School Children Need Summer Camp, But Should Not Go

Now that the school year is winding down, many parents and their children are shifting their focus to a wide variety of camps to fill up the summer calendar. Some parents simply need daycare for their children when school is out. Others want their children to be able to finally relax and have fun around same-aged peers after a painful academic year. Other parents see summer camp as an opportunity to give children experiences that the schools do not provide, such as outdoor experiences. Many parents are eyeing up sports camps to give their children an edge on the athletic field. A growing faction of parents want the camps to provide their children with skills they deem valuable for the future, such as coding camps. And many parents see camps as opportunities for academic enrichment and training. We want to lay out some points of consideration for parents as they think through their options.[1]

The benefits of summer camp

Summer camps can be fun.  Climbing mountains, building go-carts, playing basketball, and creating art or music are experiences that can bring pleasure to one’s life. Further, being placed in a new environment allows young people the opportunity to meet others and begin building new relationships.

Summer camps can be vital recharging opportunities for young people who are enrolled in high pressure, coercive schools. Students who are academic overachievers or come from families who put a lot of pressure on them to excel face high levels of stress that lead to long-term chronic health issues, decreased intellectual vitality, and mental health challenges. Students who are academic underachievers often see schools as centers of torture. Summer camps can allow them to temporarily make a clean break from school so they can attempt to heal.

Summer camps can provide a release for young people who feel trapped in school. Traditional schools are authoritarian, hierarchical environments with restrictive rules and guidelines that strip students of autonomy. Students who have a high sense of autonomy respond to schools as if they were prisons.

Summer camps broaden young people’s horizons. In new environments, freed from the many restrictions of school, young people are more likely to dive into new experiences and to enjoy them, particularly without the assessment and grading that is associated with schooling.

Summer camps help get young people moving. In school, young people are mostly confined to a desk during the day. Occasional recess, physical education class, or after school activities cannot undo a sedentary lifestyle. Scaling rock faces, canoeing down rivers, swimming laps, and kicking around soccer balls are great ways to get children to do what they do naturally—move.

Summer camps can allow young people to build relationships with those who are younger and older than them. At school, young people are often segregated by age, and the only people they get to interact with who are not their age are authority figures. Because summer camps are often comprised of young people from a variety of age groups, as well as camp counselors, summer camps are good environments for young people to more appropriately develop their social skills.

Summer camps can provide enrichment experiences that allow young people to develop in ways that they are not able to at school, or they can position them for future success in school by giving them a head start. Additionally, select summer camp experiences may provide some resume bullets or essay fodder for those who plan to apply to highly competitive colleges and universities.

The downsides of summer camp

Summer camps limit opportunities for self-discovery. Summertime is often an escape from school, where young people can take the time necessary to focus on themselves, and to process their life experiences. However, young people cannot do so if they are being placed in camps that eat away the summer.

Human beings benefit tremendously from unstructured free play. Unstructured free play increases creativity, permits young people to seek out new learning experiences, improves problem solving, and improves mental health. The optimal amount of unstructured free play is unlimited unstructured free play. Summer camps infringe upon the opportunity for unlimited free play, and many camps are so regimented and structured that free play is not an option.

Summer camps continue to segregate young people from society. Students spend all year holed away in a school where they do not have the opportunity to regularly interact with people three or four years older or younger than them, much less with the rest of society. By placing young people in summer camps during the summer, they are still prevented from taking their rightful place in society and having the opportunity to interact with people of all ages.

Summer camps are often captive experiences that the young person cannot opt out of, or does not have the freedom or ability to restructure. This can inhibit their sense of autonomy in school- or prison-like ways.

Summer camps only run during the summer. Acknowledging the potential benefits of summer camp, they have a very short shelf life, and then young people are sent back to school.

A better alternative

The listed benefits of summer camp outpace the listed downsides of summer camp. However, the downsides are substantially heavier than the benefits. That is why young people should not be sent away to summer camp as some sort of medicine to offset the schooling experience, or as a supplement to schooling.

A temporary reprieve from the oppressive experiences of schooling is not sufficient for healing, nor does it allow young people to lead remarkable lives. A one- or two-month summer experience does not erase what happens during the schoolyear, and thinking of summer as a way to reset young people is a form of punting on the necessity of taking action to promote the health and welfare of children.

Young people need more than just an escape from school, or “better” enrichment activities than school offers; young people need to live lives of autonomy and freedom. Only when young people are freed from the burden of being subjected to schooling for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their lives will they have the opportunity to engage in and benefit from unlimited free play. And only when they have the opportunity to engage in unlimited free play will they also have the time to be with themselves to process, and to come to an understanding of themselves.

There are no shortcuts to leading a remarkable life. Free play and down time are not extracurricular activities. Being free from assessment, grading, and judgment some of the time does not undo the harm from being assessed, graded, and judged the rest of the time. Young people do not learn how to take control of their lives because they go to a summer camp, they learn how to take control of their lives when they are given the responsibility of making the decisions that are relevant to their lives. And that needs to be an all the time responsibility.

Summer camps can be beneficial, and worthwhile. But only as something that young people choose to engage in as a part of a broader self-directed lifestyle. Summer camps should be seen as learning experiences. But life is filled with learning experiences when one is not constrained to coercive schooling environments.

1.     We chose not to attempt to create an exhaustive list of benefits or downsides of summer camp. 

Does Self-Directed Learning Create an “It’s All About Me” Problem?

People often ask me what makes Abrome different than other schools. This allows me to turn virtually every conversation with someone I meet into a discussion of the merits of self-directed learning and Learner autonomy. Most people are unprepared to hear what I have to say because it is too far removed from a worldview shaped by society and 13 years in traditional schools. They instinctively reject Emancipated Learning because they were repeatedly told they needed to stay in school, buckle down, study, and go to college in order to get a good job. The notion that we live in a meritocratic society where schools are the great equalizer has become a cultural meme that has seeped its way into education, politics, philanthropy, and the home. I go into these conversations with an understanding that not everyone will agree with me; I am planting seeds for the future. 

Participation trophies, not autonomy

Recently, a retired gentleman in Georgia asked me what I did for a living, and I told him that I run an “alternative school” in Austin. He probed. I explained that Abrome is a self-directed learning space that supports young people so they can take control of their educational experiences, and thereby take control of their lives. He immediately rejected the concept. First, he questioned how someone could learn chemistry if not required to, and then he moved on to asking how one could ever be an employee if they were not trained to follow orders. Finally, he came out and said it: “Doesn’t this self-directed learning create an ‘it’s all about me’ problem?”

He unoriginally posited that the problem with millennials and, by extension, current day school children, is that they all got ‘participation trophies’ growing up, and therefore thought far more highly of themselves, their capabilities, and their perceived value than they should. He continued by arguing that this exaggerated belief in their self-worth (or economic worth) resulted in young people who focused more on themselves than the organizations they worked for. He called them entitled. And allowing them to have control over their educational experiences would only amplify that entitlement.

