In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?


JP Rangaswarmi  wrote a post about Us Now, a one-hour documentary by Ivo Gormley about participative citizenship, mass collaboration and the internet, and their implications on government as we know it.

The Us Now website links to the thinkers asked to determine the opportunity for government in the radical new models of social organisation. Some of these are George Osbourne, Ed Milliband, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirky.

It’s interesting to follow the new democracy that online social organisations have opened up. More than interesting. As stated in the Us Now website, ‘In a world in which information is like air, who has the power?’

The Us Now blog includes interesting information by Paul Miller from the School of Everything. The School of Everything is a social learning network that connects people who can teach with people who want to learn.

Having been led to read about the School of Everything, and linked to Wikinomics through Paul Miller, I started to think about how, on the whole, we accept schools as the way to go with learning and trust them with our kids. My father, who completed his school education at the age of  14 so that he could get a trade and contribute to family finances, revered Education as a hallowed institution. Throughout my schooling, though, he had moments of disillusionment when I was unable to understand the politics in the TV news report, when I was useless at practical things or what he termed as ‘common sense’, or when I started philosophy and started questioning whether the table was really there. My own experiences as a parent saw me disillusioned at times when my older son was told to dumb down by the primary school psychologist so that he could more easily fit in, and even now, fighting  frustration when my younger son is instructed not to cut and paste, but to use his own words in a project that simply asks for basic facts about a country.

I have friends who have home schooled their children. Is this an option? Hasn’t  home tutoring been one of the ways to educate young people throughout history? And yet, these options have always made me nervous. Maybe because I was told my children would be socially impaired without normal social contact with their peers. Or maybe simply because it wasn’t the norm, and therefore frightening.

I’ve just had a conversation about this and alternative schooling with my older son who has completed year 12 recently. He’s a good example of a passionately curious child who stood out from ‘normal’ children and suffered for it in his primary years, but eventually toned down to fit in. It was interesting to see him become defensive and uncomfortable when I mentioned the School of Everything and questioned the relevance of traditional schooling.

No, you can’t have that, he protested.

Why  not? 

Well, it’s not all about learning of content, it’s about being with people and learning from them.

Who said that an alternative or online learning program excluded face to face contact or social opportunities?

OK, well, you can’t just do your own thing. You have to learn that not everything in life is interesting.

Tell me, how many teachers did you find boring and unengaging, and how much of your schooling have you retained or found valuable in life?

(squirm) But you can’t have life without suffering. You need to learn to cope with disillusionment and disengagment. You can’t totally remove it.

I’m not going to unpack this. I’m just going to ask you to give me your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?”

  1. Your conversation with your son became a conversation about your goals and his (not about education). You thought you were asking about his. He knew you were talking about yours.

    Thanks for the linkes.

    1. Maybe. Not sure if I’ve understood you.
      Still, I showed your comment to him, and we went back and defined our concepts of education and schooling. We agreed on many things. I agreed with him that it was important to go out of the family home for education and socialise with peers and others. He agreed that you should have that as well as good, authentic and engaging learning experiences.

  2. Hi Tsheko –

    Dougald here, one of the School of Everything co-founders. I found this fascinating, especially the conversation you describe with your son. And I’m not clear that it’s as simple as whose goals you were talking about – although looking back to my teens (from the grand old age of 31!), I think I interpreted most of what my parents said in terms of what direction they were trying to steer me in.

    I was the kind of kid who couldn’t tone down if I tried – not a comfortable situation, growing up in a small town in the north east of England. Even so, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realised I had to make some choices between doing my own thing and the models of success which school, university and careers advisors had to offer. That I had the confidence to go off in my own direction, leaving behind the beginnings of a succesful career, owed a lot to my parents’ quiet scepticism about such models (and how little they had actually tried to steer me in any particular direction).

    The American essayist Ran Prieur has some harsh things to say about the effects of schooling:

    “When you were three years old, if your parents weren’t too bad, you knew how to play spontaneously. Then you had to go to school, where everything you did was required. The worst thing is that even the fun activities, like singing songs and playing games, were commanded under threat of punishment. So even play got tied up in your mind with a control structure, and severed from the life inside you…”


    From my experience, there’s considerable truth in that, and it takes time to find your way back to spontaneity. I’m certainly still working on it!

    I’ve been playing with the idea recently of a campaign to encourage teenagers to think twice about going to university. Not because I think it’s a bad thing to do – but because there seems to be very little opportunity for young people to think about why they are going, whether it’s the best thing for them, or how many other paths there can be through life (including going to university later, when you’ve found your own reason to do so).

    Anyway, it’s good to hear that School of Everything is provoking thoughts and conversations like this. And I’d be interested to hear more of your son’s side of the story.

  3. Dougald, I appreciate you taking the time to leave your comment here.
    When I watch pre-schoolers, I see wonderful spontaneity which is unique to them. Somehow things that stand out about small children are often lost in growing up, and some of it may be upbringing and school, some of it may be inevitable. I do believe that education can maintain that openness and spontaneity in children without leading to chaos and lack of discipline. I think it’s more about keeping the fire alive, and the order and sameness of school sometimes puts this out. Boredom too.

    I think it’s interesting and encouraging to see people like you thinking about and offering options to the unchallenged norms. I don’t think you’re alone in wanting these. I’d like to see more discussion around these, although at the same time, I wouldn’t be encouraging my sons to rethink teritary education unless there was something to replace it.

  4. Hi Tsheko –

    Thanks for your reply. I’m conscious of the danger of simply sounding negative about existing educational structures, and not offering constructive alternatives. And your last comment brings things into focus – there’s a huge difference between talking theoretically about education and having to think how best to advise your own children.

    I was still thinking about this yesterday, when I came across a couple of interesting posts suggesting alternatives to university. I blogged about those last night:

    I guess I have two sets of questions (which I’ll pick up on in future posts):

    – do we need something to “replace” tertiary education, in the sense of alternative institutional provision? or might it be possible to gain an education outside of an institutional environment, by seeking out people, resources and opportunities?

    – is the expectation that university is a place you go at 18 or 19 a good idea? wouldn’t it be better to make it a place you go when you’ve got a reason to go there, with no particular pressure about what stage in life that should be?

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