Beyond School is not a curriculum, or a method.
It’s a philosophy of integrated education that transcends time and space providing a framework; within which individuals create learning pathways that meet their needs now, and for the future.
The primary shortcoming of our current system of institutional education is that it was designed for a particular moment in time and it does not address the continuous evolution of humanity, the world that we are living in now, or that is emerging ahead of us. Infrastructure built to serve the era of the Industrial Revolution has proven itself woefully inadequate in preparing people for the real world of work and life in the explosion of the Tech Revolution, not to mention whatever is coming next. This spring, when COVID-19 ground the wheels of the educational establishment to a halt, the failures and limitations of the school system were thrown into the spotlight and people who had never previously considered alternatives started asking, “Is there a better way?”
Before we can step forward it helps to look back.
Often when people convene to talk about “education” they are limited by the framework that has constrained the last few generations of students. But our modern systems of education are only the most recent development in an experiment with mass schooling. Over the long arc of human history, people were most often socialized and educated within family and community groups with a heavy emphasis on the practical skills they would need to succeed and build upon the success of their progenitors. Before the nineteenth century, education was highly individualized, specific, and organized locally. The system wasn’t equitable. It wasn’t suited to the explosion of technology and progress of the industrial revolution. And it was limited to the knowledge available within a community.
The big win of the adoption of mass schooling was the preparation of a homogenous workforce with the skills adequate to the technological leap of the industrial revolution. The education system fueled the industrial and economic explosion. Public schools, for the first time, created opportunity across the economic and ability spectrum and created a ladder for education and advancement that previously didn’t exist.
But while the world and technology continued to evolve forward, the education system became sloth in a race with cheetahs.
The system we are left with is preparing kids for a world that hasn’t existed in decades.
The Millennials and Gen Z are living examples of the struggle in early adulthood when it becomes clear that the social compact of the educational system you were raised in simply can’t deliver once you hit the real world.
Today, we find ourselves in a world where public education and most versions of mass schooling are, with the best of intentions, failing the students they have a mandate to serve. What schools teach and how they teach it has failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing real world needs of humanity.
Rather than trying to “fix” education, we’re at a point in history where reimagining it from the ground up is both possible and the most promising solution.
The fundamental question we must first ask is: What is the purpose of education?
The answer to this question must stand the test of time and space, because learning is happening everywhere, and it is happening always.
The purpose of education is certainly NOT to download a particular content block of academic knowledge to a student. Everything we need to know is now at our fingertips and on demand through the magic of the internet. “Hey Siri…”
This means that any “curriculum” we develop is outmoded almost the instant that it’s implemented. The most technologically forward facing curriculum delivered to a middle school student today will be laughably antiquated by the time they graduate from high school.
So, what then should we be teaching? What is the purpose of education in a post industrial world?
At Beyond School, we believe that there are Six Pillars of an Integrated Education that stand the test of time and that should be the focus of any education:
The Six Pillars of an Integrated Education are:
- Critical thinking
- Practical skills
- Philosophical reasoning
- Self management
- How to learn
In order to determine whether these are accurate let’s ask three questions:
- Where these pillars true to an education 1000 years ago?
- Do these pillars hold up now?
- Will the unforeseeable advances of the future still rest comfortably on these pillars?
Everything we learn fits within one of these six pillars, and within those pillars exist another six “learning tracks” that add breadth and depth to the pillars themselves and the life built upon them. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)
This is where modern education is falling short.
The focus is so heavily on developing the right curriculum or body of content to deliver to students, en masse, that we are neglecting whole person development that will allow learners to adapt and grow forward even after the particular body of knowledge has become obsolete.
The path forward isn’t to ensure that every child can quote the same passage from Shakespeare, manipulate geometric formulas, or even code in the most recent language.
The path forward is in equipping people, young and old, with the mental, emotional, and social skills required to acquire and manipulate any body of knowledge they need to build forward, as individuals and as part of the collective.
Acknowledging that what an individual needs to learn is going to be affected by WHEN they are learning, WHERE they are learning, and their particular stage of life; but everything we need to learn at any given stage fits into one or more of the pillars of an education.
Within these pillars exist six other segments, or learning tracks, if you will, that cover the breadth of human experience over a lifetime.