It is not narcissism, it is necessity

It is common for older generations to dismiss younger generations by pointing out their narcissistic tendencies. Many of the generations that are so disappointed by today’s youth were often viewed as selfish loafers and slackers when they were young. While it is true that millennials and school-aged children are more narcissistic than gray-haired people, that is a function of youth, not of generational change. Across generations, younger narcissists tend to mature into older people who are less full of themselves.[1]

While labeling younger people as narcissists is unfair, if any generation deserves to be more focused on themselves, it is the youngest generation. Economically, they are facing a far more dynamic, disruptive, and uncertain future than their predecessors. Futurist Thomas Frey predicts that 2 billion jobs will cease to exist by 2030, while Ray Kurzweil argues that computers will achieve human levels of intelligence by 2029 and technological singularity will happen by 2045.[2][3] When that happens, the needs of the economy will demand competencies and skills that cannot be filled by the modern day worker. In fact, this process has already started. As of 2013, 18 of 30 major world economies are already experiencing talent shortages, and half of recent American college grads are unemployed or underemployed.[4] It is less a question of which industries are going to be disrupted or replaced, and more of a question of when each industry will be disrupted or replaced, and who will survive.

Further, the institutions and systems that we and our forebears have created and perpetuated are actively undermining younger generations from being able to prepare themselves for this uncertain future, much less lead remarkable lives. Despite the impressive social and technological progress that has occurred over the past few generations, we are leaving the younger generations with tremendous liabilities that may come due on their watch, ecological environments on the brink of collapse, and a cost of living that is difficult to meet given personal needs and societal expectations (e.g., healthcare, housing, college tuition). However, of all the institutions and systems that disadvantage the younger generations, perhaps the one that undermines them the most is the schooling system.

Education should be all about me!

Education should be a liberating experience that allows people to lead remarkable lives so they can positively impact society and improve the human condition.[5] However, schooling does the opposite. Schooling currently trains young people to bow to authority and to know their place in the hierarchy of society, as the gentleman from Georgia believed it should. It tells young people to wait their turn, and to jump through the hoops that have been established or protected by the incumbents in the hopes that these youngsters will eventually get their shot at lording over future generations. And while this approach was morally unjustifiable in the past, it is now also practically unviable for the future. The status quo will be displaced.

To continue to push young people into a coercive, standardized, and still industrialized schooling system is to prepare them to fail. Young people are going to have to become lifelong learners to be able to continually adapt and evolve in a world where institutions have no loyalty to their workers. Schooling undermines the love of learning. The longer that children are subjected to the practices and structures of schooling, the more likely they are to avoid voluntary learning experiences.[6]  Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial competency are going to be vital to success moving forward, yet schools continue to shape a risk averse mindset in students through a demand for perfection on narrow and often meaningless academic  tasks, an intolerance for experimentation, and a constant push toward college degrees as validation of competence and intelligence.

For these reasons, education must be all about the young person. It is time to move beyond the argument that the purpose of education should be to benefit the nation or the economy. Education needs to stop being about the adults. It needs to focus on the children: their wellbeing and their future. To do anything less is to fail them. When today’s young people are rightfully given control of their education, their chances of leading remarkable lives increase dramatically.  And that benefits society.
 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020091/

2. http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/

3. https://futurism.com/kurzweil-claims-that-the-singularity-will-happen-by-2045/

4. http://zhaolearning.com/2015/04/06/a-world-at-risk-an-imperative-for-a-paradigm-shift-to-cultivate-21st-century-learners1/

5. http://www.abrome.com/blog/emancipated-learning-vs-bells-whistles

6. There is ample research that highlights that people lose interest in learning something after they are praised, tested, or assessed in some way, even in activities they previously enjoyed. After years of assessments across various domains, it is unsurprising that many adults still experience school-associated anxiety, and that voracious reading is an anomaly amongst those who attended traditional school. 

The Private School Tuition Criticism

American society has been trained to believe that schools are necessary vehicles of education. Without school, it is believed, one would not learn to read, write, find a job, or stay employed. And if we accept that schools are necessary for success in life, then we are left to ask, how would people of lesser means ever compete in a capitalist society without the benefit of schooling? The misguided conclusion that comes through generations of people being subjected to a monopolized and compulsory schooling system is that we need schools, and that those schools must be publicly funded.

This morning, a critic of alternative education reminded me that Abrome charges tuition, and lots of it. This was meant to be a trump card that should somehow lead to the false conclusion that we (and other alternatives to traditional school) are undermining education in society.[1] More specifically, this critic wanted me to blindly accept that the current institution of public schooling was inherently good for society, and that the real problems are that we criticize coercive schooling too much, and “white, wealthy parents” refuse to leave their children in district public schools (meaning they refuse to invest their children into the system to try to make public schools better, as opposed to investing in education for their children).

I cannot accept that the current institution of public schooling is an inherently good thing for society. As I have pointed out in the past, traditional schooling hurts students, their families, and society. Traditional schooling is inherently bad because it introduces coercion and illegitimate authority into the lives of children, it harms the current and future happiness and health of children, and it undermines the learning process. The practices and structures of traditional schooling were put in place for a variety of reasons, the bulk of which were nefarious (e.g., producing compliant industrial workers and obedient soldiers, promoting nationalism, destroying marginalized or oppressed cultures, sorting students to determine which ones received resources and opportunities, preserving class privilege, entrenching racial hierarchies). When the effects and history of schooling are highlighted to alternative education critics, they tend to double down on the funding mechanism of alternative schools as their proof of the superiority of traditional, public schooling.

Attacking progressive schools for charging tuition is an unfortunate but common tactic of alternative education critics. Like public schools, progressive schools need to be able to pay the bills (e.g., a living wage for educators, rent, utilities). How can anyone take seriously a public school advocate who believes that private schools should not be charging tuition, while also not being publicly funded? Their argument is less about funding and more about existence; they simply do not want viable alternatives to exist.

The one point this critic made that had some merit is that tuition-charging private schools are not an option for all families. But this critic took that to mean that unless every child has access to the same options, then no alternative options should exist. We fully agree that tuition charging private schools are not universally available to all students, but a non-coercive public school option is not available to any, much less all students. We acknowledge that there are disparities in access to educational options according to socioeconomic status (and geography). But because those disparities manifest themselves in both public and private traditional schools, it is left to progressive educators and radical communities to create alternatives in the here and now.

Abrome greatly values diversity within our learning space. Diversity strengthens the learning environment by way of promoting tolerance and empathy, increasing creativity and innovation, and reducing bullying. And we consider socioeconomic considerations to be central to our diversity efforts. Therefore, our full-pay families subsidize the cost of attendance for our lower SES families. But while alternative school critics feign indignation over our sticker price, they also make clear that even a $1 tuition would be too much, because they believe that giving “white parents of means” an alternative to coercive schooling is the reason public schools are not working.

While economic barriers to self-directed learning environments are unfortunate, it is worth pointing out that there would be no need for tuition funded alternative education options such as Abrome if public schools were non-coercive.[2] In fact, there are plenty of alternative education advocates who believe in public education, just not coercive public education.[3] But the only thing these critics seem to take offense to more than school tuition is the notion of self-directed learning. Perhaps that is because a belief in the need for publicly funded, coercive, compulsory schooling requires a belief in the superiority of those who work within the institution of schooling over what they believe are ignorant and incompetent children.

