Let’s Overthrow Education

By in Blog Posts, Education, Manifesto, Personal Notes

Have we overlooked the problem?

We all agree education is broken, but almost no one suggests that the very concept of “education” might be the problem.

People are accustomed to thinking about groups in a top-down way.

Governments, schools, churches, and businesses have run this way for millennia.

If homogeneity is not what we want – if we’re seeking a culture of independent, innovative, bold, creative, entrepreneurial types – we’re not going to get it using a model (lectures) developed by and for churches thousands of years ago.

You heard me right.

Education (particularly the lecture lesson format) descends from a time when the majority of people couldn’t read. It is a type of group interaction that is predicated on the idea of leveraging a few people who get it to inform a huge group of people who don’t.

For example, in the lecture paradigm either you can read the Bible or you’re part of the congregation. Either you already have (or are getting) your Ph.D. in the field, or you’re doing the homework.

School is just another form of church. Education is just another form of religion.

This is by design.

You’re being herded. Seth Godin has written beautifully on the history, motivations, and designs that contributed to the schools systems we know well today. Public schools & famous universities are the product of an industrial age that needed obedient adherents to the faith of “just doing what you’re told.”

This worked well for humans for thousands of years. Well enough at least. Up until very recently, expertise was important.

Only those with knowledge and experience – those who were familiar with the orthodoxy – could make progress for the field as a whole. Experts pushed forward on the front lines of knowledge. The bleeding edge was broken by people who had credentials and were In The Know™.

Abundance has changed everything. We live in a world now where everyone knows the answers but no one can fix our problems. Where instead of experts being able to keep what they know and what they don’t know pretty well obfuscated, it’s obvious that no one knows what they’re doing.

I’ve talked in two related posts about the three things that we must change if we hope to fix education, and why a revolution simply won’t work.

The abundance of information in our world has changed dramatically in recent years, and progress will continue at increasing speed. We need to overthrow education because trying repeatedly to innovate or “revolutionize” it simply hasn’t worked.

We have a new dichotomy. Instead of the pastor and the unwashed masses that need preaching to, we have Successful People and People Who Follow The Rules.

Instead of pastor and congregation, we need approachable, open, nonjudgmental communities who are built around supporting individuals in order to strengthen the whole group.

Instead of teachers and students, we need problem solvers and mentors who work with dedication and haste to collaboratively to do what works and solve problems for their communities.

Instead of bosses and employees, we need coordinated collections of freelancers who share skills and connections to make the whole greater than any of its parts.

In our brave new world, the people with resources to solve the biggest problems in the world (because they hacked the system and gathered a ton of resources for themselves), and the people on the ground who actually understand what the world’s problems look like on a day-to-day basis have to work together.

We don’t need the Successful People to preach at us (though they’ve taken swimmingly to that unnecessary role), we need them to listen to us.

We need a new model for our schools, our churches, and our companies that leverages this new imbalance.

We don’t need classrooms with a preacher/teacher knowledge-giver. We need classrooms with a listener, a mentor to help us categorize and sharpen our thinking, to put our problems in context and suggest directions we might try next. We need someone to help us see solutions that we’re too close to the problem to come up with on our own.

We need churches, classes, and boardrooms full of people who feel supported and listened to, not guilt tripped and lectured.

And until we make these new systems, we’ll continue to call for someone to “revolutionize education.”

But we don’t need an education revolution, we need a coup.

Let’s Overthrow Education.

Just like the industrialists ushered in public school as we know it now, tech bros will usher in a new kind of learning. They’re already hard at work adapting and re-designing.

The challenge will be thinking creatively enough to usher in a truly new way of facilitating and leveraging human learning. I suggest overthrowing as an alternative to revolutionizing because we need to think completely outside the confines of our established assumptions about human learning.

The revolutionized schools and governments that people keep imagining for our future just won’t work. We don’t need any more top-down systems. The successful schools of the future will be be bottom up, focused on empowering those who are closest to the issues at hand. Students of the future will solve real problems, not practice problems.

Right now, people are building online courses and designing new schools that depend on a single lecturer to teach everyone. The school of the future will encourage re-teaching, students who have just mastered a subject bringing other students up to their level and explaining concepts before they’ve forgotten what it was like not to know.

We must design a system which leverages all ages and experience levels, ready to play to their strengths.

For example, young people who are still first beginning to understand the structures they live within are best equipped to question and redesign them.

Retired professionals who have implemented structural change repeatedly over decades are best equipped to help young, creative people actually execute their plans.

These are the kinds of strengths we want from a new learning/training/mentoring system. And we can have them. But not if we try to fix a system that is so terribly broken. We have to stop pretending we can adapt a system that is predicated on iron-age problems like group illiteracy and scarcity of information. There is a place for universities as centers of research, formal debate, peer review, and idea synthesis, but they cannot be our main source of learning and innovation. We must begin to learn from our individual enthusiasm to solve real problems.

Let’s overthrow education so that we can build a great new institution of human learning.


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