by Don Berg, Founder
Attitutor Services &
Holly Allen, Parent of three
The American educational system seems beset on all sides by problems: from inequity to funding struggles, from poverty to teacher turnover.
But there is a fundamental underlying issue with our educational system, one that profoundly impacts every aspect of its operation, yet is rarely confronted directly.
With a degree in psychology and more than twenty years' experience working with children, Don Berg discovered there is one critical factor undermining our schools.
With parent Holly Allen's help, he explains why countless intelligent and passionate people have failed to change the system, and how we can protect our own children from the downsides of schooling.
The most fundamental problem is the widespread disengagement of both teachers and students.
This problem is caused by an even deeper flaw in the very nature of the system.
The flaw is that the model of learning underlying the school system is wrong.
Before other reforms can make a difference, we have to correct that flaw.
This is not the first time in our history that a wrong idea has defined a field for years, even centuries.
Until the mid-1800's, medicine was based on the idea that illness was caused by a person's "humours" being out of balance, and physicians would try to restore balance through techniques like bloodletting.
Similarly, the dominant model of how education works is that teachers are the active agents in the learning process, and deliver content into their students' heads—what we call the "delivery model" of education.
Experts in psychology and in education know this to be false; learning comes from the engagement and effort of the learner, not the teacher.
But the structure of the modern school system and the mandates laid down by politicians implicitly reinforce the delivery model.
Just as physicians once weakened their patients with blood-letting, relying on the delivery model weakens the learning processes of both students and teachers.
Strengthening the learning processes requires support for primary human needs.
The physical primary human needs—for things like food, air, and shelter—are well known, but psychological primary needs are practically unknown.
The delivery model encourages practices which ignore or even thwart primary psychological needs, which has led to the disengagement that plagues the system.
We can better align our educational system with the needs of students and teachers and with the way learning actually works.
Schools already exist which support students' primary human needs.
There are also tools available for measuring how well students' needs are supported, which can help us make positive changes and measure the results.
Once we accept a better model of how learning works, schools can become joyful places where passionate teachers fully engage enthusiastic students.
When students become fully engaged in school then education will become a reliable outcome of schooling.