Home > Uncategorized > MIT Media Lab Joi Ito’s Imaginative Idea: Replace the Factory Model with the Four P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten

MIT Media Lab Joi Ito’s Imaginative Idea: Replace the Factory Model with the Four P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten

September 10, 2018

The Eduction Tyranny of the Neurotypicals“, an article from Wired magazine by MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, describes the adverse effects of the factory school model on “neuroatypicals” on the autism spectrum and suggests and alternative paradigm for schooling that might benefit ALL students: Lifelong Kindergarten. What is a “neurotypical”?

“Neurotypical” is a term used by the autism community to describe what society refers to as “normal.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 59 children, and one in 34 boys, are on the autism spectrum—in other words, neuroatypical. That’s 3 percent of the male population. If you add ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—and dyslexia, roughly one out of four people are not “neurotypicals.”

Ito suggests that the factory model in place in public education since the 1920s favors the “neurotypicals” and works against any child who is “neuroatypical”, an observation that is difficult to refute. Worse, the factory model in place is outmoded and failing to prepare the kinds of learners our current culture and economy require:

Our schools in particular have failed… neurodiverse students, in part because they’ve been designed to prepare our children for typical jobs in a mass-production-based white- and blue-collar environment created by the Industrial Revolution. Students acquire a standardized skillset and an obedient, organized, and reliable nature that served society well in the past—but not so much today. I suspect that the quarter of the population who are diagnosed as somehow non-neurotypical struggle with the structure and the method of modern education, and many others probably do as well.

I often say that education is what others do to you and learning is what you do for yourself. But I think that even the broad notion of education may be outdated, and we need a completely new approach to empower learning: We need to revamp our notion of “education” and shake loose the ordered and linear metrics of the society of the past, when we were focused on scale and the mass production of stuff.Accepting and respecting neurodiversity is the key to surviving the transformation driven by the internet and AI, which is shattering the Newtonian predictability of the past and replacing it with a Heisenbergian world of complexity and uncertainty.

Ito describes several examples of how children on the autistic spectrum overcame their atypical learning patterns to achieve success, and transitions to a solution with this paragraph:

Unfortunately, most schools struggle to integrate atypical learners, even though it’s increasingly clear that interest-driven learning, project-based learning, and undirected learning seem better suited for the greater diversity of neural types we now know exist.

Ito offers “unschooling” as one alternative that would benefit ALL students, but accurately sees it as being perceived by many as  “…much too unstructured and (verging) on irresponsibility”. He offers instead a form of formal schooling that blends technology with loosely guided instruction that offers some structure without impinging on the freedom to learn that the factory model imposes on children or sorting and selecting students based on their neurotypical thinking:

In addition to equipping kids for basic literacy and civic engagement, industrial age schools were primarily focused on preparing kids to work in factories or perform repetitive white-collar jobs. It may have made sense to try to convert kids into (smart) robotlike individuals who could solve problems on standardized tests alone with no smartphone or the internet and just a No. 2 pencil. Sifting out non-neurotypical types or trying to remediate them with drugs or institutionalization may have seemed important for our industrial competitiveness. Also, the tools for instruction were also limited by the technology of the times. In a world where real robots are taking over many of those tasks, perhaps we need to embrace neurodiversity and encourage collaborative learning through passion, play, and projects, in other words, to start teaching kids to learn in ways that machines can’t.We can also use modern technology for connected learning that supports diverse interests and abilities and is integrated into our lives and communities of interest.

Ito concludes with a description of Lifelong Kindergarten that sounds very appealing to me, someone who admittedly learned more from scanning encyclopedias on Saturday mornings and roaming in the woods than I learned in elementary school classrooms:

At the Media Lab, we have a research group called Lifelong Kindergarten, and the head of the group, Mitchel Resnick, recently wrote a book by the same name. The book is about the group’s research on creative learning and the four Ps—Passion, Peers, Projects, and Play. The group believes, as I do, that we learn best when we are pursuing our passion and working with others in a project-based environment with a playful approach.My memory of school was “no cheating,” “do your own work,” “focus on the textbook, not on your hobbies or your projects,” and “there’s time to play at recess, be serious and study or you’ll be shamed”—exactly the opposite of the four Ps.

As we rate schools based on standardized test scores we are clearly NOT rating them based on their ability to “learn in ways that machines can’t“. And as schools focus on children doing their own work and focussing on textbooks and worksheets that prepare them to do well on standardized achievement tests we are denying them the opportunity to direct their own learning and discover for themselves that there is a joy in learning.

Moreover, the notion of Lifelong Kindergarten appeals to me because it is evident that the ideas put forth by Robert Fulghum in his best selling book from the 1980s never took hold. In All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten Mr. Fulgham offered a short list of lessons he learned as a five year old that are worth repeating in today’s toxic world: 

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first workd you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

I might add one more item to Mr. Fulghum’s list based on my experience:

16a. Remember what your father taught you: LISTEN to everyone. They all have something to teach you.

Instead of grading schools based on standardized tests as we’ve done for the past 17 years we might have a better world if we graded them based on the lessons Mr. Fulghum suggested.


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