For those alternative school critics who argue that cost of tuition is problematic, I encourage them to expand their understanding of cost. The current cost of coercive schooling is a society that is filled with unhappy children and intellectually dead adults. A society that is deferential to authority and disdainful of those abused by authority. A society unwilling to learn from the past, live in the moment, or prepare for a complicated future. There is a mental health cost to coercive schooling, and it is paid in part through youth depression and suicide. There is an opportunity cost to coercive schooling, where young people forfeit their childhood and their future in order to participate in a race to nowhere. There is a social welfare cost to coercive schooling, where low SES families and people of color are repeatedly told that they are inferior, and where affluent, white families are convinced that they have a cultural or genetic right to the advantages that society unjustly provides them.[4] When all the costs of coercive schooling are compared to the tuition costs of progressive schooling, it becomes clear that coercive schooling is the one that produces a deadweight loss to society.

One final note: we do not criticize coercive schooling too much, but we are working on it.

 

1.  Although we are not undermining education in society, we hope to undermine the status quo of coercive schooling.

2.  Even the poorest families can provide their children with self-directed learning environments via homeschooling, unschooling, and cooperatives.

3.  We believe in voluntary, community education; not government funded, monopolized, compulsory education.

4.  It is ironic that the people who recognize the privilege that rich white families have in society are unable to acknowledge that the institution of coercive schooling compounds that privilege.

 

 

The problem with apprenticeships, internships, and mentors

What could possibly be wrong with a school that offers students their pick of apprenticeships, internships, and mentors?

One of the fundamental problems of schooling is that it takes away agency from the student. Young people come into the world eager to learn, but when they are placed in schooling environments, that love of learning is put down. Students are expected to speak only when spoken to. Questions may be asked, but only at the appropriate time. “You want to talk about dinosaurs? Too bad, we’re talking about the color wheel.” “You want to play with the microscope? Too bad, this is core skills time; get back to your Khan Academy math.” Students become convinced that knowledge comes from above, and that adults know best what students should be learning.

Students become reliant on their teachers and the rules of the institution to inform their actions and guide their intellectual development. Many of them even come to believe that they would not learn how to count or read if not for the institution of schooling. Of course, they also would learn to count and read if they were sent to a nursing home for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years of their youth and adolescence—and then society would ask, without nursing homes, how would the children learn?

Because it is such a simple way of looking at the world, and because it is reaffirmed endlessly through cultural norms and rituals, society fully buys into the belief of schooling as the means of learning. Instead of asking how to help their children lead remarkable lives, parents ponder where they can move to so they can get their children into schools that will provide them with the best learning opportunities. In the past, this may have been limited to AP classes, extracurricular clubs, and athletic facilities. But more recently there has been an uptick in schools offering their students apprenticeships, internships, and mentors.

For the parent who is trying to game the system so that they take on minimal social risk while positioning their child to get into a top college, these school offerings sound like safe ways to differentiate their child’s schooling experience. Unfortunately, like everything else in the schooling world, this becomes part of the college admissions arms race, where parents and schools try to provide students with experiences and essay fodder that allow them to stand above the competition. Seeking to capitalize on parental anxiety, schools now tout their special partnerships with organizations that their students can intern at, or list the professionals their students can call on as mentors. “Come to our school,” they say, “and we will get you an internship with a venture backed startup!” “Come to our school, and we will give you a world class mentor!” A parent who is trying to game the system tends to appreciate a school that tees up opportunities for their children to opt into.

However, by offering structured apprenticeships, internships, and mentors, schools undermine the learning process while also limiting the potential for students to leverage those experiences into remarkable lives led.

Numerous studies have highlighted how choice and agency impacts learning. In one study, researchers provided one group of young people with a toy to play with as they saw fit. In the other group, they instructed the young people on how the toy worked, and how to manipulate it. The young people who were free to play with the toy were more engaged and had more fun than the group that received instruction. The free play group developed a deeper understanding of how the toy worked, to include the tasks that the other group received direct instruction on. In another study, students who received clear-cut instructions on how to solve chemistry problems underperformed relative to students who were not given such instructions. And in another study, students in underperforming schools had tremendous competency gains after the schools provided them with the opportunity to decide what topics to engage in. Whereas choice can sometimes be paralyzing (see The Paradox of Choice), it seems in education that the more choices students get to make, the more they thrive.

So, what is wrong with schools giving students options of apprenticeships, internships, and mentors to choose from? Is not an à la carte approach better than not offering options at all? The answer is no. More options are better than less options. But the best option is not to limit young people to any number of options at all.     

When young people are given the freedom to pursue their interests in a safe environment, they have an unlimited number of potential learning experiences. Unlike students at traditional schools, Learners in an emancipated learning environment are not required to take core curriculum classes with the opportunity to take some additional elective courses. Their “extracurricular” activities are not limited to nine sports or twelve clubs. And they are not stuck choosing from a list of ten companies to intern at or twenty coaches to receive mentorship from.

At Abrome, we fully endorse the notion of apprenticeships, internships, and mentors as accelerants to creating deeper and more meaningful learning experiences. We believe that they are worth pursuing when the time is right. But we refuse to dictate when that time is, or to package them in a turnkey manner for our Learners. Instead, we encourage Learners to create their own opportunities based on their unique needs, interests, and goals, and cognizant of the resources they have at hand. It would be naive for us to believe that we could identify appropriate organizations and mentors for each of our Learners better than they could themselves. And it would be foolish for us to believe that Learners would benefit more from us providing them with these opportunities than they would from creating them for themselves.

By removing the limitations of choosing from a menu of internships and mentors, Learners are able to transcend from participating in something someone else has imagined to pursuing something that is personally meaningful. They go from absorbing content in a structured way to deeper learning through the development of connections with people who share their interests. They transition from engaging in experiences for external validation to embracing experiences for personal joy.

The benefits of leaving the responsibility of finding apprenticeships, internships, and mentors to the Learner extend far beyond gaining more meaningful apprenticeships, internships, and mentors. When Learners develop a list of organizations or mentors that they will then pitch themselves to, it helps create in them a mindset where they feel responsible for their own education and lives. They develop agency through the process of creation. They fear failure less because failure becomes a common occurrence for those who take on the responsibility of leading remarkable lives. When they are no longer given a list of options, a world of possibilities opens up before them. And because this happens at a young age, they are not trained to be helpless in the face of uncertainty.

 

 

How Abrome Differs from School: Emancipated Learning versus Bells and Whistles

When people ask us what type of school Abrome is, or how we differ from other schools, we remind them that we are not a school. Abrome is an alternative to school. Abrome is Emancipated Learning.

