Education - Ideas and Principles

by Duane Bristow

We learn from teachers who tell us.
We learn from discussions with our peers.
We learn from our life experiences.
We learn from independent research inspired by our curiosity
We learn from our inner reflections on what we have learned elsewhere.

If you teach me, I will forget.
If you show me, I may remember.
If you involve me, I will understand.
Step back, and I will Act!

Education is not about filling buckets.
It is about lighting fires!
William Butler Yeats

We must replace teachers with learning facilitators

The student must want to learn.

The first project is to instill in students the importance and value of learning about various subjects.

First should be the subjects in which the student already has an interest.

Next should be interesting introductions to additional subjects to which the student has not been properly exposed.

Then should come providing the tools and the environment necessary for the student to learn at his own pace advancing only when he has met certain learning goals. This process should emphasize formulating questions to be answered about the subject material, research on the internet and elsewhere and especially finding resources including web sites and videos by experts in the field and then drawing conclusions and using communication methods such as speech, writing, creating web pages and videos to demonstrate mastery of the material.

Use of internships and lab work and simulators should be integrated into the educational process. The learning process should also include group learning with many, if not most, projects involving small groups of students usually from two to six.

Education in tolerance, perspective, science, math and life skills should be emphasized.

The object of education is to produce an adult who loves learning and who has certain core skills and knowledge needed for a happy life and to function in society.

An excellent education is essential to each of us as individuals and to our children. It is only though education that we can achieve all that we are capable of achieving and have as happy and fulfilling a life as possible. Education is necessary to gain economic independence, philosophical value systems, and cultural appreciation.

An excellent educational system is also essential to our nation. The strength of a democracy is dependent on intelligent informed voters and skillful, well-trained workers.

Traditional educators, classrooms, and brick-and-mortar schools are no longer necessary to access information. Instead, things like blogs and wikis, as well as remote collaborations and an emphasis on 'critical thinking' skills are the new needed skills.

We now live in a world where the rule is abundance of information, not scarcity. Where teachers are from all around the world, not just in those buildings down the street. Where students can make and do and share, not just sit passively and regurgitate. There should be more emphasis on lab work, and simulators and real world experience.

Change the emphasis of school to how to find information and evaluate it and integrate it into an existing framework of knowledge and philosophy and world view. Teachers should instill in students the value of learning the subject and help them to develop and flesh out their own interests and integrate those into a set of required standards. Teachers should be those who ignite an interest in learning the subject and then become guides and facilitators to the student's own interests and efforts.

Research skills and writing and other communication skills are essential once interest has been developed. Survey the field, formulate a question, research what is available, review and outline, write an answer to the formulated question.

For most kids choosing a career path in the first or second year of high school and then working toward that with a program of studies and of internships or apprenticeships with businesses or institutions in the field followed in most cases by technical school or vocational school or community colleges would be more successful than encouraging too many who do not have the interest or aptitude to get a four year college degree.

A student's description of a school of the future:

I go to school each day. My teacher doesn't really teach anything. He is a learning facilitator helping us with our studies when we have problems we can't seem to solve on our own. He makes sure we take the required classes on our computers. The classes are designed and taught by experts in the subject from around the world. We must pass the mastery test in each subject before going on to the next subject. Our teacher also guides us in choosing questions of interest to us which we then research and write web pages or make videos about. I don't always stay long at school because I can do a lot of my work at home. One day per week we have "lab" in which we do hands on work on the material we are learning. That can involve a field trip or work in an actual laboratory. I have chosen a career path in culinary arts so I have gotten an internship at the kitchen of a local restaurant where I work two afternoons per week. This counts also as part of my school work. After High School I will have two years at a technical school studying my chosen field. My friend, Roger, wants to get a four year degree in forest management, so he has an internship with the state department of forestry. He is now studying plant intelligence and communication as well as nanotechnology.

Master bucket list:

In the words of Robert Heinlein's character, Lazarus Long, in "Time Enough For Love":

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, fell a tree, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, plant a crop, cook a tasty meal, survey a land tract, fight efficiently, die gallantly and sew on a button. Specialization is for insects."

