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The Ultimate Education Reform: Learning by Doing

America has trillions invested in school buildings, but their designs encourage learner passivity. Can they be re-purposed to really educate?

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Schools, in short, are comprehensive laboratories for the study of life. Every school subject worth teaching can be brought to bear in making sense of them, with enough raw material at hand for non-stop investigation at any level of sophistication, the task made easier by their immediacy, easy accessibility, compactness, tangibility, transparency (in theory, at least), and by adult guidance.

And because school is unfailingly relevant (even for those who are utterly bored or who hate it), the emotions without which learning never happens are dependably close. Look kids in the eyes, give them a genuinely difficult task—ask them to help make their school do what it’s supposed to do and what society desperately needs for it to do, and mean what you say—and they and their teachers will create dynamic learning communities that, finally, justify the school’s cost.

Close schools, reopen them the next day as learning organizations, allow them to move beyond the pedestrian constraints imposed by standardized testing, and they’ll revolutionize the social institution upon which so much of humankind’s chance of survival depends.       

Note: For those who see potential in learning by doing that requires complex thought, click here.

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Marion Brady is a retired educator. Links to his books, journal articles, op-eds, blogs, and nationally distributed newspaper columns can be found at