The future of education:

Re-imagining our schools from the ground up








PART ONE From a major problem towards a solution

Chapter One: Past, present, and future schools

Chapter Two: Why education is so difficult and contentious

Chapter Three: Accumulating cognitive tools


PART TWO A fifty-year program of educational reform: 2010 - 2060

Chapter Four: 2010 - 2020

Chapter Five: 2020 - 2030

Chapter Six: 2030 - 2040

Chapter Seven: 2040 - 2050

Chapter Eight: 2050 - 2060






In this modestly titled book I offer, in the first part, an account of why education remains a contentious activity and why the school has been a largely unsatisfactory institution, and also, incidentally, explain why education, which is one of the more important human activities, is of so little interest to most intellectuals today. Second, I offer a new way of thinking about education that can resolve many of the problems identified in the first part, and, third, I describe how this new kind of education can replace current forms of schooling.

Chapter 1 sets the context for this exploration of educational problems and cures by looking at the schools of today from two and a half thousand years in the past and two and a half thousand years in the future. In the next chapter I will untangle some bases of the knotted idea of education that currently drives our schools and shapes what goes on in them. I will expose the root of our problem and incidentally, to add to the mix of metaphors, explain why the array of remedies thrust upon us simply miss the point: solutions and problem pass one another by. Having identified the source of error, the rest of the book will show how we might go about fixing it. In Chapter 3 I will describe an alternative and workable idea of education, one that captures what I think most readers will acknowledge is what they really mean by education even if they haven't put it this way. The rest of the book is about how we can get from here to there. The "history" of education from 2010 to 2060 is just a device for showing the practicality of the alternative idea.

This may occasionally seem a somewhat polemical book, though I might be in danger of taking the fun out of it by saying that it is not aimed at any of the usual targets of educational polemics today. I will not be railing against incompetent teachers, or ignorant school administrators, or malicious and simple-minded politicians and business people, or anti-intellectual progressivists, or Úlitist and pig-headed traditionalists, or even nutty professors of education. Indeed, I work with the assumption that teachers on the whole are a remarkably dedicated and skilled group of professionals, that educational administrators in my experience work long hours with compassion and concern for the best education of the children in their care, that politicians and business people are also commonly parents and make demands on schools that seem to me generally reasonable, that progressivist educators have been responsible for some of the most important and humane movements in modern schooling and are concerned that children learn what is important about their world, that traditionalist educators are also humane and look to make schools more effective institutions for the welfare of children. That's a rather self-righteous and panglossian way of putting it, perhaps, but I think the current polemics from teachers against politicians, from progressivists against traditionalists, and vice-versa, from business people against school administrators, and vice versa, are products of flailing at the plague, but hitting out at the wrong targets. These polemics are, as a result, generally enervating and fruitless for improving education. We share a frustration, but do no good battling each other. My aim in this book is to clarify the target we should jointly be aiming at.

The villain is a bad idea. I want to show what the bad idea is and where it came from and what we can do about it. When we see students unable to read or write very well or see our county's educational failures compared with some other country's relative successes, despite the money we spend, it is easy to look for a scapegoat in some particular group. It is less easy to accept that our fundamental problem in education is theoretical, and that improved and more effective work by all the groups in education will not solve our problem if we have a confusion at the root of the system; running faster with improved style will not help us if we are going in the wrong direction. We behave as we do, design schools of the kinds we have, as a result of the ideas we hold. If we want to improve our schools, it is with the abstract and awkward realm of ideas that we must begin.

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