a teacher, it's almost like you're in an open office and like you're meeting with your startup boss and they're like, what are you working on? And you're like this. And they're like, cool. Well, like don't forget about these other priorities. And you kind of work on them together. You're getting a lot of feedback. The Montessori curriculum is very big on formative assessment, so a kind of continuous stream of feedback and so far as you can get it directly from materials, what Montessori call controlled error, that's best, but you feedback from peers and adults as well at this age.
SAM WEAVER - HOST, NEW IDEAL: So, we've talked a lot about materials. What would you say is the advantage of learning from materials, especially for those elementary children where you might think that, you know, there are ways that people try to teach math to elementary children that don't involve the hands on materials that the teacher just explains things or shows things. What is the benefit of the materials?
MATT BATEMAN: So we can play a game with our listeners. So, probably if I ask you, What's the formula to calculate the area of a circle?,[00:20:00] probably a lot of you will be like, I think it's π r². You'll remember something about the formula from your elementary years. And if I say, What's π?, probably even more of you will be like something like 3.14, like maybe at some point in childhood if you are like me in a math geek, you tried to memorize it to as many digits as possible. I think I can still do it 10 or 12. But what is π? Where does that number come from? Why does it work? Why do you calculate the area by multiplying this random fricking number 3.14, this rational number, you might remember that it's a rational by the square of the radius. I mean, I talk to a lot of educators and a lot of adults generally, and a tiny minority can answer that question. What does all of this mean? Like a lot of math, I mean, the way that you typically go through math is you memorize algorithms, basically, like a set of procedures. Why? Why does that, what is that? It's like, you [00:21:00] know, from a calculator, that it works and everybody learns it in school. But the thing that most people internalize is there are these random algorithms that seem to work by magic and I guess there's some reason why they work. I don't understand why they work, but if I do it, I'll get the right answer and I'll get good grades.
There are reasons why these things work, and you can teach it so that children understand why they work and it doesn't involve doing a bunch of really abstract number theory demonstrations. The history of math, and when you do math education done right, is replete with more concrete, more visual demonstrations of mathematical principles, what I earlier referred to as constructive geometry, but you can represent, even in non-geometrical context, you can represent a lot of mathematical truths physically and you can actually see what's going on. I mean, every elementary student in a Montessori classroom knows that π is a ratio. It's the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of the circle.
And that if you roll the circle, if you unroll the circle [00:22:00] and you compare it to the diameter every single time, no matter how big the circle is, you get three and a little bit radius, or sorry, diameter. When you're unrolling the circumference and there's all these exercises that you do and you puzzle over that, you're like, That's funny. Why is that? And you even puzzle over it's irrationality. And then you come to understand visually through a series of kind of, constructive geometric EU and pyre and exercises and materials, what the relationship is between that ratio and the various formula that you can use for circles. Like how to calculate area and how to calculate the diameter from circumference. You really understand it. And if that's how you learn math, what you learn is that the world has all these relationships that you can see and understand, and that's what math is about. And you can ask questions about it, and you can observe differences and you can get into it and you can notice patterns. You yourself can do it. And at each step you can understand what's going on. And yeah, you do wanna learn the algorithms at some point, like you wanna kind of compress it down to quick. Um, you wanna memorize things, you wanna compress it down, you wanna make your mind faster, but whenever you do it, you get it, you get kind of why it's happening. And that's a very [00:23:00] different lesson to internalize over the course of 12 years and that is just such an amazing power to have in your mind. And it's just a totally different habit of mind.
SAM WEAVER - HOST, NEW IDEAL: You mentioned also control of error through the materials. Does that have to do with this idea?
MATT BATEMAN: Yeah. So Montessori had this technical term "control of error", and the easy way to understand it, it's a pretty straightforward idea, is that the situation is set up so that when the child makes a mistake, the child can notice themselves, the child himself or herself can notice it.
So, a simple example is with the pink tower. So the pink tower is ten pink cubes that start off at 10 centimeters height, width, and length, and go down by one until you get to one centimeter. And the, basic task of the pink tower, there are a number of things you can do with them, but the basic task is just to stack them in order, kind of start with them in disarray, and you stack them in order. And let's say that you don't stack them in order. You can do it[00:24:00] but a) it's harder, it's less stable. So if you really get it wrong, the pink tower's gonna fall apart, especially, these are toddlers, right?, like, who are doing this, so it's not like you're playing Jenga as an adult and you're doing all these ninja things. You're like just trying to, like stacking is a thing that children have to learn how to do. So if you stack them in the wrong order, it's more likely to knock down. And even if you get it, even if you manage it in the right order and you look at it at the end, it's very visually obvious that something is off and something is wrong, especially when the pink tower in its default configuration is correct. So the way that the pink tower sits in the room and the thing that, you've seen for years and years coming into the Montessori classroom, maybe not years and years, but at least months and months coming into the Montessori classroom before you do it, is this beautifully linearly, triangular, monotonically, decreasing setup tower, um, in the room, and you've just kind of internalized that idea. So for a variety of reasons, nobody needs to come and tell you you did it wrong. You don't need the adult person to come, this authority figure to come, and explain to you why you did it wrong. You yourself can see that you did it wrong. And so you get used to checking your own work [00:25:00] and you get comfortable with mistakes. And there's this great Paul Graham quote from one of his recent essays, I think, or maybe it's just a tweet where he said something like, In school, what you internalize is that life is a easy test that you have to do perfectly on. And what you learn in real life is that life is a series of very hard tests where if you do mediocrely on them, if you do averagely on them, like you're, that's great. Like you can get a lot of things wrong as long as you're getting some things right and it's really hard to make things perfect and you're gonna make mistakes all the time, but you're accomplishing something real. And that kind of friendliness with, like, things are hard, like I've gotta be the one to assess whether things are going well or poorly like, that you would get that lesson in school is very unusual and controlled of error is an idea that runs through that. And so, as much as possible, Montessori materials are set up so that children can notice when they're making mistakes themselves. And that's just like, they get comfortable with that and it's fine and they fix it. That's just, that's a lesson a lot of people struggle with, a lot of people don't like making mistakes. I think a typical traditional school really does inculcate in you a kind of unhealthy perfectionism. Like either you're gonna get a perfect or it's not [00:26:00] worth doing.
