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From "Consumer-Oriented" to "Producer-Oriented" Learning (and schools)

I'm excited about the future of education. The problems we face as a nation, state, and community are seemingly intractable and the decisions made by Newtonian government structures and processes seem to make things worse. Despite all of this, I believe in the American people and the leaders - education, community and business - who understand we must transform education to remain viable.

As I continually search out easier, simpler, more direct ways of expressing what is meant by "tranforming schools" I've come across the concept of "producer-oriented" schooling and learning. I can't say exactly from where it came, although I know I am certainly not the originator. Perhaps it was in my renewed conversations with my mentor and friend, Al Rowe or perhaps it was a collection of ideas from multiple conversations and readings. As Steven Johnson says, "an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm." Where Good Ideas Come From. The Natural History of Innovation (p. 46).

Our schools - most of them anyway and in particular the "comprehensive high school" would best be termed "consumer-oriented" in that it treats learning as a consumable good and children as consumers. Students, usually without the ability to "purchase" what they want, are fed information and knowledge through courses, classes, curriculum, and teachers. The general idea is to provide them with these inputs (goods) and have them spit back what they know, thus validating them as learned. This cycle repeats itselt multiple times a day, 180 days a year for 13 years. It reduces children to passive receivers who are valued for their compliance and "good attitudes." Being successful in a consumer-oriented school doesn't require a student really understand the complexities and "wicked problems" that truly exists in a world where discipline knowledge isn't so neatly and conveniently compartmentalized.

Schools today must become "producer-oriented" organizations where students are asked to create, innovate, and produce things of value beyond just a course grade or to satisfy one teacher. Students enter our schools as creators, innovators and producers so enhancing and building on that natural desire must be entirely possible and plausible. Our schools must make it impossible for a student to pass through it without having the ability to understand the complexities and interconnectedness of the disciplines and that there are ways to deal with "wicked" and seemingly intractable problems. When students engage their passions and interests and connect with adult professionals who can mentor and facilitate their learning to create things that have value beyond the classroom or assignment, we are ensuring America's future success.

How long must we continue to tweak and cajole small scale improvements in our consumer-oriented systems before we get busy doing what we must do - transform schools to producer-oriented organizations?


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