Friday, 25 January 2013

Puzzling World, Wanaka

Well, I'm back from my holidays and must say I had a good time. One of the highlights was:

Puzzling World Wanaka

Click the name to go to the web-site

Good friend @CapitanoAmazing recommended Wanaka as a "must see" and we were passing that way so we stopped and had a look around.

We dropped in to Puzzling World for a quick visit on our 10 hour drive from Queenstown to Christchurch via Fox Glacier - and ended up staying for almost 2 hours.

The maze and the beautiful Wanaka scenery

Yours truly looking totally confused

We started in the maze - and yes, if it was a competition, then I came last. But I did get value for money, visiting most parts of the maze several times.

Found this sign several times

I tried the old "always turn left" strategy for escaping from a maze but it didn't work here - too many internal loops - and there were 4 towers you had to visit before you got out. Anyway it kept me entertained for a considerable time.

The other really interesting part of Puzzling World are the Illusion Rooms. I'm always keen on a good illusion and there were plenty here to explore.

One of those funky funky rooms that distort perspective

A nice reflecting image

And there was Winston - watching you as you moved around the room

Anyway, a great place to visit and lots to see. Certainly a place to take the kids if you are ever passing through the South Island of New Zealand.

The mandatory "Look, I'm holding up the building!" photo

Friday, 4 January 2013

School Is Dead - Chapter 15

What each of us can do

And so to the final chapter - an appeal to each person's sense of responsibility.

(In my edition of the book, the page numbering goes a bit wonky here. I have pages 1-160 in correct order then it jumps back to page145 and repeats all those pages again up to the end at page 176.)

Reimer starts with a suggestions on how to live:

"If there is ever to be a just world, (we must) begin to live as we would have to live in such a world.'

But he compares it with how most have chosen to live:

"Our modern idols are science and technology and their temples are the institutions which propagate their worship and profit from the proceeds. The promise of this modern cult - every man a king, with his private palace and his royal chariot - has captured the fancy of most of mankind....But this dream of universal royalty is a pipe-dream - only a few can win."

He suggests three things we can each do that will have a powerful effect:

1. Lower consumption - My family has a bit of a saying: "We live too well." It is repeated regularly at Christmas time when we observe how much we have, how much we consume. It is a gentle yet powerful reminder that we can use less than we do, and that for all we consume, someone else is going without.

2. Share - There is enough to go around. All we need to do is to make sure that there is an equitable distribution of the resources.

3. Conserve - If we conserve what we have, we don't need to produce more. Makes sense.

Reimer acknowledges that revolutions of the past, such as those in Russia and France, have only succeeded in replacing one central power with another. The solution rests in the importance of education, in people learning how to govern justly and how to organise an institution democratically.

To achieve a successful, free structure, people will need to make sacrifices. 

"Each individual, then, must choose the kind and degree of sacrifice which he can sustain."

And so to the revolution. 

"The risks of change are great but the risks of delay are greater."

And education is at the forefront, not reliant on schools or institutions, but real education of people learning to think and take responsibility for themselves.

Concluding comment

I'm glad I picked this book up. I'm a bit surprised that mother had such a political, left-wing type publication. I'm a bit surprised that I agreed with so much of what was said.

And what can I do?

Well, I am now much more focused on the equitable distribution of educational resources.

I have a clearer idea of what a school is, or of what a school is not.

And I have been provoked to think - even if I don't anticipate marching on the streets any day soon - at least this book has got me thinking.

Job well done.

School Is Dead - Chapter 14

Strategy for a Peaceful Revolution

Reimer takes up this chapter where I left off in my summary of the last one: revolution will only happen if a majority of people want it to. He also notes that while the mass media is in the hands of a minority who are committed to the status quo, they won't be letting go of their power without a struggle.

However, an educated minority might convince a majority of the population that things need to change. Here is how Reimer sees this could possibly happen.

Step 1 - large numbers of people would have to become disillusioned with the school system, that schools are unjust, inequitable and deny freedom. From this base of disillusioned teachers, students and administrators, a ground swell of support for change could be grown.

