Customer Reviews: Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single)
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on September 13, 2012
Why School? is a superb summary of why schools need to be different. We now live in a world where the rule is abundance, not scarcity. Where teachers are from all around the world, not just in those buildings down the street. Where students can make and do and share, not just sit passively and regurgitate.

There are lots of insights in this short text. I read the entire book in a sitting of an hour or two. But the ideas within will last much, much longer...

A few quotes to whet your appetite:

1. "let's scrap open-book tests, zoom past open-phone tests asking Googleable questions, and advance to open-network tests that measure not just if kids answer a question well, but how literate they are at discerning good information from bad and tapping into the experts and networks that can inform those answers. This is how they'll take the real-life information and knowledge tests that come their way, and it would tell us much more about our children's preparedness for a world of abundance."

2. "Discovering the curriculum changes the teacher's role in the classroom. It becomes less about how well the teacher develops the lesson plan and what that teacher knows (though those ingredients are still important). Instead, they must inspire students to pursue their own interests in the context of the subject matter. Teachers need to be great at asking questions and astute at managing the different paths to learning that each child creates. They must guide students to pursue projects of value and help them connect their interests to the required standards. And they have to be participants and models in the learning process."

3. "'How do your teachers learn?' Most answers I get follow along traditional lines: 'They go to conferences.' 'They take after-school workshops.' 'They read books.' They see their teachers' learning as an event, not an ongoing process."

4. "We saved every bit of paper that came home in the Friday Folders that year, and they grew to a three-foot-high stack in the corner of our bedroom. It was an impressive collection of stuff that my kids never again looked at once it was added to the stack. Countless hours spent filling in those worksheet blanks, working those test problems, finishing off those projects, and Tess and Tucker had literally zero investment in any of it after their grades and our signatures were in place. Zero."

5. "I'd articulate the shift to teachers like this: Don't teach my child science; instead, teach my child how to learn science -- or history or math or music. With as many resources as they have available to them today (not to mention what they'll have tomorrow), kids had better know how."

Make school different. Start by reading this book. I've already ordered multiple copies as gifts for colleagues, friends, and family members, with plans to expand the circle even further. If you like this book - and you will - do the same for your own circles. And then start talking with each other about what school could (and should) be.

[Now if I only could get legislators to read this!]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 9, 2012
Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson

"Why School?" is an inspirational plea to a new vision of education that incorporates tools of learning that are all around us. The author's contention is that the current educational system does not adequately provide what our kids need to know and thus doing school "differently" is necessary. Educator, blogger and author Will Richardson, provides the reader with a brief different vision of doing school. This stimulating brief 51-page book is broken out into two main parts: Part I: Old School and Part II: New School.

1. Brief and to the point.
2. An important topic, a "different" education.
3. A brief book that is intended to inspire and whet your appetite. Mission accomplished.
4. The impact of abundance of information and how it relates to education.
5. A look at the old educational model and why it fails in preparing children for future success in a fast-changing world.
6. A policy paper by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) that lists the new set of 21st-century literacies for all readers and writers.
7. The contrast between the two very different visions for educational change. The first is about doing what we currently do "better". The second requires a fundamental revision of the value of school and the roles of teachers and classrooms.
8. Interesting and thought-provoking arguments, "What they don't tell you, by the way, is that we just looked at test results from U.S. kids living in high-income homes, we would be first in the world in just about every category. Our scores reflect our very deep issues with poverty, not inherent problems with schools."
9. The importance of discovery over delivery in education. "It's a kind schooling that prepares students for the world they live in, not the one in which most of us grew up."
10. The objectives and goals of the new school approach. The approach the steps to take.
11. The problems with standardized tests.
12. The six unlearning/relearning ideas for educators.

1. No formal bibliography or links to websites or blogs to access from Kindle.

In summary, this turned out to be quite an inspirational and compelling plea for a new approach in education. The author does a wonderful job of providing compelling arguments for a new or "different" vision of education. This brief book is quite quotable and the essence of it will stick with me. "Don't teach my child science; instead, teach my child how to learn science..." If you are looking for an educational appetizer, this is a sweet treat indeed. I highly recommend it!
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on April 15, 2013
The author's thesis is that education should be more open-ended: students should be more involved in choosing their goals; school work should require more skills than "look up facts on the Interent"; and, underneath it all, school should be arranged to bring out more engagement and commitment in students.

I like these ideas, but this essay did not support them well. It's long on rhetoric, tagging the approaches the author doesn't favor with negative descriptions and the approaches the author does favor with positive descriptions. And it's short on data. It's even short on anecdotes: there are only a handful of stories about students learning the "new way" and their projects. And the first, longest such story is about a student learning to play Minecraft -- that's not very appealing!

