Has Education’s ‘Disruptive’ Moment Arrived?

Since its inception in the late 1800s, mainstream education has proved remarkably fortified against any significant ‘disruption’ that might transform or revolutionize the main characteristics by which most people would recognize and experience it.

Significant ‘disruptions’ in other fields include the development of the microscope in natural science, leading to numerous discoveries about all things microscopic and the emergence of modern biology, cellular medicine, molecular chemistry, and countless fields. In industry, the ‘cracking’ of hydrocarbons similarly spurred the development of the combustion engine, air travel, plastics, medicines and myriad other innovations. In terms of disruptive communications, think of the printing press, telephony, and the development of the internet. These dirsuptive events had ‘medusa’-like qualities, too, branching out in directions that appeared random but also reflected a common, originary seed of human ingenuity.

Classrooms and schools are empty because of the pandemic lockdown, but learning continues at home. This ‘disruptive event’ has opened the door for new conceptualizations of learning – now including parents.

This spring, the global pandemic wrought by COVID-19 has shuttered brick and mortar education worldwide, folding K-12 schooling into a disruption it has resisted since its inception: re-directing its intentional arc into homes. Many millions of homes.

Home is very different from modern schooling in design, character and activity, to say the least. For some students, school is an oasis, a place where they thrive, and for working parents of young children, school is a heaven-sent daycare system. For other kids, school is agonizing, a place where they are bullied, or experience anxieties triggered by grinding machinations of mass schooling that ignore their personal dispositions, strengths and learning interests.

Now consigned to their homes, children, youth and parents are adapting to a new reality. In many cases, schools have sprung into action and are facilitating online versions of schooling, across all grades. The ‘Zoom Boom’ making this happen (‘Zoom’ being a teleconferencing platform I’ve used for several years) is, with a few wrinkles, proving satisfactory at delivering online lessons and serving as a surrogate classroom.

There is, however, much more to this emerging situation worth pondering. Early comments I’ve seen trickling out from parents in Twitter feeds and on phone-in shows reflect their observations that, not only are their kids continuing to learn – whether they’re doing online lessons or a host of other activities – but many are much happier, relaxed and healthier.

Parents would notice that, wouldn’t they? And that, to my perception, is the game-changer in all this, the key element to this disruption: at-home learning, whether online, on-the-sofa (reading), playing, gardening, sketching, gaming, 4H, cooking, crafting or engaged in one of myriad computer-based learning options (think YouTube, Khan Academy, Outschool.com, DIY.org, etc.), suits the temperaments of many children and youth. I perceived this over my many years as an educator and director with SelfDesign Learning Community, an online school that, from inception, enfranchised parents as co-facilitators of their children’s learning).

And just what are kids doing at home? Some are learning online, some are exploring parks and yards, and many are learning things schools too often shut out. Parents are reporting many kids are thriving.

And I predict this Genie isn’t going to go back in the bottle when schools are re-opened. Too many parents and kids, and also many educators and administrators, will have noticed this and they will make their case to ‘evolutionize’ schooling, evermore, to include some form of home-learning. To really make this an eventuality, they’ll need your voices and opinions in support.

(Full disclosure: I am an Outschool educator, offering science, DIY and ‘Genius Hour’ courses and workshops. I also teach online through the Transformative Learning Foundation)

nb — if you’d like to catch up with another interesting conversation about this, head to the blog of education professor, author and researcher, Yong Zhao.

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