Step 2 - a two-pronged legal attack - one part using existing laws to challenge compulsory school attendance, the distribution of educational resources to those who need them most, to spread the funding for education beyond the government-controlled school institutions and to sue existing schools for not providing the education that they promise - and the second part to introduce new laws to divorce schools from state control, to mandate against discrimination based on what school you went to, to distribute more educational resources to the less privileged by providing money directly to individuals to pay for the life-long learning and to introduce anti-monopoly laws against schools systems.

Step 3 - establish the "education bank" so that all individuals have their own funds with which to pay for their education throughout their lifetime. People could choose how and when they want to spend their money, taking responsibility for their own learning.

Step 4 - replace competition between nations with cooperation by limiting what an individual or group can consume, produce or do to others. (This enforced cooperation sounds like a denial of certain freedoms to me.)

Step 5 - educate people, and by so doing make them aware of the oppression around them, the way schools control the distribution of resources to a privileged few and how many poor and disenfranchised people gain very little from the institution that purports to be there for everyone.


Idealistic? Yes.

Unrealistic? Perhaps.

Possible? Not sure.

Provocative? Certainly - it's keeping me thinking.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

School Is Dead - Chapter 13

The Revolutionary Role of Education

To change the way we "do" education would mean significant changes in our society. And we cannot change society without effectively changing the was we educate.

Reimer suggests that any truly educated person would not tolerate the absurdities and contradictions of contemporary society. For this reason, education is a dangerous force. And for this reason many repressive regimes control and manipulate education so forcefully.

When people are educated they can see the "shifting sand that their society is built on." Education does not on its own solve societal problems but it is part of the process of change and revolution.

Reimer is keen that any revolution should be peaceful. Using the example of scientific revolutions in the past, he identifies some of the features needed to ensure this:

  • sharing a common rationale or set of beliefs, based on reason and logic
  • sharing a common language
  • regular communication between participants
  • an ultimate court of appeal to resolve disputes and clarify the purpose of the revolution
He also examines religious revolutions and says that one feature of these is that there is widespread disillusionment in the old vision of the truth. From a position of misery and despair, religious revolution follows a "powerful and attractive new revelation of truth." Charismatic leadership is also often involved.

"A peaceful revolution is one in which the nominal holders of power discover that they have lost their power before they begin to fight."


I'm not sure that we are headed for revolution any time soon, but I do think that change is needed if we are to have any chance of seeing a system of education that, as Reimer proposes, is based on freedom and justice.

School Is Dead - Chapter 12

Funding Education

Reimer's proposal for a system for funding education:

1. Establish a bank. Deposit all the money that is currently spent by the government on education into the bank.

2. Establish accounts at the bank for all members of the population.

3. Give everyone an amount of money in their "education bank" account for use throughout their lifetime. Reimer suggests (in 1971) that $17000 should be enough for lifetime, about $250 per year.

4. The amount of money given to poor families might be significantly more than that given to well-off families, to compensate for cultural disadvantage and to balance missing opportunities to learn in the poorer households.

5. Individuals can withdraw their funds to pay for their education throughout their lifetime. They can choose how and where to spend the money - in formal colleges and universities, on-the-job training, professional development courses, acquiring new skills or by finding mentors out on the "education network". Schools that are not attractive to the cash-carrying clientele will close down. Others will expand. 

6. Clients may choose not to use schools at all. Individuals may contract themselves out as "skill models" or pedagogues to educate students in small groups across the education network.

7. Individuals could borrow from the bank to pursue further education and training and then repay their loan by teaching and providing skills to other learners in the network.

8. Young people would not be required to attend high school but instead could find jobs and do training related to their chosen careers. This could apply to professions as well as trades. A 16 year old who wanted to become a doctor, for example, could become an "apprentice", similar to an intern but learning the basics of medical practice while deciding how to spend their education dollars for further education. This might be problematical with the current rate of youth unemployment - I think high school retention rates are important to the government to disguise unemployment. Currently in Australia, you cannot leave school if you do not have employment or a work-related training course to attend.