The Secret Power of Homeschoolers - VICE News - Air Date 10-12-22
AMBER O'NEAL JOHNSTON: I can't take them back. It was almost like a desperation.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: When you outlined what's appealing to you about homeschooling on paper, it's exactly the same as what someone who might be on the complete right-wing end of the spectrum is also saying.
AMBER O'NEAL JOHNSTON: The system is broken. Now the issue is we don't agree on how to fix it, but we actually all agree that it's broken. It's similar to homeschooling. Whenever there's a threat in any particular state to their right to homeschool, oh, you will see us come together. You know, we're not gonna stay together, but we will band up because we all desperately need our right to homeschool.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: What is your relationship as a homeschooler with the HSLDA?
AMBER O'NEAL JOHNSTON: My family is a member of the group, which basically means like if there was a knock at the door or some type of challenge to our ability to homeschool, like you can call them and they'll represent you free of charge. And that's the nuanced aspect of being in the homeschool world. The people that you have to work with in order [00:27:00] to maintain what you hold dear are also the people who crush you.
HSLDA AD: We've been protecting and equipping homeschool families for more than 35 years.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: Johnston's one of more than a hundred thousand families who pay annual fees of about $130 for that kind of support. Between memberships and donations the HSLDA has brought in as much as 13 million dollars a year, money it uses to protect families from restrictions on their ability to homeschool.
HSLDA AD: We'll send letters, make calls, and even represent you in court.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: Over the past few decades, the HSLDA has helped make it easier to homeschool across the country. Today, 16 states have no curriculum requirements. Thirty-two states have no mandatory testing, and in 12 states, parents don't even have to notify officials when they pull their kid out of school.
The HSLDA's fundamental opposition to regulation means as activism extends well beyond homeschooling itself. It's opposed vaccine requirements, unionization efforts, [00:28:00] even same-sex marriage, and has recently supported a slew of parents' rights bills. When the HSLDA picks up a cause, it can torpedo legislation with a single call to action, even when it doesn't seem like the kind of bill a group supporting children would be opposed to.
This happened in 2018, when a teacher in West Virginia reported an eight year old student named Raylee Browning with showing signs of abuse. Child Protective Services launched an investigation, but then her dad pulled her out and registered her as a homeschooler.
ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: Raylee died at a local hospital the day after Christmas, 2018.
Two nurses testified the eight-year-old had scabs and bruising on her body. Her legs showed a burn mark. Judge Blake and special prosecutor Brian Parsons, say homeschooling played a role in the victim's death.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: After she died, state delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced a bill called Raylee's Law, which would block students from being homeschooled if their parents or guardians are suspected or have been convicted of [00:29:00] child abuse.
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: The idea that on the one end, in public schools, we have mandatory reporting, but that we can get around this through just simply being a homeschooler. That should have some sort of parameters in place and protections in place.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: Did you think it would be controversial?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: No. No, not at all.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: What reaction did you get?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: The reaction I received was, uh, that certain people felt that it was some sort of an attack on homeschooling and not an attack on people who abused children. I actually had people show up to my office. We had pushback from, uh, the homeschool groups in West Virginia. Some national groups stepped in as well. I would get kind of boiler plate emails, which tips you off as a legislator that there's a coordinated effort going on. There are groups, I wanna say there's like this homeschool defense fund group that came out against Raylee's law.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: The HSLDA?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: That's it. And there were quotes about how awful this bill was and it's an attack on homeschooling. And you know, they want to move the goalposts. That's what you do in politics. But always [00:30:00] thought maybe protecting children you wouldn't actually go about that.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: What's the status?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: Sitting in committee for who knows how long. Until the chairman decides it's worthy of his time. And that's because he wants to do what the homeschoolers want to do, not necessarily what's in the best interest of all children in West Virginia.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: Did you know that there was this kind of homeschool lobby before you introduced this legislation?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: I was aware of the lobby. Uh, I wasn't aware of the grips that they really have on the legislature. What they have is a grip on the education system in West Virginia. They have a grip on legislation and how it moves. They control the education committees in both the House and the Senate.
MEENA DUERSON - HOST, VICE NEWS: What effect does this amount of control have on the public education system?
STATE DELEGATE SHAWN FLUHARTY: Well, public education is not a priority in the sense of "public" education. I mean, things for homeschooling... we just passed out legislation for pod schools. So, you have all these domino effect pieces of legislation. And then what's on the back burner? [00:31:00] Public education itself.
