Mind/Shift: To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

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Why haven’t education reform efforts amounted to much? Because they start with the wrong problem, says John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions? The answer, he says, will point to the changes needed in all three pillars of education — schools, families, and communities.

This is one of Abbott’s primary takeaways from a career spanning more than two decades of teaching in England, followed by three decades at the helm of an international nonprofit (begun in the U.S. but now headquartered in England), whose mission is to promote fresh thinking based on the existing body of research about how children learn. Its findings have been synthesized into policy briefings, reports, and a book, “Overschooled but Undereducated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents.” It has also just published a distillation of its work, called “Battling for the Soul of Education.”

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