An Educated Person Must Know:

Fundamental skills needed by a high school graduate

  1. Ability to think, learn, & communicate
  2. Cultural awareness
  3. Science skills
  4. Math skills
  5. Life skills
  6. Vocational skills
The schools should emphasize learning by doing. There should be a number of projects in each department designed to immerse the student in the learning process usually in a group situation and usually involving extra work outside the classroom both during and after regular school hours. We should do away with multiple choice and true/false tests as well as test grading machines. Grades should be based on the student's daily work, research papers and essay type tests. Communication skills including speaking, writing, reading comprehension and preparation of visual aids should be emphasized in all classes. Technology and application to the student's daily life should be utilized in all departments. Projects carried out by learning groups of 3 to 8 students should be designed so that the active participation of all students is necessary to accomplish objectives. Learning occurs almost exclusively through experience and through reflection on that experience.

Each student should come to school each morning with high expectations of the work to be done, the knowledge to be gained and the school environment. He should leave each evening with a feeling that there is more to be done and to be learned and he should continue work at home or in groups with other schoolmates on projects begun that day. These projects should result by the next day in a number of questions for the learning facilitators and with plans for the students exploring answers for themselves.

The primary problem with our educational system is that it attempts to educate without teaching the use of the mind for thinking. I suspect that this is because it is staffed by its own products. We take high school juniors and seniors at a time when their minds hunger for stimulation and teach them to memorize and parrot.

The following list of subjects for essays and debate is suggested to remedy this situation. Each subject could be the basis for anything from a one hour discussion to a whole semester course. Students should be encouraged to develop creative and original ideas, logically defend their position, and use the English language effectively to communicate with others. They should know how to effectively define a problem, obtain information, do research, and think to find solutions to the problem, and communicate the results of their work to others.


Beware: Use of these suggestions can cause controversy. It is entirely possible that if very many students are encouraged to think, some may develop and defend a thought that is outside the constraints of the conventional wisdom. This may cause criticism of the teacher and/or the school.

Possible Subjects for Short Essays (400 to 600 words)

and Class Debate

Examples of school projects for the Clinton County Kentucky School System:

To prevent the dry memorization of facts and parroting them back which turns so many students off to the educational process the following examples of projects are offered. I'm sure a brain storming session could come up with many others. A cooperative effort among teachers and involvement by the parents and the entire community would be necessary.


Use a video camera to record oral history interviews of local people and create an ongoing series of these interviews on video tape in the library.

With the Art department create a mosaic time-line of American History all along one wall of a high school hall. Include items of Kentucky History and local history as appropriate. Display items used in the past but no longer common. This same idea could, of course, be applied to World history, or European history or Chinese history.

Research projects, oral presentations, group written essays along with visual aids for various periods of history including viewing movies such as Ken Burns, "The Civil War" series, etc.

Outside reading and book reports on well written biographies of historical figures.

Encouragement of additional research on any time period in which the class shows unusual interest.

Essays on the student's impression of daily life for a person of a certain age and occupation at a specified time and place in the past.

Develop and present plays about specific historical occurrences. This should involve the drama department.


Use the pythagorean theorem to measure the distance across a stream or other unreachable area.

Use similiar triangles to measure the height of a tree.

Let various students groups measure the height of 30 people selected at random from the population. Do a statistical analysis of the data stratified by age and sex. Discuss conclusions which can be drawn and how valid they are likely to be.

Survey the school grounds and calculate the area in acres.

Set up time and distance problems. Calculate the speed of automobiles passing the school grounds.

With the social studies class measure the flow of a stream and calculate its suitablity as a water supply for the town. Calculate the population that it could supply and the effect on the stream of doing so.

Put a much greater emphasis on reading problems in math so that the student is forced to think of applications of what he has learned.

Social Studies:

Assign student groups to take each side on any controversial issue now in the news media, do research, and conduct a public debate on the issue.

Give out play money and let student groups do economic research and design a strategy to invest in the stock market for a two month period following up with stock market prices from the newspaper each day. See which group can make the best return on investment.

Assume that Lake Cumberland disappears overnite. Assign student groups to find the best alternative water source for the community, other student groups to determine costs and find financing methods, other groups to consider environmental impacts, etc.

Assume that the County Government is given free of charge a 100 acre tract of land near Albany. Assign student groups to make arguments for using the land for recreation, industry, education, housing, and other uses. Let them do research and develop arguments to present to the fiscal court. Finish with an actual presentation to a mock fiscal court which must decide the issue.

Design a computerized Sim City with the largest possible population.


Sponsor a school newspaper complete with editor, reporters, columnists, sales staff, etc. Publish monthly.

Put on talent contests including readings of original poetry, comedy skits, excerpts from popular movies and plays, musical renditions (with music department) etc.

.....continue here with examples from other departments:...........


Last revised December 2013.

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All contents copyright (C) 2013, Duane Bristow. All rights reserved.