9. A lot of teachers would lose their jobs. While Reimer still sees a need for teachers of elementary literacy and numeracy skills, most other teachers would find themselves without permanent employment, perhaps modelling their skills part-time across the education network and spending the rest of their time "pursuing their explorations for other purposes as well."

10. The idea of maintaining this type of "account" for perpetuity underscores the importance and significance of life-long learning. 


This is much more than an elaborate voucher system - this is a rethinking of the whole shape and style of how we get educated. I like the way Reimer's ideas are starting to come together, using his vision of the education network to extend learning outside the four walls of the classroom. I also like this consistent way he insists on freedom and justice as the cornerstones on which any decision must be made.

Is it practical? Could it ever work? Is it just "an idea"?

Well, it could only work if enough people want it to.

That's democracy.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

School Is Dead - Chapters 10 and 11

The Internet 1971!

In these two chapters, Reimer predicts the internet - an amazing description of how people using computes can network together to form educational structures.

Chapter 10 - Networks of Things

Reimer starts this chapter discussing the importance of access to records and information. He predicts that the use of computers to do this will be cheap, fast and international. He describes how telephone or television lines could be used to network together cameras, projectors, computers, microscopes, telescopes and other devices.

While computers are useful, he does warn of a decline in access to and familiarity with tools, instruments and machines that are central to life in traditional communities but which are neglected in modern life. He is wary of people forgetting how to use these and suggests that schools and libraries should maintain collections for people to learn about and use.

He also recognises the importance of games and toys as educational tools. Many of the ideas that he suggests have been developed across the internet in web-based games and activities that simulate real life and learning experiences.

Finally, he reminds us of the significance of nature and people's need to be connected to their surroundings. Experience in the natural environment is important to learning and he suggests that nature can be a "mentor" to man's learning.

Chapter 11 - Networks of People

The way to utilise the network of things described by Reimer, that we use daily as the internet, is to develop networks of people, skilled people who can share their skill with their peers. Often these skilled peers are not available locally, and we need to search further afield to find a mentor.

"For adults, with their frequently highly specialised interests, even the largest cities cannot always provide true peers. The best illustration of this is the scientific community, which must be world-wide for the most fruitful peer encounters to occur."

Sounds like a PLN, Twitter, Facebook and Pintrest to me.

Reimer suggests that schools could be useful in establishing these links and communities.

"The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity he wanted to share. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all who had inserted similar descriptions. People using the system would become known only to their potential peers."

And so we could share our skills and talents globally to support the learning and inquiry of other learners wherever they are. 
What a great idea - if only he had been able to put a copyright on it back in 1971!

School Is Dead - Chapter 9

What people need to know

People need to know freedom and justice - that's the broad summary. They need to know how their society works so that they can live in freedom (minimum constraint by others) and show justice (distribution of wealth, power, and other values) to all.

Some significant quotes that interested me:

"Education should lead to a world based on freedom and justice; where freedom means a minimum of constraint by others and justice means a distribution of wealth, power and other values consistent with this kind of freedom."
"Men in society necessarily constrain each other. The problem is one of defining the boundary between one man's fist and the other's nose."

"People understand the world by means of language."

"A minimum breadth of language skill is necessary in order to protect one's interest in the world; to understand one's situation well enough to act upon it significantly."

"People learn what they need and are allowed to learn."

"Basic educational policy must guarantee not only freedom of access but an adequate supply of the resources required for everyone to learn how society really works."

"How society works needs to be learned by every responsible member of a free, just world."
"As the world changes, the necessary content of universal education will also change."

"Schooling has become the most costly of human enterprises."

"More people are enrolled in school than are employed in agriculture."
"Schools separate learning from work and play; parcel the world into subject matters and divide learners into teachers and students."

This final point is what I've been thinking for a while in my exploration of Authentic Inquiry Maths:

"Learning occurs naturally in the course of encountering real world problems, but when these are subdivided into mathematics, economics, accounting and business practice they become so artificial that for most people learning can be induced only at great cost."