Every public school in America is fundamentally the same, as are 99.8% of private schools. They operate on a coercive model of command and control schooling that prioritizes conformity and obedience over learning. They believe students are incompetent learners that need to be taught by knowledgeable adults. They rely on standardized curriculum. They believe that students must be constantly assessed, tested, and measured against same-aged peers. They believe that competition is the appropriate way to distinguish the intelligent and hardworking students from the stupid and lazy ones. They value students for the dollars they bring in, either seat-time revenue or tuition, as opposed to the value young people can provide to society.

Of course many of those schools will insist that they are different from the failed traditional schools that most young people are subjected to. Some are charter schools. Some are private schools. Some are even alternative schools! Instead of restrictive, standardized curriculum, those schools might claim that their students get to engage in personalized learning, meaning students are allowed to rearrange or stretch out certain aspects of their standardized curricular requirements. Or perhaps they will give lip service to peer learning and flipped classrooms as a way to suggest that they do not have an authoritarian, adult-directed schooling environment. Some schools may even eschew quantitative assessments for seemingly more compassionate qualitative assessments. But these efforts are nothing more than attempts at articulating differentiation (in name only) of the commodity known as schooling.

If schools cannot distinguish themselves with an educational fad (e.g., personalized learning), and because schools are all largely the same, they are left relying on and promoting superficial differences to convince families that they are better than other schools. These are called bells and whistles. Bells and whistles can be the promise of personalized learning, peer learning, flipped classrooms, or qualitative assessments. It can be technology in the classroom, with online academic support at home. It can be the promise of access to mentors and internships. It can be programing classes or maker labs. It can be an award winning yearbook club, robotics club, debate team, or science Olympiad team. It could be a 30,000 seat football stadium, an Olympic sized pool, or a 9-hole golf course. But what does not change with these bells and whistles are the underlying structures and practices of schooling.

Abrome is often described by what we are not. We are not a school. We do not replicate or perpetuate the structures and practices of schooling. We do not have teachers, classes, instruction, curriculum, testing, homework, grades, or age-based segregation. And there is good reason for us not replicating what is happening in school—schooling harms children. Schooling convinces most students that they are incompetent, stupid, untrustworthy, lazy, and inherently flawed. These students’ lives are substantially altered for the worse because of schooling. From a societal perspective, schooling destroys more human capital than any other institution. A small minority of school students do not become convinced that they are damaged goods, and instead fall into the trap of believing that they are inherently better than everyone else. This is also harmful to society, as students with a belief of superiority often assume positions of power and make decisions with little regard or understanding for the general public.

While eliminating the structures and practices of schooling is necessary, it is not sufficient to create a society where everyone is able to lead a remarkable life. Abrome goes beyond eliminating the harmful aspects of schooling by leveraging our Emancipated Learning model. Emancipated Learning is not an adornment, it is a fundamentally different approach to education based on the axiom that young people are competent and active knowledge seekers. We trust young people to take charge of their educational experiences and their lives.

The Abrome logo provides a visual representation of how the Emancipated Learning model works. The Abrome logo is an adaptation of Borromean rings, which are an arrangement of three interlocked circles, with no two circles being interlocked. This is a form of a Brunnian link. If one were to break one of the rings in a Brunnian link, the other rings would fall away. Borromean rings show strength in unity, as the whole is much stronger than the sum of its parts.

The Abrome logo consists of a triangle, a square, and a circle, all in different colors, as opposed to three symmetrical rings. This was done to emphasize the importance of diversity in the Abrome space.  

Well-being:

The circle in the Abrome logo stands for well-being. The circle is the best representation for a focus on the whole child. The circle has no end and no beginning, but it is reflective of the iterative or cyclical aspects of life such as personal growth and understanding. The circle draws people toward the center, just as we want Learners to look inward.

At Abrome, the well-being of Learners comes first. We recognize that in order for Learners to engage in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences, they must first be happy and healthy.

Self-directed learning:

The square in the Abrome logo stands for self-directed learning. The square is the most flexible of the three shapes, which comports with the agile and adaptive approaches one must take to learning and discovery. The square is the best way to visualize the construction of knowledge using multiple dimensions. Whereas a circle draws you inward, a square invites you to investigate it from end to end.

Abrome Learners choose for themselves the activities and experiences they engage in. They embrace the responsibilities of learning and life.

Learning community:

The triangle in the Abrome logo stands for the learning community. The triangle is a rigid object that does not easily buckle under stress. The triangle symbolizes how the learning community provides strength to individuals in times of need. The triangle also makes space for an individual to choose to be surrounded by others or to find themselves in a more acute and solitary position, all the while still being supported.

An Abrome Learner's learning community is comprised of intellectually curious Learners, committed Learning Coaches, and a personal network that is standing by ready to lend their support.

Abrome logo shapes6 100.png

Psychological Safety:

The overlap between well-being and the learning community represents psychological safety.

Abrome is a psychologically safe space where young people feel free to engage in unlimited free play, and take intellectual and personal risks without fear of being assessed, judged, or ridiculed. The ability to remain vulnerable in the pursuit of growth is an extension of our focus on well-being coupled with a learning community that values diversity.

Learning and Inquiry:

The overlap between self-directed learning and the learning community represents learning and inquiry.

At Abrome, self-directed Learners leverage a dynamic and diverse learning community to engage in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences. Connection with others is valued. Collaboration, debate, and peer learning are outcroppings of a culture that values mentorship and dialectical inquiry. 

Meaningfulness:

The overlap between self-directed learning and well-being represents meaningfulness.

Given the time and space to focus on their well-being and engage in self-directed learning, Abrome Learners come to understand themselves and how they fit into the world. They find significance in creating connections with others and contributing to something beyond themselves. Abrome Learners develop lives that have purpose, value, and impact.   

Emancipated Learning:

The interplay between psychological safety, learning and inquiry, and meaningfulness represents emancipated learning.                                                                                                                           

Abrome Learners feel comfortable taking risks and diving deep in pursuit of knowledge in their fields of interests, rather than skimming them at the surface. Learners construct knowledge by leveraging resources that are directly available to them, to include their learning community, or by acquiring necessary resources in the process of exploration and discovery. This process is unique for every Learner as they link various resources, in pursuit of their own purposes, according to their own needs. Like any two distinct individuals, no two Learners or educational pathways are the same; only in retrospect will a learning pathway become fully defined. When an individual is able to marry such educational experiences with a life of meaning, the result is a remarkable life lived.

Education should be a liberating experience that allows people to lead remarkable lives so they can positively impact society and improve the human condition. Education fads and supplemental experiences does not unwind the oppression of schooling. Emancipated Learning, however, allows anyone to leverage their education so that they can lead a remarkable life.

 

Top Myths of College Admissions, and What Really Matters

This week I attended a free talk that promised to cover the Top 10 Myths About College Admissions from well-known admissions consultant Mimi Doe. As expected, the room was overflowing with eager parents trying to figure out what they could do to help their children gain admission into the top colleges and universities. Most of them already knew that college admissions is a game that can be played, and they were no doubt hoping that Mimi would let slip some of the secrets to the admissions game that she typically charges families tens of thousands of dollars for.  