Why Black Parents are Choosing to Homeschool Their Kids -Amanpour and Company - Air Date 6-18-21
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: You've had this experience that a lot of parents have had, that, you know, this is just not working for your children and you gotta figure something out. Like, what were some of the thoughts that led you to where you are now?
KERI RODRIGUES: I grew up, you know, I was in foster situations. I was growing up in a home that was mired with addiction. So my journey actually begins with myself and my firsthand experience. I was expelled from a public school. I got my GED from Boston Public Schools. I was lucky I was able to kind of scratch and claw my way into college, but it was by the skin of my teeth. So by the time I had children and I had three little boys, you know, I came in, I was a union organizer, I was teaching other people how to advocate for themselves. So, when my oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD and autism, I was like, This is gonna be fine because even though I'm coming into this with my dukes up, like, I'm gonna be able to advocate for my kid and I'm gonna get this [00:32:00] done.
Well, what I found out very quickly when my son was suspended from school 36 times in kindergarten was at the end of that IED table. I have no voice. As a parent, no one cares. No one's on your side. And all of those educators had already given up on my son by the age of six. They were done with him. They were pissed off at him. They were writing him off. They're calling me to pick him up. They're putting him in a redirect room that looks like a cinder block cell. And I was horrified. But I had no idea what was going on in our education system. I just, you know, the great trauma of my life was being expelled from school. I thought it was my fault, not knowing that literally we have a system that's set up to fail kids like me, kids like my son, I didn't know any of this. All I knew is that I had no power. And when I get mad, I organize.
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: Tell me about your organization, Keri. What does the National Parents' Union do? What do you do and what's the goal?
KERI RODRIGUES: So we are all parent advocates, [00:33:00] activists, and agitators. That's what we are. We are more than 500 organizations all across all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico and it's parent-led advocacy. You know, there are pockets of parent power in all corners of this nation. What mamas who are building groups in their neighborhoods who are building solidarity together so that they can speak with a united voice, so that they can share resources and we can talk back and forth, and then we can speak truth to power.
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: And what's the goal of the parent union? How would you describe it? The National Parent Union, of which you are the president. How would you describe the goal?
KERI RODRIGUES: The goal is to ensure that every child in America has equitable access to high quality education.
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: So Bernita Bradley, tell me your story. You were, been committed to homeschooling for some time. So, as briefly as you can, tell us your journey on that. Will you?
BERNITA BRADLEY: Yeah. So, um, I'll say here in Detroit, we only had 13% of our kids reading on grade levels, 16% right before the pandemic and during the pandemic. Beginning of the pandemic, children didn't [00:34:00] have access to tablets, tools to even make online learning possible. Families were tapping out. Specifically, my daughter asked me in fifth grade to homeschool her, but during the beginning of the pandemic, she was in 11th grade and she came to me at the end and told me, after having interactions with only one teacher for five months, and she was like, if my senior year's gonna be like this, I'm dropping out.
And I was like, well, no, you're not. So what do we need to do? Right? And so she was like, Well, let's try homeschooling. And I'm like, Okay, well let's do this. What do we need to do to do this? So again, we are activists, right? So if my child, like, and based on just the other voices we were hearing from our community appearance, tapping out and tired, we were like, what do we need to do? What do we need to learn how to do to homeschool? And then we opened up Engaged Detroit, our homeschool co-op. So, now we had coaches for parents who wanted to homeschool. What do you need for your child, for your individual household, to homeschool and make [00:35:00] sure it's successful for your kid.
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: I'm gonna go back to something you said. You said that your daughter had been asking to be homeschooled since fifth grade. How did you react when she said that to you? Like, I can only imagine the feelings that you would've had.
BERNITA BRADLEY: Yeah, so my daughter had been through extreme bullying. She'd been through bullying with teachers, schools that were just, were poor managed, and at fifth grade she was just like, I tap out. I'm ready to, can you homeschool me? Right? And my thought, first of all, was, Okay, I'm not an educator. I don't need to be at a desk with you all day. Like, Hey, get it done, do this, do this. And I'm working all day. So I felt like I didn't have the autonomy to do that. I didn't have the wherewith to do it in as far as all the other tasks I had as a advocate, as a community organizer, as a mom. So, I tried to find my daughter better schools. I tried to find her, like, she got into an A-rated school in fifth grade and that A-rated school still failed her in the City of Detroit. It still did not have what she needed.[00:36:00] Throughout her lifespan, my daughter has been in eight different schools, and that right there was not just like, Oh, this parent who's like, I'm just gonna keep switching schools. We fought for change in those schools, fought not just for the change of my daughter, but the change of all the kids in the school.
MICHEL MARTIN - HOST, AMANPOUR AND COMPANY: Keri Rodrigues, if you were to sort of sum up what you think is wrong with the way education is set up in this country right now, and I'm thinking particularly here at K-12, what would you say that is?
KERI RODRIGUES: We have systemic racism in literally every system in our country, and we have generational systemic racism that is embedded in our education system, and we don't address it. We cover it up. We say we want more money to fortify the school to prison pipeline, and we do not confront the deep problems that we have in our education system.
Teaching in the US vs. the rest of the world - Vox - Air Date 1-11-20
LIZ SCHELTENS - HOST, VOX: In the US, teachers work about nine and a quarter hours a day. That's an hour and a half longer than the average for teachers in other countries in the Organization For [00:37:00] Economic Development, or OECD for short. That's a group of mostly wealthy countries that economists often compare to one another.
