Everything in education is different now

The familiar landscape of our lives has shifted, and we have all had to find our new normal. Many of us knew that the traditional school system wasn’t working and we searched for education alternatives.

We have had a slightly easier time of it over the last two years as we had already left conventional school behind.

But for many people, the pandemic, shelter-in-place orders, and virtual school have torn apart the fabric of their lives. Many families have been left floundering, uncertain about the future of their children’s education.

Imagine if everyone could see the possibilities of the current situation to reimagine education?

What if we could get rid of the parts of the system that was failing our kids and replace them with structures that allowed freedom and autonomy?

Jerry Mintz has the goal of making learner-centered education available for kids everywhere. The founder of AERO, Alternative Education Resource Organization, is a passionate advocate of democratic schooling and a more fair education system.

He has been advocating for an education revolution for over 30 years and now it is here!

Jerry shared his insights with us about education reform and what the current state of education means for the future of alternative education.

The education revolution just happened

Homeschooling numbers went from 3.5% to 96% overnight. No one saw it coming and honestly, no one could have imagined our current reality.

But how exciting!

Families globally have had to try something new and a paradigm shift has taken place. Many will argue that the current school-at-home situation that many families are in, is not really alternative education.

And they would be right in saying that.

Online learning for many students is just the classroom set-up done via Zoom. Unlike Galileo, they did not design the traditional school system for an online experience and this certainly shows. Galileo’s entire model is based on kids being online, interacting with each other and their facilitators. The 70+ live learning experiences allow students to take control of their learning from anywhere in the world.

With schools opening up again and students needing to be back in the classroom, it has never been more clear that public education reform needs to be addressed.

But it has forced parents to spend more time with their kids and realize that there is so much more to education than being in a classroom. Parents are seeing their kids as learners, active participants, rather than vessels to be filled with knowledge by a teacher.

This time has allowed parents to learn about their children, but also see how they learn. To see their children learn on their own when they are interested and engaged.

Teachers no longer have a captive audience.

Kids can turn off or mute their computers now when they aren’t interested. Teachers are being forced to look at the way they are teaching, and adapt it to suit the interests of their students. Quite a novel experience for many teachers I think.

Jerry says that 10% of families might explore alternative education further, but that most families will try to go back to normal.

But what is normal?

Things have changed, and as much as people want to go back to the way things were, that ‘normal’ doesn’t exist anymore.

Even people within the public education system have changed and are thinking differently about how children learn. For those wanting to go back to a more traditional learning environment, Jerry says that structure will be vital. Now is the time to provide them with a framework for a more learner-centered learning experience. Without help, there will be a counter-revolution and the ideas behind public education reform won’t stick.

For Jerry and his Education Revolution team, getting the word out beyond the alternative education community is vital for genuine change. There are people within the school system that want something different, educators who have the individual needs of their students at heart.

Some states in America like California, have such a high population of homeschoolers that schools have started “independent study” options. This is essentially home education, but using the schools’ resources.

If public schools recognize the value of education alternatives then surely they can introduce reforms in the education system?

Online schools like Galileo are reimagining what education looks like, so why can’t we redefine public education?

We can!

Jerry and his team realized the importance of contacting legislators, making them aware of the feelings of those families inside and outside the school system. The will of well-meaning families and educators is not enough, the system has to be invested in actual change as well.

There are very interesting examples of alternative education being co-opted by the system. Some public schools have a democratic, learner-centered school program within the school. But this is not enough!

Organizations like Education Cities and Education revolution are advocating for this kind of schooling to be accessible to all children. Not just a small group within the system.

An online school option like Galileo is a way of bringing self-directed, learner-centered education to a global audience. We have seen that our kids don’t need to be in a classroom all day. In fact, many parents have watched them thrive outside of the classroom setting. Kids are naturally curious, creative, and entrepreneurial when they are free to explore their interests.