Mimi did a fine job during the presentation. She provided them with some basic facts about the admissions process, demonstrated knowledge on some of the finer points of college admissions, and most importantly, she induced enough anxiety within the attendees about the college admissions process that surely one or two of them will retain her. The only meaningful “secret” she really let slip was how to leverage early action/early decision to improve one’s chances of admission.

While she was right on many points, such as half the class at top schools being taken by applicants with hooks, she was factually incorrect on a couple of points. One glaring example was the remarkable claim that young people have a better chance of getting into top colleges from public schools than private schools. She pointed out that schools such as Harvard typically fill 55-65% of their freshman classes with students who attended public schools. What she failed to tell them is that although private high schools only enroll about 8% of all high school-aged students, they represent about 35% of the incoming Harvard class. From a sheer numbers perspective, it is significantly more likely to gain admission into Harvard from a private high school than a public high school, especially if it is a non-parochial school.

Diving even deeper, we find that not all public and private schools are created equal. The Harvard Crimson did an analysis of where the Class of 2017 went to high school and found that one out of every 20 matriculating freshman went to one of only seven high schools![1] Of those seven schools, only three were public, and only one of them did not require students to apply to gain admission (i.e., a local district school where many Harvard faculty members send their children). While these seven schools placed the most students in the freshman class, there were plenty of other feeder schools. Only 11% of the high schools represented filled one third of the freshman class. These schools, which are disproportionately private schools and large public magnet schools, are well known to college admissions staffs, and one can reasonably expect that in any given year they will have at least a couple of students gain admission. Meanwhile, three quarters of the high schools represented sent only one student to Harvard, filling less than 50% of the freshman class.

These numbers make clear that from a statistical standpoint, it is much less difficult to gain admission into Harvard from a private high school than a public high school. But people would say that there is less competition at regular district public schools, so perhaps it is actually easier to get into Harvard from a regular district public school. No, that is not the case. At the feeder schools, which are predominantly private schools, one does not have to be the best student every several years to be able to get into Harvard. One just has to be in the top tier of students, and have a good story. However, for unhooked applicants from the overwhelming majority of the 37,000 high schools in the country, to be seriously considered for Harvard you have to be the best student to have come through the school in years. Even in public schools that send more than a few students to top schools every year, such as Westlake High and Lake Travis High in Austin, TX, one still has to outcompete hundreds of other students to have a shot at securing a spot at these schools.

Perhaps Mimi made the claim about public schools to assure the parents in the room that their children still had a chance, if you retained her. Who knows.

After she was finished her presentation, Mimi opened up the floor for questions. Most questions followed the typical overanxious parent narrative, eager to squeeze the one helpful nugget of information that might allow them to work their overstressed child into the college of their (parents’) dreams. When I give my speeches on college admissions, I hammer home the point that college admissions is not only a game, it is an unnecessary game, and it does not guarantee those who play it well a great outcome.

Not expecting to hear any particularly good questions, I began surveying the room to see who else attended. I recognized a couple of parents who had previously attended my prior talks, and I wondered if any of them took my advice on how to allow their children to be free to lead remarkable lives.

Then all of a sudden, a woman spoke up who said she was stressed out by the college admissions process. She wanted to know what she could do as a parent to help her child succeed in college, not just get into college. It was such a relief to hear a parent asking a question that acknowledged that life extends beyond the college admissions process.

Mimi suggested that those applicants who were able to take control of the admissions process were the ones who would perform the best once they got to college. Sadly, it was pretty clear that most of those in the room were not the type of parents who would step back from the admissions process so that their children could take the wheel. But Mimi was right, applicants who take control of the admissions process do tend to do better in college.

Most young people spend their primary and secondary years just following the directives given to them. The “best” students are always doing exactly what they are told, neurotically shooting for perfect grades, and continually endeavoring to make their teachers happy. They are told that so long as they do what is expected of them to perfection, that they are setting themselves up for future success. But they are never given the time and space to figure out who they are, to engage in learning experiences that they find meaningful, and they never learn how to take charge of their lives because their lives are being directed by others.

Unfortunately for the woman who asked the question, she asked it several years too late, and she asked the wrong person. The best way to help prepare children to thrive in college (and beyond) is to trust them to lead their own lives while they are young. When they are the ones who are expected to decide what, why, and how they are going to learn, and they are expected to deal with the consequences of their decisions, they are much more likely to take their lives much more seriously. Those young people are more likely to go college with a plan. To identify the resources available at a college and utilize them. And to see the course catalog and syllabi as tools to be used in pursuit of a larger goal.  

Unfortunately for all the attendees that evening, no one pointed out that allowing young people to lead their own lives while they are still young is also the best way to position oneself to get into a top college.

1.     “The Making of a Harvard Feeder School,” The Harvard Crimson http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/12/13/making-harvard-feeder-schools/

Donald Trump Cannot Read? The Profound Dangers of a Fixed Mindset

This past fall, I bought copies of Carol Dweck’s Mindset for two of our new Learners.[1] Each of them, who spent most of their school-aged years in traditional schooling environments, demonstrated proclivities for what Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.” This mindset was holding them back from taking risks that would allow them to grow intellectually and emotionally. Specifically, they would avoid engaging in learning experiences they did not feel they already had mastery over, they would shut down the moment someone else realized they did not understand something, and they would place immense value on whether others thought they were smart, popular, or attractive.

Dweck states that a fixed mindset is a fundamental belief that qualities, traits, and talents are largely unchangeable. That they are inherent, or inborn. The opposite of a fixed mindset is a "growth mindset" which is a belief in the ability to change and cultivate qualities, traits, and talents through deliberate effort and experience. And while people are not completely fixed or growth mindset oriented in every facet of life, some people tend to stand out as one or the other significantly more often than the rest. As I revisited Mindset for the benefit of our two Learners, I could not help but notice that then presidential candidate Donald Trump was a perfect fixed mindset case study.[2] 

The mindset of a king

In 2015, Trump himself laid out a compelling argument for his fixed mindset orientation in an interview with Michael D’Antonio of the Los Angeles Times.[3] “I’m a big believer in natural ability,” Trump said. The belief in natural ability is a cornerstone of fixed mindset thinking, and it also defies what we know about human development. He later added, “the most important thing is an innate ability.” In Trump’s eyes, innate ability, which one cannot control, is more important than what one has significant control over such as effort, education, and experience. It was once accepted that the best people to rule nations were royalty, the people who were preordained to lead. Befittingly, the LA Times piece was titled, “Donald Trump believes he was born to be king.”

As the campaign season wore on, Trump became notorious for attacking those who questioned him, no matter who they were or how insignificant their opinion was. Trump would go on public campaigns attacking and attributing negative characteristics to the members of the news media, politicians, and celebrities who dared to critique him. Rarely did he address their arguments; he just attacked. But he also made time to attack random Twitter users who had little to no audience, calling them losers, dumb, and failures. While politicians are not necessarily known for their incredibly thick skin, the ability of people to (often gleefully) so easily get on the nerves of the future leader of the free world was remarkable. It was as if he could not possibly stand being critiqued.

