While working on some research about the myths, realities, and complexities of the concept sometimes known as Internet addition, I found myself reading through dozens of articles and blog posts about what some call a digital detox. This usually refers to people refraining from or limiting use of computers and other digital devices for a given time to strengthen face-to-face relationships, reduce stress, reconnect with the physical world, gain a healthier balance between one’s life in the digital and physical world, or maybe just to gain new perspective and insight on the role of technology in a person’s life. I’ve done this at different times in my life, with varying results. However, as I perused articles on the subject, a familiar experience occurred. I found myself taking this idea of a detox and applying it to a completely different topic that was on my mind, namely the challenges and limitations of the modern school system. Put those together and you get this wonderfully intriguing thought experiment that I call the school detox program.
Why do our schools persist with so many rituals, practices, and processes that are grounded in traditions that have questionable relevance today? Even as many educator and school leaders are discovering the possibilities beyond existing models, and some of us are heartened by many new models and approaches to education, the status quo is largely unquestioned. We tweak what we are doing. We trim the weeds, but we do not pull them out at the roots. As such, they just keep growing back. I’ve long argued that a key to overcoming this is to help people see and discover what is possible, helping them to experience firsthand that there are better options available. This brings me back to the schooling detox concept and a thought experiment.
A good experiment usually starts with a hypothesis, whether it is an actual experimental design or it is a simple experiment that we play out in our minds. As such, here is my hypothesis. As a starting point, if we can immerse parents, current educators, aspiring educators, and students in a given community to a persistent litany of immersive, open, engaging, empowering learning experiences that are rich with curiosity, learning and growth; but that are void of the modern trappings of schooling like tests, grades, classes, bells, unnecessarily complex processes, and all the rest; the people in this community will be better positioned to help create sustainable alternatives to traditional schooling in that community. Or, if that one seems too grandiose, what if we simply started with a two-week summer camp for parents, teachers, students, and others that was all about rich, rewarding, personally meaningful learning and growth, but it did not have any resemblance to the current system of grades, bubble tests, lecture-dominated classes, desks in rows, potentially outdated regulations and policies, and the rest? Might that be enough of a school detox to jump-start more root pulling and sustainable education reforms?
What would it take to move this from a thought experiment to an actual one? What would your ideal school detox program look like?
Or, is this enough? Perhaps an alternative line of thinking would be a schooling debunking boot camp. I will reserve that idea for my next article.