The 6 Essential Features of a 21st century Education

In his introduction to John Gatto’s book “Dumbing us Down-The Hidden Curriculum of compulsory Schooling”, David Albert lists Dan Greenberg’s six consensus points which he says leading educators, business leaders and government officials agree are the essential features of an education that would meet the needs of society in the 21st century.

After reading them, think about whether the school system you are immersed in provides these features. Whether you are a teacher or a student- whether you have children or know of children at a school.I would argue a democratic-self directed learning approach is best for this. I have been spending the last few months working on setting up a new school in Montana, USA which is based on a free-democratic approach. A school where self-directed learning is the key driving force. Influences include Sudbury Valley School (of which Dan Greenberg was a co-founder in 1968) and Summerhill in the UK.

Our school is called Glacier Lake School and we are currently enrolling for a March/April start.

Six Consensus Points- Dan Greenberg

1. As society rapidly changes, individuals will have to be able to function comfortably in a world that is always in flux. Knowledge will continue to increase at a dizzying rate. This means that a content-based curriculum, with a set body of information to be imparted on students, is entirely inappropriate as a means of preparing children for their adult lives.

2. People will be faced with greater individual responsibility to direct their own lives. Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self assessment. Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive.

3. The ability to communicate with others, to share experiences, to collaborate, and the exchange information is critical. Conversation, the ultimate means of communication, must be a central part of a sound education.

4.  As the world moves toward universal recognition of individual rights within a democratic society, people must be empowered  to participate as equal partners in whatever enterprise they are engaged in. Students (and teachers) require full participation in running educational institutions, including the right to radically change them when needed.

5. Technology now makes it possible for individuals  to learn whatever they wish, whenever they wish, and in the manner they wish. Students should be empowered with both the technology and the responsibility for their own learning and educational timetable.

6. Children have an immense capacity for concentration and hard work when they are passionate about what they are doing, and the skills they acquire in any area of interest are readily transferable to other fields. Schools must thus become far more tolerant of individual variation and far more reliant on self-initiated activities.

Whether you agree or disagree with these points, pass this on to someone else who might be interested in discussing this important issue. I believe passionately that the current public (in the USA) and State ( in the UK) education systems do not go anywhere near meeting these six points.


What the Tests Don’t Measure

Diane Ravitch's blog

Just received from a friend, Joan Baratz Snowden:

My daughter’s new elementary school principal sent this to all the students as they received their state standardized testing scores this week:

“We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or…

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Common Core

If you don’t follow this blog…it’s well worth it.

Nicholas Meier

I have been hearing from many friends who work as K-12 teachers, as well as some teacher educator colleagues here in California, that they are excited to see the coming of the Common Core standards. They see in them a move away from an emphasis on teaching by rote and a move toward emphasizing higher order thinking skills. I truly hope that they are right about this. A shift in balance from a preponderance of rote and conformist styles of teaching to more emphasis on creativity and the other aspects of what are called the higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy is needed.

On the other hand, I have been hearing some critiques from other colleagues, especially early childhood educators, about some of the specific standards that they say are developmentally inappropriate. One of those that I hear mentioned often is having young children doing more expository reading…

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We know so much more about the brain than we did even 10 or 15 years ago thanks to research around the world led by organizations such the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).

Individuals such as JoAnn Deak, Brian Knutson and Daniel Willingham have analyzed this research over many years and have written and presented compelling arguments and information for schools and teachers to improve teaching and learning.

In education we use this research (not enough in my opinion) to help us understand the best ways to learn. An example of this is how we now understand that the brain processes information in ‘working memory’ and transfers this information to ‘long term memory’. Another example is the way teachers help children to understand how they learn best –metacognition – as an important part of educating the whole child today.

We know from research that for us to learn most effectively, the learning needs to be at exactly the right level of difficulty. Too easy and we get distracted, too hard and we switch off. (How many times has a student described a lesson as ‘boring’ when it was actually too hard). This is what makes teaching so difficult and is why teachers require so much training and experience to meet the needs of their children.