The Learning Tracks are:
- Building Blocks of Knowledge
- Business & Career
- Money & Finance
- Self Development
- Health & Wellness
Within each of these learning tracks also exist all six pillars of education.
The pillar of Critical Thinking, for example, will involve learning the building blocks of HOW to think critically, and the use of critical thinking as it applies to how a person leads (a family, business, community, or simply their own lives). it will directly apply to business and career development and will be a factor in managing money and finance according to the individuals goals. Critical thinking will also be central to making choices about self management and one’s role in community and managing physical and mental wellness.
Conversely, within the Learning Track of Money & Finance, for example, a person needs to learn to think critically, based on their philosophical understanding of the world and economies, and they must learn the practical skills of economic management. Thus allowing them to develop the kind of life and impact they wish to have upon humanity which flows from their own self management of their finances as they continue to learn and grow forward to adapt to the changes across the arc of their lifetime.
We believe that these intertwined pillars and learning tracks are at the core of a successful and ongoing education.
They have very little to do with WHAT is taught within the framework, and everything to do with HOW and WHY we choose to teach, or learn, a particular body of knowledge at a particular time.
The current system has a disproportionate emphasis on practical skills (the WHAT we are learning). This is, perhaps, the least important aspect of an education.
WHAT a person learns varies wildly based on where they are in history.
Use of a slide rule was an essential mathematical skill in the 1950’s, most students had never even heard of one, fifty years later.
WHAT a person learns varies wildly based on where they are in the world.
French is essential where I live in Canada. Less so where I live in Guatemala.
WHAT a person learns is highly variable depending on when in their lifespan they are learning.
A three year old is developing different Building Blocks of Knowledge than a thirty year old is.
This is why one-size fits all education never has.
A focus on well defined curriculum blocks will always fail, because it cannot ever prepare a person for the future that awaits them.
A focus on the Pillars of Education allows us to stack whatever particular body of content that is useful, timely, and applicable to our particular place in time, space, and life stage and continue to build a foundation that will both serve us now and allow us to grow into the future.
What Does Getting Beyond School Look Like?
There is a third path emerging, between industrial mass schooling, and the Lone Ranger approach of exclusive homeschooling, fueled by technology, that allows students to forge highly individual educational paths within communities, both in the real and virtual worlds. Beyond School.
Rather than school being a training ground for the “real world,” education happens through immersion in the real world.
Instead of contrived lessons focused successfully clearing imaginary hurdles in standardized testing, meaningful project based learning leads naturally towards outcomes based measurements that have tangible value in the world right now.
Students of all ages are simultaneously gathering the knowledge they need for the future while having a meaningful impact on their present world.
Imagine a class of students, spread across the globe, who have self selected into a group focused on solving a real world problem, like plastics in the ocean, or energy efficiency, or the language barrier. Irrespective of age.
For the first time in the history of the world, this isn’t a pipe dream. It’s not only possible, it’s Tuesday afternoon in a world beyond school, for people of all ages. This conference is exhibit A.
For young learners:
This might mean a greater emphasis on self-direction in both educational choices and self development in general. Getting outside of the age segregated, gatekeeper models of learning and embracing the world as a classroom with learning happening everywhere and always.
For adult learners:
This might mean a self-forged path to career change, or a refocus in the post COVID work world. When future facing companies like Google and Apple publicly announce that they no longer require a college degree for new hires, the handwriting is on the wall of an antiquated system.
This might mean stepping into the drivers seat of their children’s educations and co-creating individual paths that support the passions and purposes unique to each child. We’re working with a broad spectrum of families creating hybrid and totally unique world class educations for their children.
For the educational establishment:
This might mean shifting the paradigm and practice away from the “tried and true” models of education and an openness to reimagining what a modern real world educational structure might look like. The sooner the better.
At Beyond School, we’re building the school of the future.
We’re partnering world class subject matter experts with self directed learners to forge paths as individual and inspiring as the humans crafting them.
We’re creating a framework where educators can innovate and iterate, free from the shackles of an outmoded system.
We’re creating a collaborative educational environment where learning is happening everywhere and learning is happening always. In the real world. For now, and the future.