Education is at best a thorny subject. I grew up going though the English Grammar School system in the 1960’s, every subject had been de-humanized to the level where everything was boring and seemed to have little connection to the real world. Math was reduced to problems involving what would happen if you turned the faucets on and forgot to put the drain plug in the bath tub. Of course sensible answers like “Sir, I would either put the plug in, or if I could not find it, I would turn the faucets off” immediately received a swift and usually painful administering of ‘Education’.

At no point could I relate to what was being jammed into my mind. In a few short years I lost my love of reading, I quite honestly hated ripping a book apart for the ‘deeper meaning’. Was it not possible that the author was merely writing a story? All in all, I class my school experience as a hugely disappointing and frustrating period of my life.

When I became a father, I found that although the techniques has changed, the laying scheme had not. We moved to San Diego, and the school was a scant two blocks from our house. My wife and I made an appointment to enroll our two kids. Can they come home for lunch? Was the question. The principal laughed, oh no, if we allowed that, half the kids would not come back!

The School system is maybe the most vital building block of our society, it is the place where our future leaders must go, it is the place that even the folks flipping burgers must go.

Is there an alternative?

Rick Posner suggests that there is. Lives Of Passion takes us into the world of Alternative Schools. A movement that he became involved in in the 1970’s, and has remained in. Rick Posner uses the term Open School, it is a fitting term. Rather than having a strict curriculum, teachers are open to ideas. This method in teaching was, and indeed is viewed with criticality from some. Yet, for a proportion of kids it has proved to be highly effective.

One major gripe that I have heard, and indeed have also said over the years is how unsuited recent school and college graduates are for today’s work force. The employer must invest time and money in ‘beating’ the school mentality out of these people. The Open School system is much more vocational in its approach, and its syllabus much more flexible. For example, if a student expresses interest in a specific industry then efforts are made to obtain internships.

The goal is to have a young person who can be productive on day one of employment.

The No Child Left Behind initiative has in many ways become a victim of the law of unintended consequences. While well meaning in intent, the result has created an even worse overall system. As Rick Posner points out:

As school systems scramble to adapt to the strictures of federally and state mandated student achievement tests, the real purpose of education becomes lost, subordinated to the One Big Test Score and academic achievement.

Any subject outside of the core slips by the wayside, Arts, Social Studies, Physical Education, and maybe most significant of all Social Skills. Making them even less suited to life in the real world!

Rick Posner also points out that although the teaching methods may be unorthodox, they are highly effective, in a poll of ex-students over 90% had attended college, and 85% had obtained a degree. This is far higher than the national average.

Rick Posner makes a convincing argument for this type of alternative learning tool. In fact I can sum up this entire book with a quote that used from William Butler Yeats:

Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire!

I found Lives Of Passion to be a very thought provoking book. One that deserves to be read, and the ideas to be considered. The approach may not be suited to all kids, but it certainly works for a percentage.

I began this review with a brief description of my High School days, I will conclude on that note. Career Counseling was nil, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do work wise, and had no practical skills. Sure, I knew a vast array of ‘stuff’ including Latin, but was not much call for schoolboy Latin in the work force. The ability to translate ‘The Romans have long spears’ into ‘Romanus longus fluvus’ (or something similar) did not seem a particularly useful talent.

My own personal epiphany came as a result of my parents running a village pub, more importantly the Bed and Breakfast aspect. A guest that had been staying with us accidentally (on purpose) left a copy of an IBM Fortran Programming manual. I read it cover to cover and I was hooked! In 1972 there were no college courses in computers, few people even knew what one looked like, never mind what they did! Why hadn’t my school told me about this wonderful career direction?

That one single conversation with a visiting scientist and him leaving a book resulted in a 35 year career in the computer world. I like to refer to this as ‘practical’ education not ‘Theoretical’ education.

I strongly urge everyone to read Lives Of Passion, you can order your copy from Amazon.

Simon Barrett

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