10 Things That I Would Uninvent in Education

I’ve had extra time to think over the past couple of weeks. Give me enough flex time, and my mind wanders into thought experiments and musing about education questions and possibilities. This time, thoughts focused upon the idea of un-inventing something. I talk and write about inventions and innovations in education all the time. What about the opposite? That led me to ask the simple question. If I could uninvent in education, what ten inventions would be at the top of my list? If I could go back in time and redirect from the adoption of an invention that dominates contemporary education, which ones would I choose? Below are my tentative answers. If you are up for it, consider sharing your top un-inventions in education in the comment area.

Univent Letter Grades

Plenty of good happens in schools with letter grades, but I’m not convinced that any of the good is due to this system for ranking and rating students. There are plenty of better alternatives, and I’m convinced that formal education would be unleashed to focus more upon learning instead of earning if letter grades were uninvented.

Uninvent Credit Hours / the Carnegie Unit / Seat Time

Study the history of the Carnegie Unit and it doesn’t have any rationale related to students or learning. It leads to abstracting and unnecessary quantification that is not necessarily tied to learning progress at all. Again, there are plenty of better alternatives.

Uninvent Bubble Tests

This one is about standardization and scalability, but bubble tests too often take us away from deeper, more intimate, more authentic, more robust and multi-faceted forms of assessment.

Uninvent Standard Grade Levels

There are plenty of better and alternate ways to organize learning communities. Besides, once you get out of K-12 education, you will rarely find another time in life where a categorization system like this is used. There are also a wealth of other inventions created because of the challenges and limitations of the standard grade level system that would disappear if we invented it.

Uninvent Diplomas and Degrees

Some will see this in on the list and wonder, “What would school be without degrees?” That is my point. We have elevated this invention called the degree to the point where we sometimes mistakenly equate going with school to pursuing a degree. In that process, it is too easy to lose the true purpose and focus of formal education. The more we focus on degrees and credentials, the more we lose the true value of formal education.

Uninvent Common Honor Society Criteria

I don’t have a problem with recognizing people for achievements and exemplary education. It is more the standards used to qualify for most of these societies that I would like to uninvent. What if we honored the deeply curious, the people who read and learned independent of formal requirements, or those who demonstrated an incredible and persistent love of learning and curiosity?

Uninvent the Teacher Classroom

I’ve written about this before, but having a classroom named after a teacher is a lost opportunity to me. Why not make the focus be on learning and learning community instead of a teacher? Yet, look at most classroom designs around the world and it is a teacher classroom. Uninvent this and watch out for the amazing possibilities!

Uninvent Standardized Tests

This is a tough one. Yet dozens of studies have shown that standardized tests faith the test of whether they can predict how people will do later in life. They are also consistently bad at determining whether people can transfer knowledge in real-world, performance-oriented contexts. There are some compelling reasons for their value in some contexts. I wouldn’t rid the world of this invention, just its use in formal education. There is just too much room for abuse and misuse that I believe our education system could be better, stronger and unleashed to focus upon deeper and more meaningful ways of documenting student growth, development and achievement, even aptitude.

Uninvent Regional Accreditation

I’m all for reasonable accountability and standards in education, but this modern system is broken. There are dozens of other ways that we can hold diploma mills accountable, provide prospective families with the assurance of certain standards, and bring about an educational ecosystem of accountability. Some of them exist with success in other parts of the world. Also, when you look at the time and money that schools spend on compliance efforts instead of genuine school improvement, I find it even hard to make a compelling case for the value of this invention. On top of that, I suspect that we have gotten to a stage whereDOE regulations and regional accrediting are contributing significantly to the costs of higher education.

Uninvent Textbooks

Textbooks have been used with good results different times and places. They still do help in some contexts and circumstances. Yet, when I weigh the benefits and the limitations, and I look at education systems that don’t use them, I would gladly go with uninviting this technology. They can too easily turn into crutches for poor and uninspired teaching and learning environments.


Of course, I can’t uninvent these ten, and I’m not intending to spend my life trying to eradicate them. Yet, I’m also not going to invest my time and energy in developing them. The most promising practices, models, frameworks and concepts in education today do not depend upon or support any of these ten. As such, if we simply feed and support the good stuff, perhaps we will find that many of thse inventions will find their way into the international museum of the history of education.

2 Replies to “10 Things That I Would Uninvent in Education”

  1. dawblack

    I would also un-invent the traditional role of the principal. While a final decision-maker is always important, leadership as collaboration using the gifts and talents that God Calls to a particular location in a more effective manner would be a better approach for many schools.

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