What you need to know about the AERO Conference

Jerry was busy with the International Democratic Education Conference in 2003 with the help of a 16-year-old homeschool student and the AERO Conference was born.

For over 15 years, the AERO Conference has been bringing together change-makers in alternative education.

They all have the goal of creating learning systems that put learners at the center of their education.

With international attendees, workshops, youth-led sessions, and networking, it is an incredible opportunity for ideas about alternative education and education reform to be discussed.

At the core of the conference is the belief that children are natural learners.

Like the founders and facilitators at Galileo, the people attending the conference have big aspirations for the future of alternative education.

How you can transition to alternative education

Doing something different is daunting. But trusting yourself and trusting your child, is something you will never regret doing.

Take the time to find examples of self-directed learning in action and you will quickly see the benefits of learning freedom.

Jerry says the power of the democratic process and organic curriculum still surprises him. When asked to talk about it once, he chose instead to show the ability of children to take charge of their education. He didn’t prepare a presentation but asked children to come and ask him questions.

It was completely unplanned, unscripted, and he had no way of knowing if anyone would show up. But they did, and the children asked interesting and insightful questions about alternative education. Jerry and the children then voted on which questions they were most interested in and then started discussing them.

After the demonstration, Jerry asked the audience how many of them thought kids were natural-born learners. Many of them raised their hands, but what was really special, was the kids behind him waving enthusiastically.

Miroslav Balaban came up with the idea of park schooling in Russia. Thinking about alternative schools like a visit to the park makes the idea of self-directed learning easier to understand. When you go to a park, you can do what you like, stay as long as you like, leave when you want to and no one tests you when you go. It allows for freedom, exploration, and fun.

The self-directed nature of Galileo means students can have the park-school experience online. They can choose what clubs they would like to take part in, how many they would like to join, and are not tested on their knowledge. Learning is not a means to an end, but a journey that develops real-life skills and lifelong learners.

Teachers and education alternatives

The traditional school system is stifling students.

Many good teachers have left the system because they couldn’t justify what they were doing. Traditional education is rigid, rote, prescribed, and has hardly changed over the years.

For 150 years, we have required kids to be in school, learning from a set curriculum. But now there are real options for something different. A personalized education that is holistic and actively engages students.

Teachers are undergoing a mindset shift, realizing that their role is not to simply relay facts, but rather to facilitate learning opportunities and inspire their students.

There is a school in Russia where students have a constitutional right to leave at any time without explanation.

That sounds radical, right?

But it shouldn’t. The idea that kids are confined to the same buildings for hours each day and years on end without having a say in it should seem more radical. Being told when they can eat, what they can wear, and asking permission to go to the bathroom have become accepted norms.

Is it not time to seriously question the system and look for public education reform?

Has the pandemic given rise to hope for a fresh approach to education?

Yes!

It is a case of the emperor having no clothes, with people waking up to the idea that traditional school is not working in the best interests of the students.

The entire basis of the school system is on shaky ground. It is based on the idea that children need to be forced to learn and need to be motivated to learn. But modern brain research tells us this isn’t true.

Children are natural learners.

So many adults don’t understand this, possibly because they came through the same system that killed creativity and freedom of thought.

But if not school, what? Panicked parents are unsure what the alternative is.

Galileo offers parents and students a personalized education that helps students become self-organized, self-motivated, and independent. Alternative education takes a leap of faith and a mindset shift for parents. But it will pay off to be bold and brave enough to offer your child something different.

The time for change is now

There has never been a better time to redefine what education looks like. The pandemic has shone a light on the failings of traditional schooling and has begged the question, how can we change it?

The opportunity for genuine public education reform is there as well as a host of people who want to see systemic change.

But there are also those that have seen the cracks, watched their children slip through them, and have no intention of going back.

Whether you believe that the education system can change and do better or you want education alternatives, one thing holds true.

We can’t go back to the way things were.

So, which way are you going?


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