The thesis is fine, but more data, please.
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on December 19, 2012
I have a large interest in education and what works and what doesn't. This gives some very thought provoking information and in a short (60 pages or so) essay style of writing. My only issue with it was that his basis of his studies and thoughts were for advanced placement type students or others of this ilk. Probably great for them, but what about LD and children in poverty? Not going to work well for them. Read some of the other books on how children learn and how to ecducate them. We are using a 200 year old model without much thought to today's technology and all the tools available to our children. Use the resources available and not just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
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on September 29, 2012
I've read lots of "school needs to improve" books over the last decade or so. What happens is that they get bogged down in repeating the same problem with different verbiage over and over. It gets old and boring and I quit reading. Will went the right track with this text. He nails the issues at hand, offers a little commentary, and moves on. This is a quick, but insightful read for any person interested in making positive, proactive changes in their schools and classrooms. Keep in mind what you want for your own child as you read throughout. One of my favorite passages from the book:

"What doesn't work any longer is our education system's stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that's growing increasingly irrelevant to today's kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought."

I would postulate that the group who contends "if it was good enough for me when I was in school, then it's good enough for these kids" are the group causing all of the drop out issues we are facing today. The quote above describes the Industrial Revolution education systems that are still in use today in far too many places. It is that mindless, fact regurgitation system that bores kids and disconnects them from the love of learning new things they had as toddlers. Failure to adjust leads to failure to succeed.

Listening to politicians and big business has gotten us nowhere over the least several decades, unless you consider making the testing companies giant, rich automation factories. Take from this book and consider the part you can play in improving the education system. Quit letting others with their own special interests make the decisions for you.
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on September 16, 2012
Will Richardson has written one of the most thought-provoking essays on the direction schools should be taking. Scholars need to know HOW to access information and then critically review it, form ideas and share them in today's world of social media and technology. Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single)( is a short (14,000 word) essay, with a huge message.

How many 'educated' students, today, need to know the capital of Paraguay? And their # 1 export? That information can be found in an instant with Google. Today's learners need to know how to solve the problems facing us in the next 50 years. How are we going to save the environment? How are we going to provide enough fuel for everyone in the world, so they don't live in poverty?

Mr. Richardson addresses the need for group learning and sharing as the new paradigm for education. He makes a strong case against 'Core Curriculum' and using technology only to speed up the process of absorbing useless information.

If you are tired of 'Friday Folders' that show pages of "make-work" accomplished each week. Pages that will pile 3' high in the corner of the bedroom and then never be looked at again - Will Richardson has an honest, practical solution for the 21st Century that will make life-long learners and problem solvers from our children. Instead of College Graduates that can recite facts and make coffee @ StarBucks, but can't produce anything workable and useful. Richardson's followers will be happy and productive and will contribute to the world. Not just caffeinate it.

A 'Must Read" for any parent who cares where their child, and our society is headed.
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on May 29, 2015
So much of what Will Richardson says here is right on target.

But I do not understand his problem with the "Gupta" question.

To me, it seems like a rather good (not perfect) question.

What? Really? You think that's a good question? Why on earth would someone want our kids to know something like that?

Well, because I believe it is important for our kids to know something about the history of India (a nation of more than a billion -- and growing by the second. A vast market? A formidable competitor? A country with nuclear weapons? All of the above?)

So, yes, I think it's good for our kids to know a bit about Indian history, just as I think it's good for Indian kids to know a bit about our history.

And if you know anything about Indian history, you will probabably associate the Gupta Empire with India. Kind of like if you have a rudimentary knowledge of American history, you will at least vaguely associate Abraham Lincoln with America.

And how about the monsoon part of the question?

That's equally important. It is vital for students to have a basic understanding of global climate and how powerfully it can influence the course of history. Regardless of which side of the "climate change" debate you come down on, I suggest that if you don't have at least a basic understanding of global climate, it might be better for you to keep your mouth shut. (Yes, Senator Inhofe, I'm talking to you.)

A student with a rudimentary knowledge of India might not remember details such as, "The monsoon accounts for 80% of the rainfall in India[citation needed]. Indian agriculture (which accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs 70% of the population) is heavily dependent on the rains, for growing crops" (thank you, Google and Wikipedia).

No, a student might not remember that kind of detailed information. Nonetheless, a student who has learned a bit about India or about global climate might vaguely remember that the monsoon is important to India.

Put the two bits of knowledge tegether (Gupta-India, India-monsoon), and you'll likely be able to select the correct answer.

So, unlike Richardson, I would suggest that the arcane nature of this bit of knowledge is precisely what makes the question so powerful.

No one expects our kids to "know/have studied" the Gupta Empire in detail. (I would guess that most kids living in India haven't studied how the monsoon influenced the Gupta Empire).

