Note: this manifesto was written in November 2012. My thinking has developed a lot ever since – and my thoughts, ideas and visions are still deepening and being sharpened. If you can read Dutch, I highly recommend you to continue reading on http://operation.education to learn about our most recent thinking.
If you prefer English, I recommend you to read the transcript of my latest TEDx talk, in which I share my latest thoughts.
If you are still interested in my early thoughts, please read on… :-)
From Status & System to Value & Variety
In the summer of 2012, two good things happened in parallel. First: I realized that Layar, the company that I co-founded in 2009, had reached an important next stage and is in great hands with its new leadership. Second: I found my calling – in education. On September 27th, 2012, I announced on stage at TEDxAmsterdamED that I want to help change society by changing our education systems. We need to better prepare the next generations for the reality of today and tomorrow, so they are well equipped to make this world a better place. I am now ramping down daily activities at Layar towards the end of 2012 and started to explore my value in this field.
In the manifesto below I want to share with you my vision on why changing the way we educate our children is key to changing the system our society is imprisoned in. A system that keeps our society from solving the bigger problems we are facing today, such as our financial crisis, energy supply, overpopulation and healthcare.
I want to contribute to these changes and use myself as a tool to make things better.
I started with taking a ‘helicopter’ perspective; I want to diverge first before I converge and dive into something specific. I have given myself 6 months to explore this field, to better understand specifics and how I can contribute. In the past 2 months I have created an action plan and wrote this manifesto, for the following reasons:
- For myself, forcing me to become specific with my thoughts and ideas
- For others, to relate to and decide if you share the same line of thinking (or not)
- It is easy to share, which can help to spread the word
Please join me on my journey – and start by reading (and have an opinion on) my manifesto!
The manifesto is set up in such a way that it can grow. Most theorems (‘stellingen’ in Dutch) can be clicked for more information and (personal) examples. I explicitly would like to ask you to contribute, by sharing your comments, additions, examples and ideas behind each subject. Also if you don’t agree, please share your thoughts – but make sure they are backed with examples, proof or other argumentation/ substantiation. I will remove non-substantiated criticism simply because it will not help to make things better.
Although I am by nature a very positive person (my glass is always ‘half full’), I sometimes use strong language in stating the problems of society, our system and education. I know, and have of course experienced, that it is not always that bad. But I want to make a statement about the general state of it. For awareness, it helps to be more on the strong and slightly controversial side than being too nuanced. So it is ‘functional negativity’ – I am genuinely worried and sometimes very frustrated on what I encounter and describe below.
Today’s society: we are stuck in our system
- Our society is built up according to the status ladder – only ‘up there’ you are seen as successful. We tell our children from a very young age that the goal is to walk the ladder, step by step. Click to read more
- Our society is also highly systemized – with org charts, KPI’s, standards, and goals. We are moulding people into the system – if you don’t fit in you have (or are) a problem. But people fundamentally don’t fit into boxes. Click to read more
- The alarming high (and increasing) percentage of burnouts (in NL: 1 out of 8), as well as the surge in coaching and ‘personal development’ courses and books must have a reason. I think they have to do with both the status ladder and the need to fit in the system.
- Only people who have learned to think outside of the system (‘box’) are able to challenge and change it. Only those who are independent of the system can create and innovate.
Our education system: not preparing for reality
- Our education system was created in a period when ‘knowledge = power’ and it was scaled in the industrial revolution, where the world needed a rapidly growing amount of workers. The foundations of this system haven’t changed since.
- The system is created to accommodate for the masses and follows a standard. Everybody who doesn’t match the standards, has (or is) a problem. In fact, nobody matches the standards in every aspect. Click to read more
- Society today needs very different skills compared to what is being taught at school or university.
- The way you learn at school (sitting still, broadcasting lessons) doesn’t match natural, preferred or most effective learning styles, such as visualizations (instead of words), figuring it out yourself (incl making mistakes), asking and discussing, reading various books. Click to read more
- Standardized tests don’t even assess mastery of a subject. Let alone do they predict someone’s value in later life. Click to read more
- Those who need to assess what trajectory children should follow to best prepare them ‘for the outside world’ (teachers), did not always gain much life experienced outside of school; nor are they given much room to do this.
Source: unknown, picture has been going around on the web for a while.
The solution: power of self: value & variety
To solve the problems of status and system, I want to start at the source – and make sure children don’t get moulded into the system. I strongly believe we can solve many of society’s problems if we can build a new educational eco-system which is focused on developing people’s own diverse and unique talents – and their value. Or at least create space for this within the boundaries of existing school systems.
- People (both children and adults) are fundamentally more happy, effective and have proven to be more productive, cooperative and peaceful when their own talents, drives, interests and abilities are put at the center of attention.
- Every child (high/ low status, high/ low IQ, …) is capable of discovering its interests, talents and capacities – whether it is already at a very young age or a little bit later when having learned what does NOT fit.
- Children love learning – as long as they are not forced to learn according to a system which doesn’t reflect their own capacities, rhythm and interests.
- NB: focus on self/ value does NOT equal selfishness; nor does it imply “let children be lazy and do only the fun things”.
Source: Erik Johansson
What is needed to make this happen: dare to let go
- Fundamental rethinking of the notion of ‘school’, ‘lessons’ and ‘education’ including ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’.