Growth mindset oriented people are more willing to hear critiques; they seek them out. They more often value diversity and feel more comfortable populating their teams with contrarians who will challenge their positions. Growth mindset people facilitate and improve communications within their teams, as they see everyone, including those they disagree with, being a part of their learning process. Fixed mindset people, on the other hand, tend to surround themselves with yes men who will always agree with them. They view critiques of their beliefs or actions as attacks on their ability, competence, and intellect. And unlike growth mindset people who will try to understand the critiques of outsiders, fixed mindset people immediately label those outsiders as the enemy who must be dealt with swiftly.

We did not have to wait until the campaign season shined a light on some of Trump’s more impertinent social behaviors to find evidence of a fixed mindset—the evidence was there all along. As much as Trump talked about The Art of the Deal, it seemed much of his financial success came after deals were made by way of broken contracts and non-payments to contractors for services received.[4] He has also demonstrated an eagerness to threaten lawsuits against people who upset him or get in his way, and a willingness to follow through on many of those threats.[5] Additionally, he has been accused of assaulting women multiple times, and has been caught on audio joking about assaulting women.[6]

While all of these actions should be seen as troublesome, unsavory, or unethical on a one-off basis, that Trump keeps revisiting them is what screams fixed mindset. As Jamie Loftus writes, “Throughout [Trump’s] life, there are examples of his making the same mistakes, ignoring criticism, being threatened by others, and not accepting the challenge of self-examination.”[7] In other words, he does not learn from experience because he does not see any value in the introspection that growth minded people use to try to improve their behavior or performance. 

Fake it ‘til you make it           

A fixed mindset does not necessarily preclude one from success, riches, positions of influence, or fame, as Trump rising to the most powerful political position in the world shows. Already having power and privilege, as Trump did growing up, can certainly help one overcome shortcomings they are unwilling to address. What a fixed mindset does, however, is limit opportunities for success, place successes on a weak foundation that can be exposed at a later date, and it can lead fixed mindset people to engage in dangerously self-defeating behaviors.[8] By virtue of Trump being a billionaire and president of the United States, let’s accept that he has had his share of successes. But now he is in the precarious position of taking on more complex challenges without the support systems that he has benefited from and grown used to.

People have often built their successes on false foundations. Success is everything in our society and it is dictated by the perception of others: getting into Harvard or Stanford, working for the right consulting or law firm, buying the right house in the right neighborhood, getting your children into Harvard or Stanford. My list starts and ends with school for a reason. School is where society is best conditioned to focus on attaining arbitrary measures of success and avoiding failure at all costs. Schools drive this lesson home early and often with gold stars, report cards, and class rankings. By the time students arrive in high school, they know that their success requires them to be perfect in class; there will be no time for experimenting and growth because a perfect GPA does not allow for it. This is why so many students cheat, and why so few students are genuinely excited to learn.

Apropos of the previous point, there is a persistent rumor that highlights how Trump the fixed mindset president may have built a false foundation and positioned himself for an inglorious downfall in a way that a growth mindset president would likely avoid. Can Trump read? David Pakman recently produced a 12-minute video laying out compelling evidence that Trump may not be able to read, and has since followed up with another video really pushing the issue.[9] 

Trump not being able to read, or only being able to read at a fourth grade level, raises some serious concerns about his ability to serve as president. And not for the reasons that everyone else might suggest. Yes, reading sharpens mental acuity and provides one with the factual knowledge necessary to engage in higher order thinking.[10] And yes, not being able to read may increase the chances of someone signing off on orders they do not understand, such as when Trump appointed Steve Bannon to a seat on the National Security Council.[11] But people can still be great leaders even if they are not great readers. As an explanation for Trump’s apparent difficulty reading, Kristine Moore suggests that Trump may have dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome.[12] The ranks of the most successful entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists are littered with dyslexics and people with other learning disabilities. And Winston Churchill, who had Irlen Syndrome, became a great reader, writer, and leader. But the difference between Trump and Churchill is that the former is fixed mindset oriented, and the latter was growth mindset oriented.

Because Trump places so much value on inherent abilities and talents, he does not see the need to focus on developing them. And because Trump places so much value on what others think of him, he does not want anyone to recognize that he is flawed in any way. And he likely views his inability to read as a glaring flaw that he cannot psychologically afford being exposed to the wider public. Or he convinces himself that he is too important to waste his time reading.[13] In order to overcome this deficit, Trump goes out of his way to beat his chest about how smart, intelligent, and educated he is.[14] He loves to boast about his attendance at the Wharton School, and about the education pedigrees of those in his family.[15] He wants to believe, and wants you to believe, that degrees, even those earned by family members, are a better measure of his intellectual capabilities and curiosity than the ability to read is. But he cannot afford for you to believe that he cannot read. So he fakes it.

The danger of insecurity 

Insecurity in oneself is a natural outcropping of a fixed mindset, whether or not the fixed mindset people realize it. Trump comes across as excessively confident in his ability to produce great outcomes in whatever endeavors he chooses to engage in. For example, he constantly reminds people that he will “make America great again,” and that only he can make America great again, despite having never served in public office before. But because he is so resistant to learn from his mistakes, or admit that he is not talented in every possible way, he fails to benefit from the tremendous growth that is available to a man with his power and privilege. This leaves him quite insecure, in spite of his seeming confidence. This is visibly apparent when he tries to read in front of others, or discusses the topic of reading.[16]

The danger of insecurity lies in the potential response to insecurity. We have already highlighted how Trump responds to criticism; he evades and attacks. He evades by denial and attempts to change the subject. Historically, he has attacked through threats, lawsuits, and public beratings. However, now he has the tools of the presidency at his disposal. And for someone who feels it is more important to fake being able to read than actually learning how to read, this is worrisome. How does someone who is not fully capable of being president on day one, as nobody is, fake competence? Trump gave us insight into how he may try in his first ten days in office. Trump’s appeal to many of his supporters was that he would make America great again, whereas Obama was a failure and Clinton could only offer them more failures. In his eagerness to prove himself superior to Obama, who he called the worst president in history, he allowed his staff to convince him to approve a risky military operation in Yemen by suggesting that Obama would never be so bold.[17] That raid was a disaster, leaving both an 8-year-old child and a Navy SEAL dead.

Trump’s inability to handle criticism coupled with the stresses of being president is likely to take a tremendous toll on him. Given Trump’s fixed mindset, as people continue to question Trump’s actions and positions, and as he fixates on their opinions through social media and cable news, his attempts to convince people of his competence and intelligence may become more and more desperate. He has already publicly questioned the integrity of the judges who presided over lawsuits against him and who blocked his executive orders, and he has threatened to destroy the career of a Texas politician who opposes asset forfeiture.[18] Would he be willing to direct federal agencies to go after political enemies? Would he be willing to punish corporations that do not show allegiance to his administration or refuse to do business with any of the Trump organizations? Would he be willing to engage in trade wars with countries that do not fall in line? Would he be willing to escalate international disagreements into military conflicts for the sake of rallying the American people around his presidency? 

