Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Huge Schools

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 13, 2008

Some time ago I dreamed up the idea of the Huge Corporation.  Huge is the most successful business in the world in ten years from now.  As Huge announced in an email message from the future, they became the most successful organisation in the world by following a set of principles which included paying a lot of atttention to how their people think and learn, learning from others – everywhere and all of the time, including everyone in their organisation in the development of a picture of the future, which they continually update, and lastly by innovating on an unprecedented scale.

I use Huge as a kind mental gym in which people can exercise their minds while learning the process and tools included in the Mindworks Approach before I help them to apply them to the often messy, all-to-real situations in their actual organisations.  I have a folder full of some of the weird and wonderful ideas for Huge businesses that people have developed over the years as they’ve played with Huge.  Many of them make the nuclear powered teapot seem quite sensible.  I think my favourite is Huge Hedges, which – the originator of the idea suggested – ‘provides a range of rapidly-growing genetically engineered hedges for environmental, aesthetic and military purposes’!   The military purpose involved growing large hedges behind which you could hide your tanks etc.  Genius!

I’ve been thinking a lot about education recently, so I thought it might be interesting to wonder about what Huge Schools might be like.  If you, dear reader (I appreciate I’m talking to myself here), would like to join in the fun by building on what I’m about to write do feel free to use the comments facility to do so. I’m going to use a simple technique called ‘reversal’ to generate quite a few of these ideas.  (The Wright brothers ‘reversed’ a belief about the necessary characteristics of aircraft in order achieve the first powered, controlled flight.)

It’s vital to be clear about Whats before generating some Hows.  (I use simple language like this for reasons I explain here.  After you’ve done some proper thinking you can dress up the results  in whatever language impresses people in your organisation.  Try to use TLAs if possible: SBT’s – Strategic Business Thrusts or KRAs – Key Results Areas to use a couple of real examples.)

Huge Schools main ‘what’ would, off the top of my head, be something like ‘Enabling students to live useful, productive and fulfilling lives.’  That was easy.  Now for some ‘reversed’ hows.  There would be no lessons, text books, exams or jobs called ‘teacher’ (although there would certainly be people who would be paid to help them, but calling them ‘facilitators’ sounds a bit managementy, so I won’t). Guides, perhaps?

Instead, students would learn by both exploring the real world and thinking of ways of improving it.  Their work would be organised around a series of projects which they would devise and, with help from their guides and others (parents, members of the community, businesses and so on), carry out.  Their learning and knowledge would be assessed in all sorts of ways, and none of them would involve the massive overhead of running the current exam system.

Much of what they do would take place in the virtual space of the web, and would be massively connected with the work and thinking of others.  They would create, rather than repeat, and learn by whizzing around the ‘wheel of learning’ many times.  (I’m getting a bit carried away with this, aren’t I?) Central government wouldn’t interfere or dictate – instead it would help, facilitate, enable …OK, I know, that could never happen.  Let’s stop for now.

I’m attempting to keep my posts below 500 words, and WordPress is telling me that I’ve just exceeded that so I’ll finish this off.  I was cheating a little. I know that some of the ideas above are already being considered, in fact I was told recently that in Sweden they already work around projects developed by students and staff rather than lessons.  (Incidentally, I think I know why Scandinavian countries tend to lead in areas like this – it’s to do with how their system of government works – will come back to that at some point.)

For now, here’s another of my all-time-favourite quotes.  I heard this one from an American associate and friend who lives in Kenya.  Although it’s not particularly elegant, I think it’s brilliant:

‘If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother to try to teach them.  Instead, give them a tool the use of which will lead them to new ways of thinking.’ Buckminster Fuller

I particularly like that quote because it describes exactly what I’ve been doing all these years.

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6 Responses to “Huge Schools”

  1. Andrew said

    Cheating again – a quick comment on my own post to overcome the 500 word limit. I get the impression (and I may well be wrong) that the education system is far too oriented towards what employers seem to think they want.

    This would be OK if employers really knew what they wanted, but I sometimes get the impression they don’t. We often herar that children these days cant’ spell/do maths/think creatively/answer the phone properly etc. etc. This is, based on my own direct experience in the Cooper household at least (Sam, 15 and Roz, 19), not only wrong but also involves massive labelling. (See my CBT related posts.)

    To my mind, the introduction of assessed course work was a step in the right direction, but this seems to being scaled down and for understandable reasons – some parents were doing most of the actual work.

    Overall, I can’t help feeling that the role of central government is the major problem here.

    Having said all that, though, I think that what goes on in schools these days is much more productive than it was in mine. There’s a lot to build on.

  2. Andrew said

    Huge China?! Or maybe, since it is so vast already, Huge Huge China?
    J

  3. Mag Williams said

    OK I’m going to ‘bite the bullet’ and comment on your blog. Before I attempt to comment on the given subject I have to say something. You do have ‘readers’ well, at least, one that I know of but I’ve been delaying any response because you sound so damned clever (meant in a respectful way of course) and I feel like a dumb clutz (a term I have never used before but it is the most appropriate right now). Anyway, I needed to put you out of your misery because a) you need to know you are not alone and b) to stop you having a conversation with yourself.

    I read a little on Michel de Montaigne, hardly anything really but I think I like him, any man that studies himself rather than everyone else deserves some respect. I admire his way of thinking and, being a lover of quotes, I like what he had to say. Here’s three of them; “It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others” (I think this applies nicely to yourself), possibly this one too, “I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind – and to work some of those contradictions out for myself” and this one is mine,” I quote others only in order the better to express myself”.

    Before I outdo you on the longest blog entry, I like your Huge School idea and students learning by exploring makes a lot of sense. As they say, one teacher cannot possibly know the answers to all questions a student might develop. After all, teachers must be susceptible to ‘memes’, which could hold back a student’s development. A bit of exploration allows the mind to stay open.

    You see, I told you I was a dumb clutz !

  4. Crikey, Mag, my toxic-thoughtometer went off the scale when I read that!

    A couple of quick points. First, yes, I am clever but my whole point is that we all are. We humans do clever – that’s our distinguishing characteristic.

    Also, we tend to be clever in specific ways. I’m sure you’ve come across the idea of multiple intelligences. See this, for example (which starts off with a great quote, incidentally):

    http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm

    I know very well that you aren’t a klutz, but the only sure way of becoming one is to believe that you are. It’s a CBT thing.

    I’d like to post here about the actual idea that’s been driving all this, but there are various things that have to be done and agreed before I can. However, I’d very much like to discuss it with you and get your reactions as the creative, lateral-thinking business person I know you are. How about a coffee?

    Thanks for the Michel de Montaigne reference – don’t know anything about him but will find out right now.

  5. Andrew said

    Try the Penguin ed. of Montaigne’s essays – translated, edited and introduced by Mike Screech! I’m sure my parents have got a copy.
    J

  6. […] the rest of us ‘half glass full’ types on our toes.  I’m fairly sure that the Huge Corporation would employ professional negative bastards to wander around ensuring all the new ideas its people […]

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