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A Handbook for Change

Introduction

The information on this website is presented in a succinct format to quickly establish the fundamentals of public education reform. Additional information is provided through links associated with many of the statements.

The site is under construction, but it contains the information people need to begin Step 1 of the change process. Please Follow the site’s development. Notices will be sent at intervals as substantial new content is added. Currently, the links to more information and a description of how a fully developed democratic learning community will look are being written. Once they are complete, Steps 2 through to the final Step will be added in sequence as each of them is completed.

Some of the material presented here will at first appear far-fetched or idealistic to many people, but ideas tend to incubate. Something seen as utopian today may look quite feasible at a later date. With this in mind, people are urged to will hold themselves open to new possibilities, to discuss the democratic learning model with others, and to return to this site regularly to see if their views are changing with time. Prior to the Copernican Revolution people refuted the heliocentric view of the universe with arguments like, “I can see the Sun moving across the sky,” and, “If the Earth moves as fast as some people say, then if we jumped into the air the Earth would move right out from underneath us.” Illusions and misconceptions about how children learn also exist. We need to get beyond them as quickly as possible to properly meet the needs of children, which consequently establishes a more promising future for everyone.

The name Vision 2020 by 2020 reflects the hope that by the year 2020 a critical mass, or a tipping point, will be reached and public educators will be seriously pursuing the potential of democratic learning.

Concepts Basic to the Redesign of Public Education

1. Public education is about more than educating children. It is our best tool for building the healthy communities that form the foundation of a strong society.
2. Public education needs to be a one-stop family service that fully supports parents in the raising of their children. (more . . .)
3. Two basic models are at play in education. One is autocratic, the other democratic. They exist at opposite ends of a continuum with various blends of the two in-between.
4. The autocratic model that dominates public education is proving to be unsuitable. It contradicts the values of democratically minded people, and it is at odds with how children naturally learn. Despite good intentions, it’s design leads to the violation of human rights.
5. The democratic model treats students as democratic citizens who are welcome to participate in making decisions that affect them. It provides students with learning environments that allow them to develop according to their individual talents, interests, and situations in life.
6. The democratic model is more cost effective than the autocratic one. It has a flattened hierarchy that requires substantially fewer non-teaching positions, and much of the costly accountability and record keeping of the autocratic model is inappropriate with the democratic model.
7. The main reason the democratic model has not become the dominant one in education is explained with Marshall McLuhan’s comment: “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” People who have grown up with the autocratic model cannot fathom how the democratic one works and how it better addresses today’s needs.
8. There are public educators who believe in the democratic model, and there have been numerous efforts to make public schools more democratic. The problem is not that there is no desire for fundamental change. The problem is that the implementation of it is constantly mismanaged.
9. Change is a process, not an event. Change from the autocratic to the democratic model cannot be a flip-flop dictated by governments or school authorities. It needs to be an awareness-building, evolutionary process where schools gradually shift to the democratic model as people become convinced of its benefits.
10. Change in education needs to follow the free market model. When people are given choices, the best choice will tend to dominate. Phones provide a good example. People are free to choose between cell phones and landlines. Cell phones are starting to dominate to the point that the demise of landlines is conceivable. Given an equal chance, the democratic learning model could similarly become the dominant one.
11. Choices in education need to be as equally visible and accessible as they are in the phone industry. This requires providing meaningful choices in neighborhood schools. This is accomplished by operating schools-within-schools.
12. School administrators need to become good at managing competing schools under the same roof to prevent the schools from sabotaging each other’s efforts.
13. Charter schools and magnet schools ultimately work against the common good. They cultivate inequality because the choices they provide are not equally visible and accessible to all. They fragment communities with children, and consequently their parents, being less known in the neighborhoods where they live. They add to family stress by turning children into commuters.
14. A system built on neighborhood schools where brothers and sisters walk to the same school has the advantages of simplifying family life, improving the quality of many children’s lives by getting them off of school buses, helping the environment by reducing bus traffic, and providing saved transportation costs for the enhancement of learning.
15. The democratic model is not problem-free. Thomas Kuhn who coined the term “paradigm shift” described how each paradigm comes with its own set of problems. He referred to the solving of these problems as the “normal science” of a paradigm. Like any idea, the democratic model requires research and development. Aviation did not advance from the Kitty Hawk to the passenger jet without conditions for growth. Public educators need to be given the opportunity to conduct the normal science of the democratic learning model.
16. The change process involves many small steps that will take at least a generation or two to complete, but major developments can begin immediately by taking Step 1.
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