Yet if you know just a bit about India and global climate, you can probably figure out the answer to this seemingly crazy question.

But what if you know all about the Gupta Empire but are kind of sketchy on the monsoon bit. In that case, might the question make you look ignorant when, in fact, you are very knowledgeable about one half of the information?

Yes, that's one problem with the question. But there are many sources of knowledge that you could draw upon. A novel you have read. A movie you have seen. A news article you have stumbled upon.

Or, for example, you may have come in contact with (become friends with?) someone outside your "clan," and, through this friendship (yeah, with the guy who talks funny and works at the local Quik Stop -- or just as likely at one of our cutting-edge tech firms (maybe Google or Qualcom?), you may have learned that Gupta is a not-uncommon Indian name.

You may also know something about the etymology of words, and you might know that the first English use of the word monsoon referred to the rainy season in India.

Once again, when confronting the "Gupta question," you can use a very diverse knowledge base to come up with the same correct answer.

It doesn't really matter how you come up with the information. Textbook. Novel. Movie. Teacher. Google. Friends (Facebook or real). What's important is that you have at least a basic understanding of India and its climate.

For that matter while you were struggling to learn Minecraft, perhaps you struck up an online friendship with someone who actually lives in India. And if so, the best thing about your experience may not have been learning how to build that Minecraft castle on a hill. It may have been getting to know a person who helped you answer a question that left your school teachers stumped.

The Gupta question?

A pretty good one, if you ask me.

A good question is vital. If you ask the wrong question or, perhaps, ask the right question in a wrong way, even the best answer you get may lead to trouble. Just think how many lives (and billions of dollars) might have been saved if, instead of asking "Is Saddam H. building weapons of mass destruction?, we had, instead, asked, "Is the intelligence we are gathering really accurate?"

In my opinion, school should not be about learning how to give the right answer; rather, it should be about learning how to ask the right question.

Richardson's question: Why School?

Richardson's answer? Well I didn't give a "spoiler alert," so I won't give that away. But it's to be found at Loc 600 of 620. (Does anyone else miss page numbers?)

Anyhow, I look forward to reading more by Richardson. I hope the next question he asks is "How School?"
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on December 5, 2012
I agree with the author on many points. The world has changed, but the American educational system does not reflect this vast change. The internet has brought to the world what the printing press brought but on a larger scale: information available like never before. This does mean students who want to be globally competitive will need to know what to do with that information to make it optimally valuable. How do schools get there? He gives a few good examples, like a science teacher who engages his students to create a biofuel generator to satisfy science curriculum requirements, yet solve a real life problem. There are other models of programs out there that model these skills for children, most notably in my mind is a collaboration between Lego corporation and FIRST that teaches kids and their adult mentors all of these skills. Integrating these types of programs into schools would go a long way toward addressing the needs he clearly articulates. BTW: Lego is privately held and FIRST is a primarily volunteer run nonprofit, so I have no financial interest... in case anyone is wondering.
My only concern for his arguments is that it seemed he was at times implying that because information is constantly changing and can be easily pulled up on Wikipedia or some place, it's ok to not "learn" material. I believe it is crucial for students to have a solid understanding on many different topics with the understanding that things do change. Having a good working memory filled with relevant facts can be useful in making sound decisions. Potentially being dependent on online information at all times leaves kids vulnerable to unreliable information without a way to discern the truth. As the author also states, there is plenty out there not worth reading. I also believe kids need to understand how and why things have changed, as part of being educated or being able to be re-educated. If you don't have a base of understanding you may just accept "facts" as just being the way it is and always will be. Nothing should be blindly accepted as dogma.
However, overall it is a quick read worth reading.
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on March 25, 2013
After retirement, I enrolled in a teacher certification program and was put in a middle school classroom from the first day. I loved my subject and enjoyed the kids but eventually dropped out because I couldn't abide the daily wasted time and opportunities. Our current school system is so inefficient and our kids' time is so wasted!

I often wished I could have just five of my "gifted slackers" for a half-day, instead of the 41 kids x 5 classes a day. Add the self-management required of learning on-line and those kids would all be genius ready to tackle anything.

This is a thoughtful, solution-oriented single well worth reading.
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on September 17, 2012
"In times of great Change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will be beautifully equipped for a world which no longer exists."
I read these words to my students the morning after I finished reading "Why Schools?" and the resulting looks on the faces of my students was one I will never forget. This book will change the conversation from one of test scores and common core to creativity and self-determination. Not only is this a book for teachers and administrators, but it is one that students and parents everywhere should be reading and then USING as they discuss the education they want for themselves and their children,

Richardson is articulate without being overbearing and his advice is practical and that which we can grasp and implement on the local level to begin grassroots changes in our classrooms and schools. It is a book you will want to share and discuss!
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