Teachers in the US work more than two and a half hours longer than their colleagues in South Korea, Finland, and Israel. There are some countries with similar teacher work hours to the United States, like New Zealand, Singapore and the UK. Teachers in Japan, for example, work nearly two hours more per day than teachers in the US.
But in all of these countries, teaching hours are much lower. Of the nine and a quarter hours that American teachers work every day, they spend about five and a half of those hours actually teaching. That's more than the OECD average and significantly more than teachers in New Zealand, the UK, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Teachers in these countries get more time for planning, grading, and collaborating with each other.
So do all those extra [00:38:00] teaching hours translate to better results? Students in the US score slightly above the OECD average on the PISA exam, which tests 15-year-olds all over the world in reading, science and math. But they score lower than students in countries like Finland, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore, where teaching hours are much lower.
If we look inside Anna and Sophia's classrooms in the US and Finland, we'd see Anna teaching an hour and a half more per day than Sophia. Anna also spends more time planning lessons, grading student work and leading extracurricular activities, but those extra hours aren't necessarily reflected in Anna's paycheck.
If you compare Sophia to other people in Finland with college degrees, she makes about 98 cents for every dollar that they make. That's on par with the pay ratio between teachers and college graduates in similar countries. But Anna and other American middle school teachers only make about [00:39:00] 65 cents for every dollar that their college-educated peers make.
Still, as politicians in the US never tire of pointing out, we spend more...
ARCHIVE NEWS CLIP: we spend more per student than almost any country, I think...
LIZ SCHELTENS - HOST, VOX: than nearly every other country in the developed world. But that figure varies a lot by state. New York spends twice as much as California on each student. Mississippi spends less than half as much as Alaska. And American schools generally spend a lot more on security and other non-instructional costs than schools in other countries.
Plus, if you look at the share of its national wealth or GDP that each country spends on education, you can see there are plenty of countries spending a bigger share than the US.
There's one other difference between Anna and Sophia: When they're asked whether people in their country value teachers, two out of three Finnish teachers say yes, but just one in three American teachers agree.[00:40:00]
There are a lot of reasons why teachers like Anna leave the classroom. But if the US wants to keep more of them around, we might want to take a few pages from Finland's book.
Happy Finnish: Why Finland is the country to copy - The Bunker - Air Date 1-14-23
ROS TAYLOR - HOST, THE BUNKER: Teaching is a much more prestigious thing in Finland, isn't it? It can be quite hard to get a training place to study to be a teacher. How are schools different there?
DANNY DORLING: Uh, yes. It's very hard to become a teacher because so many people want to be teachers. It's actually quite hard to be a nursery nurse. You have to get a master's degree if you're gonna look after three or four year olds in Finland because it's treated seriously. And the schools are in some ways quite different from ours. For start, they're all very similar to each other. So they have almost no, or the lowest, variation between schools that you see anywhere in Europe. There aren't good schools and bad schools, they're just good schools and they do quite a lot of work to achieve that. But teachers also have an enormous amount of autonomy to decide what they do. When - [00:41:00] and lots of people visit Finnish schools, they get a bit sick of people visiting them because it was in education that Finland first topped the ranks in these huge numbers of international rankings - when people go to Finnish schools, they're somewhat surprised because it looks a bit anarchic, like the rest of Europe. And we are often not aware in England, but school uniform isn't a normal thing, right? It's Malta, England, and a few of our ex-colonies around the world where we make children's dress up. So of course there's no school uniform. There isn't in the rest of Europe. But also children might not wear shoes indoors. They're allowed to work on their own. It's not so regimented, not the same kind of authoritarian structure that we've moved more to.
And the irony about all of this is that Finland used to have a very divided education system. It used to have elite grammar schools, and then schools with level orders. And in the 1960s, the Finns came to England to see how can you do education better, and they copied our comprehensive model, and then [00:42:00] they took it further and further along a path. And now when you measure the ability of Finnish children to solve problems or to be creative or to do maths - they're incredible at maths - it's stunning. And the average number of languages spoken by a Finnish child, I think, is about six, fairly well, languages by the age of 16, maybe about six by the age of 18.
ROS TAYLOR - HOST, THE BUNKER: Six?
DANNY DORLING: Six languages. Um, you know, Swedish, Finnish, maybe Russian, certainly English, maybe German, not seen as abnormal. And people do travel from around the world to see how it can work and what can happen. And the great advantage is not having this divide between schools. There are a tiny number of private schools in Finland, I think less than 1%, and those 1% are often actually heavily state subsidized, so they're hardly private. So you don't have people worrying so much about trying to get their children into this school and not that school, and that is really, really beneficial.
Pasi Sahlberg: lessons from Finnish education - Social Europe Podcast - Air Date 2-7-22
ROBIN WILSON - HOST, SOCIAL EUROPE PODCAST: And let's start with what for you is at the heart of it, the teacher. In Finland you [00:43:00] stress teaching is a high status profession, with entry requiring a research-based master's qualification. National curricular frameworks are broad brush. There is not a system of rigorous inspection. Teachers don't have excessive class time. And they collaborate with each other in problem solving.
So why is, as you put it, "trusting the teachers" so important in your view?