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
~ Hermann Göring

Trump’s fixed mindset orientation is a significant barrier to his growth. Such a mindset has left him unwilling to learn from his mistakes, and unable or unwilling to read. There is no such thing as an average person, much less someone who excels in all aspects of life.[19] Many people have weaknesses, and many people have overcome challenges, just as people with dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome can and do lead remarkable lives.[20] But in order to do so, they have to be willing to seek out the resources and tools that will help them thrive, and they need to recognize that learning differences or disorders, or one’s station in life, are not badges of shame. This is a hurdle Trump cannot get over. But as dangerous as his fixed mindset is to his growth, it is far more dangerous to society.

 

Graphic: From Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

1.     Carol Dweck, Mindset

2.     I am not unique in noticing Trump’s fixed mindset. “The Mindset That Leads People to Be Dangerously Overconfident,” Harvard Business Review; “Trump and Hillary Show Totally Opposite Success Mind-sets,” New York Magazine; “This Election Comes Down to Who Has the Better Mindset,” Inverse

3.     Donald Trump believes he was born to be king,” Los Angeles Times

4.     Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills,” USA Today

5.     Trump's 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee,” USA Today; “The ~20 Times Trump Has Threatened To Sue Someone During This Campaign,” FiveThirtyEight 

6.     An Exhaustive List of the Allegations Women Have Made Against Donald Trump,” New York Magazine

7.     This Election Comes Down to Who Has the Better Mindset,” Inverse

8.     In Mindset, Dweck highlights the ignominious fall from grace of multiple individuals, including Lee Iacocca, Al Dunlap, Kenneth Lay, and Jeffrey Skilling. She could have easily provided profiles of politicians whose fixed mindsets led to their downfall, as well.  

9.     Uh-Oh: Does Donald Trump Know How to Read?,” The David Pakman Show; “WOW: Trump Fails Basic Literacy Test,” The David Pakman Show

10.  Schools Focus on Teaching Shallow Knowledge, But Fail,” Abrome

11.  Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles”, New York Times

12.  Can Donald Trump Read Beyond a Fourth Grade Level? [Opinion]”, The Inquisitr News

13.  Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that,” The Washington Post

14.  Donald Trump's myths about himself,” Chicago Tribune; “'I'm, like, a really smart person': Donald Trump exults in outsider status,” The Guardian

15.  Trump’s repeated references to his attendance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which he transferred to after two years at Fordham University, are well documented. For examples, see the sources in the prior note and in the article, “Trump flaunts Wharton degree, but his college years remain a mystery,” The Daily Pennsylvanian. Trump has also been documented focusing on the intelligence of family members to suggest that he is intellectually gifted, particularly a well-respected uncle who taught at MIT. “Donald Trump’s Nuclear Uncle,” The New Yorker

16.  WOW: Trump Fails Basic Literacy Test,” The David Pakman Show

17.  Donald Trump's staff get him to agree to policies by saying ‘Obama wouldn't have done it’,” The Independent

18.  Trump Says Judge’s Mexican Heritage Presents ‘Absolute Conflict,’” Wall Street Journal; “Trump lashes out at ‘so-called judge’ who temporarily blocked travel ban,” The Washington Post; “Donald Trump Threatens to ‘Destroy’ Texas Senator,” The Daily Beast

19.  Any System Designed Around the Average Person is Doomed to Fail,” Abrome

20.  Richard Branson has dyslexia, Temple Grandin is autistic, Mark Zuckerberg had social anxiety. The list of people who have overcome hurdles in their lives to achieve extraordinary levels of success is far too long to list out. 

  

Has School Ever Gotten in the Way of Your Learning?

Do you remember what you learned in school? Was it useful in your life? Did it help you understand who you are and where you fit in this world? For me the answer to all of those questions is a resounding no. Sometimes I whip out my protractor and draw a perfect angle … just kidding. Now, I’m not saying the ability to use a protractor is useless for everyone. Surveyors, drafters, engineers, architects protractor on. However, I am saying that the overwhelming majority of children’s primary and secondary experiences are focused on developing a shallow base of knowledge that society deems meaningful. A wonderfully hilarious example of this is the article “If You Only Knew The Amazing Things Your Child Does In School All Day” written by Merete Kropp.[1] At least I thought the article was going to be hilarious until I realized it was not satire. The opening paragraph begins:

“As she prepares to enter the school building every morning, she knows exactly where to line up and what she needs to carry with her. Perhaps she even knows her precise position in line: in front of number 16 and behind number 14. She stops playing, turns off her voice and is swallowed up behind   the doors before you turn away …”

Is this your definition of amazing? Amazing means exchanging your name for a number, turning off your voice and becoming a robot? Interesting. I thought amazing would be finding her voice. I thought amazing would be figuring out how she can contribute to her society.

“She makes choices on how to spend her free time both in the classroom and            outside during the limited free time the class may have or earn through positive behavioral choices.”

Does this make anyone else want to vomit? In school, free time is not a right. One has to earn it by way of “positive behavioral choices,” meaning sit down, shut up and listen. In school, children are not free. Their every move is scheduled, watched, and judged. But America is the land of the free! They say, “Oh but it’s for the best. Think about their future!” My response: I am.

When did learning become rote memorization of facts? When did it become more about controlling children than learning? In school, every minute of the day is planned: what they learn, how they learn, what time they learn, when they eat, when they play, when they go to the bathroom. Students have no time to think for themselves, they are too busy memorizing mindless drills and procedures. They are too busy being obedient. Schools are producing robots that follow orders, not critical, independent thinkers with a developed sense of self. Schools are teaching young people that they are incompetent (e.g., “we know what is best, sit down sweetie”). Schools are teaching young people not to question, to act only for rewards or to avoid punishment, to be cookie cutter. Schools are teaching young people that life is a series of judgments. How boring. How will these young people be able to make decisions for themselves if they are being trained to be dependent?

At Abrome, we recognize that our young people are capable of controlling their own lives. We are here to create a psychologically safe space where they can take control of their learning, and their lives. That requires us to get out of their way.

 

1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/if-you-only-knew-the-amazing-things-your-child-does_us_5829da7fe4b057e23e314793

Schools Focus on Teaching Shallow Knowledge, But Fail

I currently lead a reading group focused on topics of education and schooling at our local library, with an emphasis on the science and psychology behind learning.[1] This month’s reading was Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham.[2] The book failed to address the many reasons why students do not like school, but it did serve as a good primer on how students learn.[3] Much of the book centers on the mental processes of thinking, and the limitations  our working memory places on it. 

As Willingham points out, the “lack of space in working memory is a fundamental bottleneck of human cognition.” In spite of the awesome potential of the human brain, we simply cannot engage in higher order thinking unless we have sufficient factual knowledge, find ways to chunk information, and automate certain functions of thinking.[4] Factual knowledge is the knowledge of terminology, details, and elements necessary to engage a topic. Factual knowledge is the base level of knowledge that is needed on which to build off of.[5] To convert a variety of information into chunks (and less complex chunks into more complex chunks), we typically go through the process of active thought in order to coalesce that information into chunks that are placed into long-term memory so that we can access them in the future.[6] While it may seem inefficient to have to convert information into chunks that reside in our long-term memory if we are only going to utilize them on a one-off basis, it makes higher order thinking much more efficient and possible by freeing up working memory capacity.

