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A Handbook for Change

If you want to control, you design organizations for accountability.
If you want to accomplish, you design for commitment.
– Tapscott and Caston, Paradigm Shift


A public education system comprised of democratic schools is possible and worth pursuing. Almost nowhere do you see its full potential considered, and rarely do you see an understanding of the change management processes necessary to evolve a massive and intransigent public education system into something better. Below are concepts that are basic to the redesign of public education. They provide the orientation needed to appreciate that fundamental change can occur, and that it can happen in a relatively natural and calm manner. Applying these basic concepts have led to a series of small steps that can take us to a full-fledged democratic school systems.

There are many public educators who would like to see schools evolve to more democratic practices, but they alone will not be able to effect the necessary change. Parents, students, and everyone else wanting a better world need to launch determined, grassroots actions that create the conditions for willing educators to begin the steps that lead to something wonderfully better than what we’ve got.

As you read through this site, plan to share your thoughts with others and to team-up with like-minded people to create the pressure needed to put your community on the road to a healthy future.

The name Vision 2020 by 2020 expresses the hope that by the year 2020 we will have reached a critical mass, or a tipping point, where the benefits of democratic learning and how to provide public democratic school systems have become visible enough that the pursuit of them will never again be abandoned.

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. (more . . .)
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, its 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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