PASI SAHLBERG: Yeah. First of all, I think it's important to make one notion that this academic teacher education that you mentioned in your question has been the only pathway into teaching in Finland since the, really, early 1980s. Unlike in many other countries, there are different ways to become a teacher. But in Finland, that has been the only way. And it's a critically important element of this trust-based system.
So today, as you said, all teachers they hold master's degrees, including the the preschool and [00:44:00] primary school teachers. That allows them to, not only teach better, but also plan what they teach in a school in a different way. And also evaluate and assess students' outcomes. So that's why Finland doesn't really need to spend that much attention and money to external national assessments because much of the assessment is done by teachers. And planning and teaching and assessing, these are the critically important professional elements of what teachers do.
So now when in Finland, when the teachers are prepared to understand and manage and continuously improve these three core elements, the system can trust them in all these aspects of schooling.
And by the way, all the parents can trust their own children to the hands of these highly trained and qualified teachers. So trust is an important part of this what we call a social capital that in turn will help people to do better what they are supposed to do.
We all know this from raising our own children. [00:45:00] Anybody who has been a parent knows that when you trust your own kids to do the right thing and behave well, that they normally do it better than if you control them all the time and deny things from them.
So my conclusion here is that when we trust our teachers, not just to do what they are told to do, and this is what happens in many countries, but that they are able to figure out the best ways to teach and run their schools, then these miracles happen. And that's why this trust in teachers in Finland has created the kind of a self-improving human development system that is complex and it's living and it's organic. Unlike in many other places where the system is much more mechanic and deterministic in a sense. But, that kind of a organic system and self-improving culture can only be created when there's enough trust in teachers and schools and the system.
ROBIN WILSON - HOST, SOCIAL EUROPE PODCAST: Okay, now let's turn to the [00:46:00] child's perspective.
Early years education has been developing in recent years in Finland, but formal schooling only starts when children are seven. The primary on lower secondary system has now been unified. Every child is presumed to have talent. And most children benefit from special education at some point. Children are not streamed, nor do they undergo externally moderated standardized tests until they leave compulsory education, now continuing to age 18.
Why is this a better route to good outcomes for all children and overall performance than more competition and preparation for frequent standardized tests?
PASI SAHLBERG: Yeah, Robin, as you said, that the Finnish education system is, to large extent, really designed from the children's perspective. Just like you said, it assumes in a way that all children [00:47:00] are different. They have different talents and different interests, and they have different living circumstances, and they also have different ways of learning. And that the Finnish system assumes that children can be talented and successful in schools in many different ways, not just academically.
Again, that is a very common way in many other countries, that you are good in school if you are good in literacy and numeracy, but you are not necessarily good in school if you are talented in some other things. So that's why the standardized assessments, by the design, how they're designed, have much narrower conception of intelligent than the holistic teacher-led assessments of students. That is a common practice in all Finnish schools. As I said that we don't have a national standardized assessments in Finland. So the students are always assessed by the teachers and teachers, obviously they look at the children in a broader way and more holistic way than just standardized assessments.
So [00:48:00] again, going back to this winners and losers notion that we both said earlier, that the standardized test will always produce winners and losers. If the tests only produce winners, then good tests, and if they only fail all the students their bad test either.
So that's a kind of a nature of employing standardized tests. And that's why assessing students in terms of their own potential and talents is most likely to help most of the students realize their talents, and this is exactly what the Finnish system is trying to do.
ROBIN WILSON - HOST, SOCIAL EUROPE PODCAST: The Latin derivation of "education" is educare, to draw out, and the implication of what you're saying is this is about drawing out the individual potential which every child in their own different way has. Okay.
PASI SAHLBERG: That's right.
ROBIN WILSON - HOST, SOCIAL EUROPE PODCAST: And then there is the school in Sweden, which you mentioned earlier, Pasi. For years, the drift has been towards this idea of parental choice. But in Finland, the expectation is simply that the child will go to the local school, which will be as good as any other school, [00:49:00] and indeed will provide a range of pastoral and other services in addition to the strictly educational ones. What then makes school principals and their teaching staffs strive to improve and how do they do it?
PASI SAHLBERG: Yes. This notion actually that the best school for all the children should be their neighborhood school, it was initially the Finnish idea that -- and many people didn't believe that the Finnish system is operating like this. Interesting thing is that the OECD, for example, now when they're using the global evidence from different education systems, has concluded exactly the same thing: that the successful education systems are designed in a way that the neighborhood school is the good enough school for each and every child.
But in Finland when we look at the principles and teachers, they are not only interested in doing their best in their own schools, but also they're also concerned about how they can support and help other schools around them. And there are a lot of studies and reviews [00:50:00] showing that this is a fairly unique way of being a teacher or leading a school. And that's why in Finland, the school leadership has a strong collective dimension, where the principals share their time and often resources as well by helping their colleagues and neighboring schools. Again, something that is difficult to find in most other education systems where the principals and teachers are mostly occupied by making sure that their own school is successful. And when there is this competitive culture, their interest is to be better than their neighboring school. So this is another positive side of the absence of this corporate- like toxic competition between the schools that we mentioned earlier. So my experience is that the Finn ish principals and teachers have a sense of belonging to the community and the nation building. They feel that together with their colleagues in their communities and broader in the system, that they can make their own communities and the whole nation [00:51:00] better. And that way they can change the world.
