Learning without Schools

Photo by Bre Pettis, http://brepettis.com

It is often assumed that in order to be successful and realize your dreams you must go to university. Year after year people of all ages apply to institutions of higher education and go to great lengths to afford the high costs that come with such schools.  Increasingly people are realizing that the costs to attend such schools far outweigh the benefits.  Beyond that, with the dawn of interest networks online and the availability of information and instruction, there is a real opportunity to learn what you want to learn, without going back to school.

Kio Stark is a grad school dropout who loves to learn.  As an author and inquisitive mind, her writing and research has brought her to the topic of informal learning. How does it work? what do different informal learners do to meet their goal and stay focused? These questions and more are part of a new book she has proposed to be published next year: “Don’t Go Back to School – A Handbook for Learning Anything.”

To make it even more interesting, Kio has put the proposal for the book up on kickstarter as a project which people can choose to support financially with the promise of being credited, receiving a copy of the book, and more. What is a refreshing new approach to education is matched by an innovative new approach to funding your work.

How did this project begin? What experiences has Kio had that led to her interest in learning outside of schools? These topics and more are explored in our podcast together. Give it a listen.

Support and Read more about Kio’s Project “Don’t Go Back to School” which has generated a fantastic outpouring of backers.

Her novel “Follow Me Down” available now.

Students Take on the Gov in Chile

My guest on this edition of Citizenreporter.org is Chilean-American, community organizer, world citizen Nick Farr who has been traveling around Chile observing many of the activities connected with the student protests demanding education reform in that country.

For several months students throughout Chile have been holding mass rallies, protests as well as occupying university and high school buildings, demanding the government take action to address inequality in the education system and the creation of the country’s first free higher education option.

Presently education in Chile consists of a few prestigious charter-type schools, many more prestigious private schools which are very expensive, and then the rest of the public system that is considered poor quality-undesirable schooling.  Rural areas, which is most of Chile, are especially plagued by a lack of affordable education. But even in cities these days, access to good schools is entirely dependent on where you live.

The student movement that has exploded throughout the country is focused on the need for better quality and more accessible public education at all levels, especially secondary and university education.  While occupy wall street started just over a month ago, students in Chile began occupying school buildings 4 months ago.  As part of the occupation, they carry out a fully functioning program of providing meals, classes and cultural activities.

One of the arguments against the students stems from the main leader of the movement who is a very vocal communist. Political opponents and many critical Chileans view his role as “evidence” that this protest is a communist invasion of the country.

Meanwhile the nation, that is highly dependent on the price of copper, struggles as global commodity prices have become so unstable.  Graduates who come out of the current higher education system find themselves with little choice when it comes to jobs and career. Despite whatever specialized skills and training they might have had, the only work available to them might be in the low paying service industry.

With the protests as the backdrop, negotiations take place and one point the government hopes students will compromise on is the goal of a “free” education. A point that student leaders refuse to compromise on.

After several decades of tremendous socio-economic progress which saw Chile become a much admired country in the region and around the world, there is talk now of a shrinking middle class and a return to the former paralyzing state of cronyism and inequality.

Will Chilean students achieve their goal? Will the unpopular Chilean government give in to a mass movement sweeping the nation and conducting mass action in the streets and in the schools? In a time where so many nations have bought into the idea of corporate schools or charter schools, could Chile be the place where an old idea is given new life – universal public education.


Educación 2020 – One of the Movement’s Web Sources

El Mercurio – News from Chile

Education, Portugal, and the World

JHWJohn Howard Wolf doesn’t know how to fix the global economy, but he can teach us a thing or two about education. Its been his business and passion for most of his adult life.  Having immigrated from the US to Portugal in the late 1970’s, even back then he was a swimming against the current, setting up a primary school in a country still getting over its post-fascist hangover.  As a Americano-Luso (American-Portuguese) he has a unique perspective based on the kind of experiences most of us only wish we could have. John Howard Wolf knows literature and he knows history, but what he knows that the world would be lucky to hear about, is another way to approach life and human relations on this planet.  For one great hour on the last days of summer in Lisbon, we sat together watching the world go by during a financial crisis, and talking about how this all happened and what is to come.