All of this makes sense, and there is little to argue with in terms of his broader explanation into how learning works. However, there is much to take issue with when it comes to his views on the role of schools. Willingham spends an entire chapter on the importance of factual knowledge and how to acquire it. He clearly articulates how shortcomings in factual knowledge hampers thinking and learning in various ways, with an appropriate focus on how it undermines reading comprehension. And he makes clear that he believes it is the responsibility of schools to fill the minds of young people with the factual knowledge necessary to do higher order thinking in the future.

At the same time, he recognizes that there are some serious shortcomings in the actual delivery of education through schools, and even he seems to shrug his shoulders at the reality that the overwhelming majority of what students learn is soon forgotten.[7] He offers some suggestions for ways to mitigate this problem, but he does not see the problem as serious enough to question the medium. Although he would probably protest this claim, he goes so far as to suggest that all of the wasted time in schooling not really learning much is not necessarily bad because “shallow knowledge is better than no knowledge.”

But do we need to subject young people to years of schooling in order for them to have a broad but shallow store of knowledge?  He thinks the answer is yes because he sees learning and young people primarily through the lens of school. He does not consider that deep and meaningful learning experiences can happen outside of school or in lieu of school. His view of students is a view of incompetence and a lack of belief in their ability to do serious work while they are still young. This unfortunate view does not just carry itself through primary or secondary school, but even into college and graduate studies.

The reality is that his views are handicapped by his failure to recognize that traditional schooling is not the preferred medium for intellectual development. When students are subjected to age-based standardized curriculum in oppressive environments that prioritize classroom management over dynamic learning, then the best we can hope for is a large store of shallow knowledge for the overwhelming majority of students. But after 13 years of captive schooling, the education establishment fails to clear even that very low bar.

Willingham should know better than to believe that we need schools for transmission of shallow knowledge, because he points to a better way in the same book. He recognizes that one of the best ways to pick up factual knowledge is to read. He states, “Books expose children to more facts and to a broader vocabulary than virtually any other activity [emphasis added], and persuasive data indicate that people who read for pleasure enjoy cognitive benefits throughout their lifetime.”

If reading books (and newspapers and magazines) is superior to lectures, assigned homework, quizzes, and tests, then why not just give young people access to libraries and forgo all of the pain and trauma associated with schooling? Instead of trying to find ways to supplement schooling with required reading, why not supplement reading with opportunities to discuss ideas and experience the world?

1.     http://www.abrome.com/blog/2017/1/9/conversations-about-schooling-smart-schooling-book-group

2.     https://www.amazon.com/Why-Dont-Students-Like-School/dp/047059196X

3.     The reason Willingham did not answer the question as to why students do not like school may be because his goal was to sell his book to teachers and school administrators, who do not want to be reminded that the practices and structures of schooling are the primary reason that students do not like school. I could have written an essay on how Willingham could have answered the question, but Peter Gray has already written that essay: http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/peter_gray2.html.

4.     We will forgo a discussion of automatizing mental processes in this essay. However, the ability to tie shoelaces, ride a bike, operate a manual transmission vehicle, type on a computer, and read prose without having to sound out every word are all examples of automatized mental processes that allow one to engage in complex behaviors without having to actively think about them.

5.     According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, factual knowledge is the lowest form of knowledge, which is associated with the lowest form of cognition (remembering).
https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

6.     Although there is disagreement as to how many “chunks” of information can reside in working memory at one time, and acknowledging that it fluctuates from person to person, it is generally accepted that a normal span of chunks ranges from seven digits to six letters to five words. More complicated ideas, principles, or theories further reduce the number of chunks that one may be able to efficiently hold and utilize within working memory at a time. See work by GA Miller and Nelson Cowan for more on chunking.

7.     The failure of students to remember the overwhelming majority of lessons they are taught in school is not a secret, and has been written about extensively. A recent essay by a father of straight-A students covered this reality. Unfortunately, this father did not begin searching for a solution to the problem after identifying the problem.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2017/01/13/my-kids-are-straight-a-students-and-they-know-nothing/#4392775f325e  

 

What does the average Abrome student look like?

We are often asked what our average student (we call them Learners) looks like. Well, there is no such thing as an average student, so we cannot describe what the average Abrome Learner looks like.[1] But we can share some facts about the makeup of our learning space.

This month we’ve grown from five to eight Learners. Two of our new Learners are girls, which helped ameliorate our boy to girl ratio from 4:1 to 5:3. The boy we brought in is six years old, giving us an expanded age range of six to fourteen years old.  

Abrome profile as January 24, 2017

In terms of race and ethnicity, 50 percent of our Learners are considered students of color.[2] We do not yet have any African American or Asian American Learners, nor do we have any foreign nationals or stateless Learners in our community. From a socioeconomic standpoint, three eights of our Learners are economically disadvantaged.

In terms of neurodiversity, we have one Learner on the autism spectrum who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. The rest would be classified as neurotypical; however, we recognize that those identified as neurotypical are by no means a homogeneous group, and that every person has a different learning style.

Religiously, we have Learners that come from families that range from Christian to atheist. We do not yet have any of the non-Christian major religions found in the United States (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism).

Politically, our Learners come from families that seem to be more progressive or anti-authoritarian than the general population, although we have not formally asked them to identify their political ideologies.

In terms of prior schooling, 63% were formally public schooled, 50% were formerly private schooled, and 63% were formerly homeschooled. Five of the eight Learners experienced more than one type of schooling before coming to Abrome.

Because we have two sets of siblings, we have a total of six Abrome families. Four of those families live in the same neighborhood as Abrome, and two of them live a considerable distance away. The two families that commute come from Round Rock and Liberty Hill. Both families commit to driving over 30 miles each way twice a day for their Learners to attend Abrome.

Those who look into Abrome as a potential learning space for their children, or as a place of employment, often take notice of our stated emphasis on diversity in admissions, hiring, and daily practices. It stands in stark contrast to the efforts of most schools which tend to throw the word diversity around, but do little to embrace it.[3] Abrome currently sits somewhere in between our ideal of a learning community that reflects the broad diversity of the wider population and the norm amongst public and private schools. At this point, only five months into our first year, we are proud of the diversity within our inaugural cohort, but intent to improve upon it.

1.     Parents, teachers, and other interested in education should read Todd Rose’s stellar book The End of Average, which bursts the myth of average people. 
https://www.amazon.com/End-Average-Succeed-Values-Sameness/dp/0062358367

2.     Percentage of students that are African American, Latino or Hispanic American, Asian American, Native American, Middle Eastern American, or Multiracial. International students are excluded. Does not include foreign nationals who hold citizenship with countries other than the US, unless they are naturalized or permanent residents.

3.     See our blog post on leveraging empathy to combat school bullying for some of the myriad of reasons schools struggle with diversity.
http://www.abrome.com/blog/2016/12/19/five-steps-to-end-school-bullying-empathy-essay-5-of-6