The Philosophy of Quitting School at 8 Years Old (Grown Unschooler Interview) - Andrew Parker - Air Date 2-19-21
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: Has unschooling made it easier for you to build a life for yourself without having to rely on the professional world?
SIERRA ALLEN: I would say so, yeah. Yeah, because I was unschooled, because I didn't go to school, I actually started, I started my own business and like a partnership in business with my parents when I was 11. And so that sort of practice, I mean, that opportunity, not even practice, that opportunity to actually be like a full equal partner as an adult would be in an actual legitimate business Since I was 11, you know, I've been learning how to interact with customers, how to deal with marketing, how to make sure you have a quality product so your customers come back. And how to like work in partnership with other people in a business and, like so many things that because I didn't go to school, I had the opportunity of learning those things from when I was quite young.
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: Yeah. I certainly can't think of any typical school class that would teach anyone those [00:52:00] things.
SIERRA ALLEN: No. And the cool thing was that I didn't have to get like taught it, right? As a young person, it was just what I was doing and I was contributing to my family, like I was a part of my family's business and contributing to like our, like, collective well-being. You know, I felt like a respected member of that collective. And so the learning was sort of a byproduct, right?
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: Sounds like being a small business partner as a preteen would be useful experience for anyone who wants to make a living without relying on an employer. Now I know there's more to being prepared for adulthood than knowing how to make money, but before we drop this topic, let's get specific, what sorts of things does Sierra do for work?
SIERRA ALLEN: Like consulting work and, like, odd kind of on the side, you know, making websites for people and finding like whatever it is, like that's coming up in my world and my friends or my community that like they need help with and kind of like finding ways to help out with that and then sometimes getting paid for it. It's a complex mixture. Currently, like right, right now, what I'm doing for work, what I'm getting up and doing every day is, um, I'm [00:53:00] building a really cool little wooden, like small house in the woods.
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: You're the second unschooler I've talked to who is building their own house. So I don't know what that says. I don't know how many, how common that is for people who don't unschool to build their own house, but...
SIERRA ALLEN: That's cool!
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: You know, I didn't ask Sierra how she's monetizing that house construction project or whether she's monetizing it at all. At that point in the conversation, I was getting more interested in the non-monetary questions, especially since she told me that some of her work involves bringing the unschooling philosophy to others.
SIERRA ALLEN: I would call it more of like a passion than a career. So envision like instead of a school, like one thing that I keep hearing from young people in my life is that they hate school, but they love school because of their friends, right? They want to spend time with their friends. That's what they want to go to school for. But then all the other stuff that they have to do at school, they hate. So envision, um, like a few families coming together all with sort of the same idea of like, not wanting to go back to school, but wanting to create this really awesome [00:54:00] learning environment where people can have friends, can do stuff with their friends, do the things that they want, actually wanna do with their friends, all day long, as much as they want. So there's more and more people around the world that are doing this, smaller groups of people learning together in really awesome, fun, and joyful ways.
So that's part of what I do, is supporting people in that process. Partly it's like telling my own story, like, you know, It's possible to do it. Your kids aren't gonna like be ruined. Um, and I'm also a learning facilitator, self-directed education facilitator. So I've worked in some of these like micro schools or learning centers.
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: The kinds of micro schools and learning centers that Sierra is talking about are similar to unschooling in that they all exist under the umbrella of self-directed education, which is to say they share the philosophy that learners of all ages should be free to take charge of their own learning. There's actually a whole world of micro schools and democratic schools and learning centers that's worth exploring, but I'll save that for another video.
Now, I [00:55:00] know for some of you, your gut reaction is that maybe these alternative schools might be a scam and maybe Sierra is only making them sound good for the sake of her own financial interest, and that is a healthy dose of skepticism. I will say that in the hour I spent talking to Sierra, I didn't get the sense that she was trying to sell snake oil. In fact, she brought up her own negative experiences with unschooling without me even having to ask.
SIERRA ALLEN: I'm not gonna say it's easy to choose something different, especially given, yeah, given the world we live in and the expectations of like, you wanna make your family proud. You're like, that's totally normal and natural. Majority of my family's sort of very academically oriented. You know, there's a lot of like PhDs, a lot of like people who have really pursued like higher education and gone through with it, and that's great. I admire that and also, you know, it's made it sort of a little extra difficult for me to choose a different path and not feel like I've got some people kind of giving me the side eye, you know?
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: Sounds like to be an unschooler you have to be willing and able to withstand the scrutiny that [00:56:00] comes with going against the social norm of going to school. And in that sense, it's not for everyone. There are people who just don't want to go against the norm and others who may lack the support to be able to do so.
SIERRA ALLEN: I think a huge part of it is, like, no one learns in isolation, right? And that's one other common misconception is, like, unschooling or self-directed education or homeschooling, it's like you in a room by yourself, learning a thing by yourself. Like, No, people don't learn in isolation. People learn through relationships. People learn in community. People learn from their environment. And, uh, I think it would be very, very challenging for someone to have a really rich and nourishing learning experience unless they have at least some support from parents, guardians, community members, family, someone in their life who can accompany them in that journey and give them the space to do it.