I like to say that a teacher does not teach a class of say, 28 students, she teaches 28 individuals. If she is to personalize learning and help the child to learn at exactly the right level for optimum effectiveness, she needs to understand each individual child’s learning style and differentiate to support that child. So many schools and school systems don’t support this personalization of learning and teachers are forced to generalize or differentiate their teaching to reach groups of kids in their class rather than the individual child.

Computer games companies spend time and money on analyzing the same brain research as we educators do. Their motive (to sell lots of games and make money) may be completely different to ours at school but the goal is the same. Computer games companies want their games to be ENGAGING, ACHIEVABLE and ADDICTIVE.

Achievable, for the reasons I have mentioned (not too easy and not too hard). Educators need to focus on these things. If we can get kids to be ‘engaged’ and ‘addicted’ to learning, we’re on the right path!

Frappuccino Drinker or Philosopher?

Tweeting for Teachers

Twitter has been around for a few years now (July 2006 to be precise) and has evolved from being purely a micro-social networking opportunity to tell your followers that you are say, in Starbucks enjoying a nice strawberries and cream Frappuccino, to a useful tool for sharing ideas, opinions and stories.

We all know how influential twitter has been in recent uprisings around the world and has given us the power to be journalists one and all. The first on the scene (sometimes the only one on the scene). Like many of these social media start-ups, the public has taken the idea and re-shaped it into something useful to their lives. True, some people still talk about their Frappuccinos, but I find these tend to be either celebrities or people with rather sad lives (sometimes both). Take Justin Bieber for example. He currently has the most followers in the world on Twitter (just over 34 million people). He, like many other celebs, has turned from just being quite a good singer (debatable I know) to a wanna be philosopher and social commentator. A recent tweet to his followers read “If U wanna succeed U gotta put in the work”. Thanks Justin, for that pearl of wisdom.

What about us educators? How could twitter be useful? Well I can honestly say that I find it the most useful professional development tool I have come across. If you select the people you follow carefully and make lists so that the account doesn’t become unmanageable, it can be very useful. I for example follow a number of Middle School principals from around the world who tweet really useful links to articles and personal observations. I follow teachers, politicians, news organizations, NGOs and comedians.

And then there’s the classroom. Yes it can be an extremely useful tool, but I would always say you need to identify a need that will support your class before you try. The link below has many links to uses for twitter in the classroom.

I haven’t written about how to use twitter in this article because I think the best way to learn is to:

1) Ask someone who’s using it


2) PLAY with it.

In case you’re interested, my twitter name is @kestnertweet

Give it a go it might change your life!

How Technology is bringing back the Real Teacher

A good teacher has always been much more than a giver of information, the source of knowledge. A good teacher is a coach, guide, mentor and facilitator; someone who is always curious and always seeking to learn; someone who celebrates not knowing, the unknown and seeks truth and meaning.

High stakes testing and content driven curricula have driven many schools to teach to the test and try to reach unreachable targets as they fight for funding and ultimately their existence.

The teacher is caught up in the middle of this senseless storm. She needs to teach in a way that is counter to the way she really wants to be. The ‘giving of information’ part of her role becomes the dominant method and she is forced to compromise her skills  and passion as she fills up kids with meaningless facts and shallow tests in terms of higher level thinking skills.

The World Wide Web has revolutionized access to information. With so much instantly available, some fear that the role of the teacher will be diminished, but I feel that the teachers’ role will be strengthened. Teachers now can focus on what they really were meant to be. The role of a coach and guide; someone who can help kids navigate the world and bring out their natural curiosity; someone who can help the kids grab hold of that curiosity and guide them through exploration and action.

Doctors too are going through a similar journey. Patients are coming to them with a list of possible symptoms, and their role has taken on that of a guide based on experience with people-real people.

Some teachers fear loss of control and the loss of power. These are the teachers who went into the profession for the control and power.

Good teachers, the ones who went into the profession for the right reasons can breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, the Internet revolution will lead to the education revolution.

This long overdue revolution will, I believe, come from the kids themselves. They are now finding their voice and they will no longer accept the school system as it is. They will no longer conform to a pattern of learning foreign to how they were born to learn.

Like countries have toppled their governments after years of tyranny and suppression, so too will kids topple the system, which has for too long suppressed their natural way of learning.


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