Here is the gem I took from David Warlick’s Keynote “Derailing Education“. Warlick is referring to Friedman‘s ‘Experts’ and ‘Adaptable People’… from The World Is Flat.

“These are the kinds of people that need to be coming out of our classrooms, people who know how to make themselves an expert and people who can learn, and unlearn, and relearn very easily.

“This is why the foundation of education systems today should not be the rails, but it should be the side trips. It should not be the central standard curriculum, but it should be those directions that students, that learners, both teachers and students, can navigate to on their own. We have the ability to do that today.

I really like what Warlick says here, and as a classroom teacher I know how much fun those ‘side trips’ can be. A great metaphor here, on the theme of learners navigating on their own, is the teacher as the compass. We point in a direction, (not necessarily the direction that the student is going), and we are a reference point or guide to the learning. As students sail (rather than ride the rails) they must choose their destination, (what they want to learn), and tack and adjust their path as they go… using the teacher as a compass that keeps them on their ‘learning’ course.


  • Students and teachers need to know how to sail- they need to be literate in these new ways of learning and communicating. They must be adaptable, willing to course-correct as they go.
  • Students and teachers need to seek out other sailors- communities of learners, online this too could be considered a literacy issue . (Note my last blog.)
  • Students must bring their own sails- and not all sails are created equally, the metaphor can work with sails being competency (skills), motivation, handicaps (the ability to function physically, emotionally, intellectually (not everyone has the same sized sail), and technically (the ‘new’ literacy issue again)).
  • Teachers need to let students steer- it will take a while for many teachers to give up the steering wheel and become the compass.
  • Teachers need to be ‘useful’ compasses- “Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the Moon” comes to mind here… also think of using technology for learning rather than using technology to teach. If students steer themselves, they will take us into uncharted water, and we need to be able to point the way even when we may not know the best course of action. (It isn’t about ‘right’ answers, it is about the journey- this goes back to Warlick’s [or rather Toffler’s] idea that learners (students and teachers) need to learn, unlearn and relearn all the time.
  • Schools provide the boats, (and some have holes!)- resources, technology, and structure. You can also think of the boats as the curriculum, the (way too big) frame used to support (or should I say slow down) the learning.

OK, so I may have gone a little too far with the metaphor. However it makes the point that there are a lot of challenges to providing a meaningful education in this day and age. Having said that, I am keenly aware that it is my practice, my willingness to be a lifelong learner, and my knowledge of how and where to ‘point’ that limits what can happen in my classroom.

Consider this: Ten years ago I could only type using the ‘hunt and peck’ approach. Six years ago I had an Apple Macintosh, with turtle-slow internet access, in my classroom. Less than a year ago I had never built a web page. I still struggle with a lot of the terminology at sites like Techcrunch, and it still takes me over an hour of tinkering to do something any ‘techie’ could do in 20 minutes.

The learning curve is huge, and the gap of what I know and what I need to know is growing exponentially. The fact is, teachers are no longer capable of being the ‘keepers’ and ‘distributors’ of knowledge. In fact, our generation of teachers are less equipped than students to keep up. I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives.

In late March of this year I started on this website with a blog titled The purpose of a system is what it does. But our current system is currriculum driven, and it can be difficult to take side trips, (in fact it is outright impossible in some of the advanced classes with Provincial Exams). However, if we really want our students to be the future Experts and Adaptable ‘sailors’ of the world, then not only do we need to stay abreast of the ‘new literacy’ but the structures in our classrooms, and our schools need to change.

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On a related topic, Warlick’s ideas about Geography changing is also good. Marcie T. Hull does a succinct summary of Geography becoming more like time.

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A well said rant on the problems with rote learning and why we need creative thinkers:

Why Malaysia needs creative thinkers

by: Suresh Gnasegarah

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Jan. 17th, ’07 – I found a wonderful post by Subbaraman Iyer:

The education and learning approaches

The Education paradigm emphasizes acquiring a body of knowledge, “right” information, once and for all.

The Learning paradigm emphasizes on learning how to learn, how to ask good questions, pay attention to the right things, be open to evaluating new concepts and having access to information. It emphasizes the importance of context.

The Education approach is to treat learning as a product, a destination; and the learning approach is to treat learning as a process or a journey

The Education approach consists of a relatively rigid structure and a standard curriculum and a prescribed approach to teach, whereas the learning approach consists of a relatively flexible curriculum and belief that there are many different was to teach a given subject.

(I want to quote the whole post!)…Read the rest of this at his site!

Originally posted: November 11th, 2006

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

I’ll add just one more aspect to my sailing metaphor: Standardized testing is the anchor we are dragging behind us!

It was for this post that I created the quote: “I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives.” I’ve used it, dissected it, rejected it, and come back to it since.

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