ANDREW PARKER - HOST, ANDREW PARKER: And that's something I want to emphasize too. One of the criticisms I've heard is [00:57:00] that unschooling is this callous form of rugged individualism where kids are just removed from school and left to fend for themselves. But after talking to Sierra, I think the opposite is true. Maybe school is what's callous and overly individualistic cuz a student's top priority, in theory, is their own grade, part of what often feels like a zero sum competition over who gets the best future; whereas, unschooling involves immersing young people in their communities, preparing kids for adult life by allowing them close proximity to adult life, supporting them as they make decisions and take risks in the real world. And as much as Sierra values her own freedom and autonomy, I didn't get the sense that prioritizing those individualist values in her education made her especially self-centered. Listen to how she responded when I asked her about her own happiness. [To Sierra] How happy are you and would you change anything?
SIERRA ALLEN: Like, right now in my life? [Laughing] Um, so, pretty happy. I mean, I have [00:58:00] down days, like everyone else, but, uh, I have like such a blessed and incredible life sometimes. Yeah. It's like the moments where I feel like, it's not like a bad, like, depression or anything like that, but the days where I feel like, I feel sad and I feel down, which I think is actually really appropriate in the times we're living in, to feel these things. You know, some of that has to do with, you know, what is my responsibility with like the incredible life and privilege that I do have and the freedom that I have really. And knowing that how much suffering there is out there and how much work there is to do in the world to make the world a better place. Um, sometimes I, yeah, I definitely feel responsibility and, you know, it comes from a place of feeling like incredibly lucky and blessed and appreciative for what I do have.
Boundless Life with Suzanne Perkowsky - Education on Fire - Air Date 3-12-23
SUZANNE PERKOWSKY: Boundless Life came about in the middle of the pandemic. The co-founders, um, our CEO Mauro had this idea of, you know, creating something different. He [00:59:00] has three little kids and had lived a digital nomad lifestyle and thought, Why are my kids not living this? Why are we not using this, you know, as an advantage? And he came up with the idea of adding education to this nomadic lifestyle. And he contacted Rekha, who's the co-founder and who leads the education, and together they started looking at what they could do to make this real, to make it happen. And from there we met. I was leading, I co-founded an education system company in Finland that was taking Finnish education and sharing it with the world. And we had started many schools. We started talking about it there and the idea was just absolutely mind boggling to be able to create something where families can travel. They can [01:00:00] absorb the local culture and actually be truly, truly globally educated and that the adults can work and know that their kids are getting a solid education. And that's the beauty of Boundless Life.
MARK TAYLOR - HOST, EDUCATION ON FIRE: And the thing that sounds different to anything else that I've spoken about here on the podcast before is it's not about being an online school. It's not about being, just logging in to, for wherever you happen to be in the world. It's about the immersion of actually having an education. But not from the age of four to 11 in this particular situation or particular environment or a particular town even. It's the fact that you are, like you say, you're able to move around. So just sort of talk us through where those locations are and how that works practically.
SUZANNE PERKOWSKY: So what we offer is the Nordic baccalaureate, which is based on Finnish education. Finnish education is based around interdisciplinary [01:01:00] learning, about a personalized journey, about teacher autonomy, and about taking away the stress of continuous testing. And one thing led to another and what we discovered is we can curate all of a full academic year into three semesters that we call cohorts. And for each cohort we take, on the curriculum side, we take all the math, all the science, all the different subjects. We've created these interdisciplinary units of learning that we call quests. And these quests are based around the UN SDGs. And the way we have structured it is that every destination follows the same quest at the same time. We have the same dates for the cohorts and we have the same overview for everything that is covered [01:02:00] education-wise in that cohort. So when the kids move from one destination to another, or even if they stay in one destination for more than one cohort, you can be assured within a year they are getting a full academic program for the year and much, much more beyond that.
MARK TAYLOR - HOST, EDUCATION ON FIRE: So, take us into the, you said destination there, so what do you mean by that? And how is that, say, different than just being an online school, or in terms of where those destinations are and how you might be able to move between destinations as you're going through that sort of learning experience?
SUZANNE PERKOWSKY: Our first destination was Sintra, or is Sintra, Portugal. And what happens in each destination is we offer housing, a co-working space for the adults, and an education center. And each of these education centers in the different destinations, of which we have three now, we have Sintra, we have [01:03:00] Syros, Greece, and we opened Tuscany in Italy in January, each of these we have an education center, and the education center is physically set up to reflect each other. So when the kids move from one place to another and they walk into an EC, as we call them, they feel at home right away. They've got the same furniture, they've got similar posters, they've got the look and feel. But taking it beyond that, any of the educators that join us go through an intense training with us. And in that training, we bring everybody into the same mindset. We want that growth mindset. We want that. Everyone feels we're on the same page. And that happens through our training.
So when we say destinations, we are now looking at a few more destinations. UK is on the [01:04:00] charts and we are just announcing the fourth destination for Boundless. And when you go there, you're going to look and feel the same. The community that we create, the education we create, the look and feel and the ethos of it will feel like you haven't moved. But what you gain from each is so unique. You have that Greek experience with the Greek food, the Greek culture. Sailing in Tuscany, you've got all the art, and the architecture and the food are amazing. So we pool on the local expertise and the local flavor from each place as well.
MARK TAYLOR - HOST, EDUCATION ON FIRE: You sort of mentioned there the accommodation and everything as well. So, do you find that the people that are part of this, do they think we want to be, to have this experience, we want our children to experience this and we want to be able to, like, say work from wherever, and then they're coming to that location because you are there? Or are they people [01:05:00] that happen to have found themselves in that location who then sort of fit into what it is that you offer?