- Paradigm shift: from a focus on external drivers such as status, the system and (standardized) tests – to a focus on internal drivers such as value, talent and motivations.
- Take ‘personalized learning for all’ as a starting point, not ‘the same for all’.
- An ambition level which is set much higher: not delivering upon the ‘standard’ (good enough) but achieving excellence by facilitating people to get more out of themselves than they ever expected.
- More space (especially legal space) for alternative education systems to bloom and new school types to be implemented. Currently, any school system which doesn’t comply with all ‘learning goals’ set by the government is considered a non-school, causing even parents to be taken to court for having placed their children in such a ‘non-school’.
- Meanwhile, parents, teachers but also managers can already start to look at people, structures and systems in a different way – by for example assess (also) according to a set of creativity characteristics, peer reviews and limiting the status of hierarchy.
The pieces of the puzzle have already been created
In the two months I have now been looking into this field, I have been blown away by the amount of answers that are already out there. My starting point is that every part of the solution has already been figured out, somewhere on this planet. I am triggered and inspired by the following:
- All the handbooks, coaching and personal development courses that have been developed for adults, focusing on finding your value – why not repurpose them for children?
- Peer review or 360 degree feedback, instead of ‘black & white’/ right or wrong assessment: use a wider circle of people from various backgrounds to assess somebody’s potential.
- The independent Project: a group of teenagers created a ‘school within a school’ themselves – they decide on the subjects they will focus on that week. They learn math because they WANT to learn how an airplane flies or why rain falls.
- Sudbury Schools – every student decides on their own development trajectory and how to fill that in. Also in The Netherlands: Democratische scholen.
- Highly successful game company Valve: “boss free“, every (!) employee has the mandate to decide on the course of the company. Their handbook is priceless and a must read! Download it from this page.
- Leaders of the world’s most influential companies who are either under 40 years old and/ or university dropouts and who have a fundamentally different approach to talent and value (Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sergey Brin & Larry Page of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Jack Dorsey of Twitter)
- Massive Open Online Courses (such as Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and many more) which provide free course materials from the world’s leading Universities or other high quality courses. They will drastically disrupt education and allow for every citizen to get the highest level courses, providing room for teachers to look more deeply into the students.
- Teaching for a day, by non-teachers: Dagjelesgeven.nl (teach for a day) enables business- and other professionals to share their passion and life experience with students in school (secondary education). A great way to get the outside-world perspective in school. We just need another program to get teachers outside of the school from time to time and we are “full-circle”.
- Mass customization – such as the way Dell set up its production line (personalized computers created with standard elements), or the way you personalize your iPhone: with apps (which all need to fit certain quality guidelines).
- Prof. Robbert Dijkgraaf gave two amazing lectures on primetime Dutch national TV (“DWDD University”), one on the Big Bang, the other one on the smallest particles (‘allerkleinste’). Both were viewed by millions of people. If every science teacher would give these as homework and discuss them in class (see also ‘flipped classroom‘ concept), high class lecturing becomes accessible to everybody – giving room for the interpretation and deepening in class.
- A company named e-metrixx created a creativity model (see below) which comprises twelve individual factors that together yield a General Factor of Creativity. It was created for and used in workshops with corporates – why not use assess children at school (also) according to this list?
Thresholds: awareness, inspection and… balls?
There are some major thresholds which are holding back massive change.
- Lack of awareness of WHY the school system is not fit for reality anymore, as well as little awareness of potential alternatives.
- Schools need to meet criteria set by government & education inspections. Criteria are hard to change, especially in case of letting go of certain ‘learning objectives’.
- There are many initiatives in the space of education innovation, but they have a hard time reaching the masses. As somebody recently told me (not my own words): this space needs more quality, energy and some balls.
My main starting points: pull, parents – and myself
- Don’t push & blame, but create pull & traction: create demand for something new that simply works; the rest will have to follow or else become obsolete.
- Focus on parents: I am not an expert on teachers, schools and learning methods – so I don’t want to touch this area. Being a young mother I start to know something about parenting. Parents are the key decision makers wrt setting the child’s direction as well as choosing the school types.
- Focus on my own value: this ‘thing’ is so gigantic – very many different forces, skills, people and stakeholders are necessary. I can only contribute myself: my energy and drive, my ability to connect, my general knowledge of technology, my network, my experience and background and who knows what other skills I discover along the way…
Claire’s plan: massive action!
So – what am I going to do about it? In the coming months, I am going to focus on the following – please click through on each item to read more:
- Grow this manifesto, making use of input from readers and other interesting sources.
- Connect (bring together likeminded people) & Shape (define the ideal world, put a stick in the ground)
- Operation Education: create massive awareness of the above in a ‘big bang’ on mass media titles in spring 2013.
Next to this, I will speak at conferences and events as a means to finance myself. You can book me via The Next Speaker…
What can YOU do? Share & discuss!
If this story resonates, please join me on my journey. This is what I think you can do:
- If you are a parent: don’t force the status ladder on your children – look at them and help them discover their own value.
- Talk to others about this subject. Share this manifesto, join the Facebook page, start exploring other interesting sources.
- Add your comments or click one of the links in the action plan to see how you can contribute!
Together we can change the world, and use ourselves as a tool to make things better!