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Is Kahn Academy Really a Breakthrough Moment for Education?

Marion Brady has written a very good critique about the flipped-classroom, Kahn-Academy model for broadcasting instruction to students in a recent Washington Post blog. He doesn’t dismiss this development but Brady is a clear-eyed and experienced teacher who understands that learning is more than just having a well-prepared teacher talk to you on a predetermined schedule. Brady writes:

Intractable educational problems will begin to disappear when learners’ rear ends are gotten off school furniture and allowed out where life is being lived, when learners’ eyes are lifted from reference works passed off as textbooks and directed to the real world, when learners’ minds are respected too much to treat them as mere storage units for secondhand, bureaucratically selected information.

Intractable problems in education will begin to disappear when kids are not just allowed to chart their own course, but are encouraged to do so, and given means to that end. Too bad there are no policymakers willing to promote that idea, and no rich philanthropists willing to put up encouragement money.

Marion Brady has worked for decades in curriculum development and school reform and he wants to share his work and see his ideas and programs put to use in many places, not just conventional schools. For high-school-age homeschoolers and unschoolers seeking some educational language and rationales to use for their reports about their children’s different learning scopes and sequences, reviewing this free download of his curriculum can be useful.

Connections: Investigating Reality

A comprehensive general education course of study based on general systems theory

For adolescents and older learners


Alfie Kohn on Why Numbers Trump Human Feedback in Education

Our ability to manipulate our world by using numerical data has led to some impressive acheivements as well as to some horrible developments, particularly when people get reduced to numbers and are treated as such. This has been happening for over a century in our schools and we've now reached a point where one's grade point average has become a shorthand for one's social worth in many situations.

Alfie Kohn has written a good rebuttal to this situation in school with this essay in Education Week: Schooling Beyond Measure. Here's a quote from the article to whet your appetite:

In education, the question "How do we assess kids/teachers/schools?" has morphed over the years into "How do we measure ... ?" We've forgotten that assessment doesn't require measurement, and, moreover, that the most valuable forms of assessment are often qualitative (say, a narrative account of a child's progress by an observant teacher who knows the child well), rather than quantitative (a standardized-test score). Yet the former may well be brushed aside in favor of the latter by people who don't even bother to ask what was on the test. It's a number, so we sit up and pay attention. Over time, the more data we accumulate, the less we really know.


The Future of Education Interview

Tomorrow, September 11, 2012, I'll be interviewed at 8PM by Steve Hargadon at The Future of Education. This is a free online event, and listeners will be able to send questions via text to Steve to ask me. A recording of the show will be available for free download after the show.

Steve and I plan to discuss John Holt's work as an educator and how John came to be one of homeschooling's earliest and most important advocates. I hope you'll join us and contribute to the conversation!


Teach Your Own: A Seminar About Homeschooling and Unschooling

I’m trying to gauge interest for bringing my latest workshop about homeschooling and unschooling to Portland, ME.

If 10 or more people contact me via email (pfarenga at by October 3 or sooner with interest, my friend Beth Della Torre Callahan will find me a space to do the seminar and I’ll send out registration materials to all who contacted me with interest.

Proposed Location: Portland, ME

Proposed Date: Saturday, Nov. 3, from 9AM to 1PM.

For detailed information about the seminar, and to read testimonials by people who attended the most recent one, click here.


Educational One-Upmanship and Magical Thinking 

Despite all the talk about how education is the way for people to school themselves out of poverty and other social problems, people still know and act as if education is essentially a game of dog eat dog. Viewed this way, as a parent, it is natural that you want to be sure your children are the diners and not the dinner in this situation, but some very competitive adults take this to an extreme.

I learned from Derren Brown, a magician I follow (magic and illusion is a passion of mine), about how Chinese parents were defrauded by an education company's promises to turn their children into academic superstars. This is from an article in the Guardian, "Chinese parents defrauded by 'perfect' education:"

For ambitious Chinese parents, the opportunity was too good to miss – even with its 100,000 yuan (£9,950) price tag. Their children would learn to read books in 20 seconds and identify poker cards by touch. The most talented would instantly see answers in their heads when presented with test papers.
Around 30 pupils aged from seven to 17 were enrolled for the Shanghai summer course. But 10 days later their "special abilities" had not materialised. "I found that my child learned nothing except how to cheat," one parent complained.
The tipoff for the magician that this was a major scam is the poker card trick. This trick is a classic of card magic and has numerous variations, but for parents seeking an edge, and trusting in the authority of educators, it must have appeared as a powerful bonus in addition to the other skills this outfit promised.
Here, though, the fraud of promising special abilities upon completion of the educational program is plain and obvious. In our society we, too, suffer from magical thinking about education. We believe that just progressing through the system creates knowledge, despite millions of graduates who are not  able to speak a foreign language, do more than basic math, or understand science after years of passing classes in those subjects.