wasting bandwidth since 1999

Shut Down The Public Education System

Alvin Toffler has been working on the future for more than forty years. I’d bet that many people who wander through here have read his classic book Future Shock or have been influenced by his ideas.

So, according to Toffler, what’s the most pressing need in public education?

Shut down the public education system.

I’m roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”

Unlike many politicians, he admits to not having all the answers for building a modern education system but he does have some questions that need to be answered first.

Do I have all the answers for how to replace it? No. But it seems to me that before we can get serious about creating an appropriate education system for the world that’s coming and that these kids will have to operate within, we have to ask some really fundamental questions. And some of these questions are scary. For example: Should education be compulsory? And, if so, for who? Why does everybody have to start at age five? Maybe some kids should start at age eight and work fast. Or vice versa. Why is everything massified in the system, rather than individualized in the system? New technologies make possible customization in a way that the old system — everybody reading the same textbook at the same time — did not offer.

I suspect for many of us the questions are not half as scary as honest answers would be. Like this view of the teaching profession.

I think (and this is not going to sit very well with the union) that maybe teaching shouldn’t be a lifetime career. Maybe it’s important for teachers to quit for three or four years and go do something else and come back. They’ll come back with better ideas. They’ll come back with ideas about how the outside world works, in ways that would not have been available to them if they were in the classroom the whole time.

I’m not sure I’m ready to buy all of Toffler’s ideas but his fundamental point is an excellent one. The basic structure of what we call school has much wrong with it and needs a major overhaul, if not complete rebuilding.

However, more than anything else, we need to seriously reconsider what it means to be “well educated”, the purpose of school, and the role of teaching and learning in society.

I hope many edubloggers will read the article and toss their ideas into the mix. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue.

alvin toffler, future shock, education


  1. Stephen Downes

    Yeah well if you shut diwn the public school system then shut down the private school system as well. The problem with the system is not that it’s public but in the way it’s structured. And that structure includes both public and private schools.

    I also doubt that the unions would have any problem with the recommendation that teachers take a few years off. And I’m sure teachers would enjoy it. What probably bothers the unions most is being scapegoated in this way. The major barrier to innovation isn’t the teachers – it’s the politicians and the school boards.

  2. Techmuse

    I’ll certainly add that, minimally, we need to take a strong look at principals—they shouldn’t be “principals for life” but should move to the position and then back to the classroom……and, for me, at least, teaching will not be my only career.

  3. Stephanie Sandifer

    I have much more to add to this, but being completely bogged down with tons of work right now, will have to revisit this over the weekend.

    However, I do want want to make a very quick comment about the comments above regarding teachers and principals taking “time off”. I’ve read some interesting proposals — that I believe were in the process of being implemented (or at least planned) where school systems would do rotations for teachers and principals. If my memory serves me correctly, the rotations would work something like this:

    Principals required to teach full time in the classroom for a full year, every five years (so 5 on as admin, 1 on as teacher, then back to admin and repeated every 5 years)

    Teachers allowed every 4 or 5 years to spend one year out of the classroom as 1) an extern in another career field (to up-date knowledge about current skills and knowledge needed by the workforce so they could make connections in their curriculum) or 2) serve as an admin intern on their campus (or another campus) to get a feel for the admin side of running a school.

    If anyone is familiar with this type of professional development system, please tell us more about it.

  4. Gerald McMullin

    Very closely related to this is the recently released Skills Commission report entitled “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” It is worth a read. Download the Executive Summary at:

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