SUZANNE PERKOWSKY: So I think where, it's a bit of both. Uh, but I think mainly it's people coming to us because they're realizing that we are providing a really solid educational experience and an education journey for their kids. So there are a lot of digital nomads that get really stuck homeschooling and trying to find, you know, what can the kids do while they're working. But we are providing that, and I think that is the real magnet to what we're doing. Besides that, we've got amazing accommodation and I'm sitting in the coworking space right now, which is very, very special and builds, all of this builds a real community feeling across all of our offerings.
Final comments on why it's possible to improve an education system without replacing it
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Sir Ken Robinson and his TED Talk, discussing some of the fundamental problems with our education system. Second Thought explained the outdated model of education that is hurting outcomes. [01:06:00] New Ideal explained some of the tenets of the Montessori philosophy of education. Vice News looked into the outsized influence of homeschoolers on public education. Amanpour & Company spoke with parents who homeschool their Black and Brown children to get them away from systemic bias. Vox compared the US education system to other OECD countries. The Social Europe podcast explained a bit about what makes the Finnish system work so well. And The Bunker described how the Finnish looked for ways to improve their system and then never stopped improving.
That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from Andrew Parker, who spoke with a product of the unschooling movement, and Education on Fire looked at the niche program designed for nomadic families. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, [01:07:00] because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And to wrap up today, I just wanted to focus on a few basic takeaways that come to my mind. The first is that the mere existence of all of these splinter ideas for education is all the evidence we need that there is an obvious hunger for alternatives to our standard public school system, and that shouldn't be ignored. You may disagree with it, you may think, noNo the public system is better, and that's important, but to ignore the desire for alternatives, I think we do at our peril.
But the second takeaway is that Finland makes clear that it is possible to fundamentally change an education system without breaking it apart into several systems, particularly when many of those splinter versions are privatized profit centers for investors. You don't have to do that in order to make improvements and have those improvements [01:08:00] meet the needs of people who might otherwise want to move away from the public system.
And number three, I just can't help but think of the old proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, right? We've probably all heard that, except that there's a variation on that phrase that I actually like a little bit better. I can't find any reference to where this came from and for a while I thought that what I'm about to say was the real version, the real original phrase, but I can't find any evidence for that either. So, I don't know where this came from. But anyway, the variation that I like is, It takes a village to raise a villager. And on one hand you could say that that puts a whole new spin on the original idea or, and this is what I think is more accurate, or it could be that that's just getting closer to the original meaning from when it was presumed, unquestionably that a child would grow into a villager. In other words, someone who cared for and felt connected to the village. Whereas today, in our [01:09:00] society, that's not necessarily true. And I think a lot of people even bristle at the idea that it takes a villager at all. Because individualism and a family can raise a child and that child can be an individual adult, right? But we're missing a lot of the elements of the villager mindset. And, I mean, that proverb is theorized to have come from Africa, from, you know, who knows how long ago, and I'm pretty sure that the idea of a child is, it goes without saying, that they are simply a future villager and therefore need to be raised by the whole village.
But the point is, and the way this ties into our education system, is that I think there's value in universally shared experiences that we miss out on if we allow for a widely atomized education system. Individual families may make the rational choice to do what's best for their children's situation, which may mean pulling them out of the public [01:10:00] school system. And you can't blame individuals for making rational decisions within a system that doesn't serve their needs. But when it comes to the value of raising villagers, not just individuals, we should feel a strong motivation to improve our public school system, not just for those who are going through it, but with an eye towards those who might be inclined to pull their kids out of a public system and try to figure out as many ways as possible to keep everyone together. So I'm actually an example of a person for whom the public system was not a great fit. I had a hard time going through school where there was some flexibility available. I often took advantage of it, and that saved me a time or two, but I really needed even more flexibility than was available. And I may very well have benefited from something closer to the Montessori philosophy of teaching. But I can also see the major downsides that would [01:11:00] go with being pulled out of the public school, pulled away from everyone I knew, having been moved to another school, and just having a very different experience of going through a system with a self-selected group of kids and families who have decided to go to a special school. You know, I don't have any desire to have been different, to have gone and done something special. I would much rather that the public system incorporate more of the ideas that come from places like Montessori or Waldorf so that they are naturally part of the standard system, than something that, you know, requires upheaval and changing schools and all of that. And from the sounds of it, that seems to be part of what the Finish system does. As more of a blended system facilitated by highly competent teachers, they can address the needs of a far higher percentage of students, which decreases even the [01:12:00] desire for splinter systems to exist. So when you hear the argument that problems in the public school system is evidence that we need more alternatives or choice, more private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, et cetera, keep in mind what we are collectively losing when we forget the value of educating collectively.
I mean, we are a highly divided society on multiple planes of existence - financially, politically, et cetera - we should be doing everything in our power to have the experience of children be more universal to create a foundation for a future that is far less divided than we have today, because no one likes what we are going through today.
As always, keep the comments coming in. You can leave us a voicemail or send us a text message to 202-999-3991 or keep it old school by emailing me to [01:13:00] [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to our Transcriptionist Trio, Ken, Brian, and LaWendy for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good and often funny bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content, no ads, and chapter markers in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. And if you want to continue the discussion, join our Discord community. There's a link to join in the show notes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast [01:14:00] coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.