a trusted space for learning

In 2006 I proposed that we should develop an educational system  of small schools, loosely joined:

  • With access to the Internet a one-room school would have to reach out to the rest of the world and not be wrapped in the confines of the industrial school. Schools would have to seek out partnerships and not be isolated islands.
  • Communities of learning online could be developed to link learners in several schools and even in different countries.
  • No teacher would be able to ‘master’ the subject matter, so teachers would become facilitators of learning, which is what they profess to do anyway .
  • Small schools would be integrated into the community and there would be a sense of ownership by the community, not the education system.
  • Most children would be able to walk to school, therefore eliminating buses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging exercise.
  • Children and parents could have more than one school to choose from.
  • Sales of industrial school buildings could be used as financial capital for the transition.

Perhaps with this pandemic, the time has come to reconsider this idea. Small schools make for smaller social networks and easier contact tracing. They may require less time on mass transit less exposure to larger human networks. Small schools can be pods in a larger online education network.

Why has this not been seriously considered, and instead small schools keep closing?

Large schools make for easier control and centralized use of physical assets. They also have larger hierarchies. I would assume that the Principal of a school with 2,000 students earns a higher salary than a Principal of 50  students. Hierarchies become self-replicating over time. Plus, the big schools can have big sports teams and put on big theatre productions and musicals.

So let’s follow the money. Why is it spent and where is it spent? We can now shine the Covid-19 lens on our school spending and see what is really important. What makes for a pandemic resilient school system? It has to be much more than the existing physical infrastructure with an emergency backup online plan.  This pandemic gives us an opportunity to seriously look at re-schooling.

Probably the number one core skill for all citizens today in a digitally networked world is media literacy. It is the ability to discern fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. Given the viral spread of these messages in our post-truth society, the current educational system has not done a very good job. We see that the anti-vaxxer movement is growing and bots rule the pandemic conversation online.

Small schools may not address all of these issues but they will provide a diversity of thinking we have not seen in our schooling for at least 50 years. Small pieces, loosely joined enabled the incredible sharing of knowledge via the open web. Perhaps small schools, loosely joined will enable a new Renaissance in learning. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy — let’s make it so.


One Room School House, Breathitt County, Kentucky, 1940, Marion Post Wolcott

One Room School House, Breathitt County, Kentucky, 1940, by Marion Post Wolcott — The Art Institute of Chicago


4 Responses to “a trusted space for learning”

  1. Jack Willis

    I agree. We have an opportunity to rethink education/schooling. However, our recent bout with distance learning was found insufficient by teachers and parents of pre K, kindergarten and primary children, and English language learners, and exceptional ed students. The city is buying us 90,000 laptops for students & to upgrade teachers & enough “hot spots” to provide Internet access in some of our neighborhoods lacking access. I work for the metro Nashville school system.

    • Harold Jarche

      I have said before that — Our 20th century public education systems were mostly created to give equal access to all (a good thing) and to prepare workers for industrial jobs (a self-serving thing for the industrialists). Public education was embraced by reformers as well as factory owners. It was a shotgun wedding. — https://jarche.com/2020/04/time-for-re-schooling/

      We need to change the whole system, not put patches on, like 90K laptops

  2. Jack Willis

    I second the idea that we, as a nation and as a society, have the opportunity to reshape public schooling. One of the things I think that is in the way of this in the overwhelming reliance on standardized testing. I know it is here in the States. Is it also where you are?

    Legislators have been bamboozled to believe that reading/language arts and math scores are all that is need to reckon the status of students, of teachers, of schools, and of school systems. This view has been perpetuated by certain corporations, philanthropies to the point were it has become hegemonic and is accepted as the way it should be, has to be, by district superintendents, central office administrators, building principals, teachers, students, parents. I remember reading Foucault saying that eventually prisoners become to act as their own wardens.

    And our schools, especially those serving low income populations and those who first language isn’t English, and those with special physical and mental needs— these schools and districts are constantly having to deal with the assessment results which show their education efforts as deficient. And yet we know that research has consistently shown a correlation between test scores and income and zip codes. Testing has essentially created a two-tier, a two-class system, channeling funding, resources, talent to those who have (high scores) and those who have not (high trust scores).

    Jim Popham once wrote: “In an evidence-oriented enterprise, those who control the evidence gathering mechanisms control the entire enterprise.”

    By the way I see that you’ve appreciated Kieran Egan. I’ve been a fan of his since reading his article in a 1989 Phi Delta Kappan: “Learning, imagination, and learning: Connected by the story.”


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