Education From the Ground Up

I have once again received a very interesting query from a reader.  The blog will be on hiatus until January 9, so you’ll have lots of time to think about it and respond!  Jan Simpson would like to know: if you had to design an education system from scratch, how would you do it?

Here, in more detail, is his question.

It’s the present day, the year 2011. Everything is the way it is. However, there is no existing educational system whatsoever anywhere in the world. It is up to you to create a form of education for at least 500 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 20.

Here is my request: How would you go about creating a new educational system for those “students?” In other words, if you are the first person to create and establish the first educational system in the world, what would that look like?

Keep in mind, there isn’t any sort of education that had been created beforehand; you are the first person to wrap your mind around the basic principles of education and create a system or model where those principles can be taught and learned.

Feel free to post a brief response or a lengthy treatise in the comments section below.  If you’d prefer to contact Jan directly with a long reply, you can click on his name at the beginning of this post to go to his Gravatar profile and find his contact details.  However, I’m sure we’d all be interested to read your thoughts here, no matter how long or short they may be!


Have a great winter holiday.  Eat lots of food!  Go for long walks!  Spend at least two days not thinking about teaching!  And when you ARE thinking about teaching … well, if you’ve gotten behind on your Classroom as Microcosm reading and commenting, now would be a great time to get caught up.

See you in January, when I will will start the year with a recap of the top posts of 2011 and with a list of my favourite books of the year.


12 thoughts on “Education From the Ground Up

  1. If I had to create a school system for teenagers, it would be a bit more loosely based off of a collegiate style education system. I think if we can offer dual credit classes or AP classes, then we ought to be able to get every kid on the track to doing things. I knnow you said remember there is no system already in place, but that helped me keep this post a bit shorter


  2. What an interesting question/idea! Though mine is not a comprehensive response, it would be ideal for the educational setting to return to a time, where respect was more than a word in the dictionary: genuine respect for the teachers; a healthy respect for the profession, so the teachers would be given just compensation for their services; and, a high regard for promoting classrooms and hallways that enhanced an environment cultivating responsble and respectful behavior/attitudes in our young people towards learning, and interacting with their peers and teachers.

    Again, a great question. Safe and Happy Holidays!


  3. Hmm…in my educational system:

    (1) The Core Curriculum everyone learns centers on unvarnished History (world and local), Logic and Critical Reasoning, Writing and Composition, Literature (broadly conceived), Arithmetic, and local (i.e., specific to their country) Government.

    (2) In addition to the Core, students select from among specialized Tracks, which prepare them either for (a) advanced study in a specific field, or (b) a specific profession (in partnership with local businesses employing that profession, if available).

    (3) No grades are issued for classes or coursework; coursework is evaluated as either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory, each with suggestions for individual improvement. Similarly, one earns either a ‘Satisfactory’ or ‘Unsatisfactory’ for the course itself, which includes a detailed analysis of the student’s performance in lieu of a grade.

    (4) The material that the instructors are required to cover in each class is relatively modest, designed to take up no more than 3/4ths of overall instructional time; the remaining 1/4th is intended to be filled with course-relevant material of the instructors’ choice. Course emphasis is on cultivating critical and narrative understanding of the material; no standardized tests are employed.

    (5) All classes are team taught by two instructors for several reasons: (a) this allows for more objective analysis of student performance, (b) reduces the workload on each individual instructor, (c) allows for easier classroom management, and (d) gives each student different yet expert perspectives on the course material.

    (6) Instructor evaluation is completed for each course based on periodic class observation by (a) the department head and her or his assistants in conjunction with (b) the report of one’s co-instructor. Instructor’s are rated as either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory for each course, with analysis of strengths and weaknesses; no instructor is otherwise privy to the content of the reports garnered from (a) and (b) in order to protect the integrity of the report created by one’s co-instructor. Student evaluations are not used.

    That’s all I can think of at the moment…


  4. I agree with everything Asur said, but I’d add a few things. (I am not a teacher, but work as a probation officer, so I view the educational system from a different angle.)

    1) Small classroom sizes. All special ed students have a maximum of 8 kids in a class. All other students have a maximum of 15.
    2) The disciplinary system consists of appropriate measures. For example, if you forget your homework, you don’t get a zero. You get an extra assignment to prove that you know that material.
    3) Expulsion is not an option. Ever. NO child is ever denied an education.
    4) Parents are required to have monthly contact with teachers.
    5) Teachers with poor performance are required to go through a re-training experience. Another teacher will come into their classroom and help them to become a better teacher.


  5. I often imagined what if I were stranded somewhere with a group of people, that each person would have valuable knowledge and skills to contribute. I would find out what each person knew about and design classes for the others around what each person could teach. I think you could get a pretty good education program that way for the stranded survivors and their children.


  6. This is a VERY interesting post! I’ll give it some thought after reading all the comments so I can gather some ideas and improve mine and I’ll post my response as soon as possible.

    Keep up the good work, Siobhan! =)


  7. If I were creating an education system, The goal would not to learn any subject or profession, but rather to understand the art of learning itself. It would lead people inside themselves to give them access to true creativity and would not be based on what is already done. I would move away from the traditional classroom/teacher style to a library/mentor style. Where students have access to many sources of information and also to a mentor that understands well how to learn. Love the question! I just recently dropped out because I don’t like the system now. read my story at


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