An outstanding, important post from Stephen Downes, called “An Operating System for the Mind”, in which he argues for 21st learning skills on the basis of the need to “acquire facts in a format appropriate to your knowledge system. 21st century skills are, in short, an operating system for the mind.”

What I found really striking and powerful about his argument was the idea that the reactionaries, or status quo defenders – whom he dubs “common core people” – are actually embedding handicaps to growth and real learning into our educational systems. ie Those who argue that skills can’t be taught without first acquiring a lumpen mass of obsolete and irrelevant facts in a wide array of subjects, those are the people who “want the means and the ability to implant unquestioned truths into the minds of children, and this in an environment where the possession of unquestioned truths becomes to be more and more of a handicap, an impediment, a barrier to personal growth and prosperity.”

“…while it is necessary (and possible) to teach facts to people, it comes with a price. And the price is this: facts learned in this way, and especially by rote, and especially at a younger age, take a direct route into the mind, and bypass a person’s critical and reflective capacities, and indeed, become a part of those capacities in the future.”

“People need such greater capacities in literacy, learning, prioritizing, evaluation, planning and acting. And as their need for these dynamic skills and capacities increases, their need for facts decreases. Indeed, the more these skills are needed, the more the teaching of facts as facts actually impairs the teaching of these skills. The more static our teaching, the less dynamic the learner can be.”

It’s a chilling wake-up call, and in conclusion he issues this warning: “Today…if you simply follow the rules, do what you’re told, do your job and stay out of trouble, you will be led to ruin.

“… it works for a while, and seems like the safest place to me, but all the while, you’re approaching a waterfall. Whether it be a financial crash, the degradation of the environment, war and terrorism, or even something as simple as a car accident or family crisis, you will need more and more the ability to keep yourself afloat in troubled and rapidly changing circumstances, and an abundance of facts will not help you, it will instead sweep you over the waterfall.”

Interesting podcast discussion on unschooling at Jerry Michalski’s Yi-tan series. Yitan is a weekly live podcast call that Jerry has run for four years, covering change and technology at all levels. Dave Pollard offers his “ah-ha” moment of unschooling and self-directed learning, and one caller points out that all the unschoolers she knows in California have one parent who is either an engineer, a scientist or involved in technology or the internet. Jerry defines unschooling as “facilitating learning for the learners”, where children do their own learning and pursue their passions and where parents act as coaches and advisors.