Read John’s piece in the Portuguese-American Journal

His article on Rural Development and Portugal from January 1992 (note – academic journal paywall)

Notes on Training in Afghanistan

“Does it have any impact,” a friend recently asked me, “giving video training to different groups in Afghanistan for only 1 week?”

Flying over the Jalalabad road back to Kabul.

If by impact he meant does anything get learned that will be useful to the students now and in the future, then my answer is yes.  In the short span of 4 to 6 days, I watched as young adults in Western and Eastern Afghanistan made visible strides forward in the world of creating video reports and telling stories.  From camera work to editing, from the planning to the telling of a story, each person’s abilities saw some improvement.

For those who already had experience in the world of media, we were able to address skills they had been wanting to develop to further help them at their jobs.  Maybe someone who already worked in radio, learned the missing basics in video so that they could now do both at their work place. Another example were those who worked at issue focused non-governmental organizations, if their employers had not yet made use of video material to highlight or promote their work, after this training these individuals could now implement such activities.

Of course the context is Afghanistan, where education is not always so easily accessible and specialized.  Where many are unemployed and eager to learn new skills, even if it is not clear how or when these skills will make a difference in their professional lives. In such cases they walk away familiar with another area of media production, another ability they can call upon later.  In fact, through centers like the ones these trainings were hosted by, the same students who attended our sessions, could continue working on stories and practicing what they’ve learned on their own or in a group setting. The necessary equipment; basic ingredients like electricity, computers, cameras, and even internet access, are all available for use.

Wouldn’t it be wise to have followup where we return and build upon what we’ve started? Sure, that would be nice for students as well as we the teachers. But again, in the context of Afghanistan, we also know it is a major cost to bring in foreigners to a land where transport, security, lodging, etc, don’t come cheap.  With the money spent on having trainers come from outside, the center could theoretically have bought more equipment for students and more gas for the generators to power that equipment.  As much as I’d love to come back to Afghanistan to teach again, as much as I love sharing my journalism experience with students there, I also see how if we could help ensure that qualified trainers could be found within the country, this could help make an even more significant impact for even more future students.

But beyond this discussion, even beyond the struggles of a vegetarian health-nut in regions that have no concept of either term, it was once again a pleasure and a privilege to get to work in a country as interesting as Afghanistan.  A big part of what makes it so, are the people, from the organizations that we get to know, to the students in the classroom, and lets not forget all the fellow workers at the guest houses that become friends along the way. These people mixed in with the sights and smells, yes even the bad ones, make for an unforgettable learning experience and adventure of the sort few people on this planet get to have.

Once again, thank you friends in Afghanistan. Your personal missions and collective kindnesses are the biggest inspiration I have ever known.

bmtv106 Student Revolt in the US

After the mass student uprising all across Europe in late 2009, the movement has awoken all across the United States this month. Students, faculty, and staff began walking out of their classes and holding marches and rallies at University campuses across the nation.  With the lack of support and resources from the federal government, tuition hikes, staff layoffs, and massive budget cuts from state governments, millions of people are making their voices heard and refusing to go about their business as if nothing is wrong.

I was particularly excited and proud to have seen video footage (included in this video entry) from the school I graduated from in 2001, William Paterson University of New Jersey.  As you can see from the images, that spirit of resistance and dedication to a cause is alive and well at my alma mater. It is particularly wonderful to see the familiar faces and hear the passionate voices of faculty members who played and continue to play a big role in helping me find my voice and choose my path as an activist-journalist.

ctrp313 The Era of Charter Schools

Charter schools in NYC are getting alot of attention over the past few years for the quality of education they are providing and the methods they use to do so. But what do we know about charter schools and how they function?

My guest today is Catherine Barufaldi of the Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. For just over 2 years now she has worked at a successful charter school and has a lot to say about what sets her school apart from traditional public school.  In this program she talks about her experience while also explaining what exactly is a charter school and what do they mean for the future of education in the US.