LEARNING VERSUS SCHOOLING: A Comparison of Philosophies By: Don Glines, PhD

Great to her from Don in this New Year. His insight is as clear as ever and the context in the USA has so much resonance here in the UK.

A Comparison of Philosophies
By: Don Glines, PhD


The focus of this treatise is to explain clearly the differences between a PERSONALIZED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT and a GROUP-SIZED SCHOOLING SYSTEM. It is also to clarify that the key component in implementing diverse philosophies is CHOICE. Some parents, students, school people may prefer to participate in a structured SCHOOLING system. However, such an environment cannot be mandated for all. Those learners and supporters who prefer personalized LEARNING must have that opportunity. Personalization is not alternative education for “at-risk” learners. Instead, personalization exemplifies the obvious need for EDUCATIONAL ALTERNATIVES FOR EVERYONE.

One can “learn to be good” through multiple religious choices in most communities. One can “learn to be knowledgeable” through a variety of personalized educational options, easily feasible on current budgets. Providing options is only a matter of re-allocating resources, organizations, and structures, often successfully accomplished, especially in the days when Congress supported education through ESEA Title III for “Innovation, Experimentation, Research, and Evaluation.” There is irrefutable proof that mandated traditional schooling is wrong for the majority of learners, as evidenced by national dropout rates and low achievement test scores.

The new Every Student Succeeds political compromise is negative. This legislation will not solve the frustrations facing LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS, cure the ills of SCHOOLING SYSTEMS, nor bridge the accomplishment gaps among low and high achievers. Emphasizing reading and math test scores and content, introduced at inappropriate individual growth and development stages for many, will not lead to improvement. The current “Common Core Curriculum” evaluations do not reflect talents in art, music, shops, and more importantly human relations.

It has long been recognized that the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top national political mandates were wrong for most, as were the accompanying federal and state tests and penalties. The Every Student Succeeds legislation was reached by tradition-oriented lawyers, not by experts in multiple learning environments. Ignored were the facts that the Holocaust tragedies and the experiments performed by Doctors from Hell (book) were designed by people from (at that time) the acknowledged best SCHOOLING SYSTEM in the world, accompanied by the best in the Orient.


Ultra-traditionalists, public school people, and vote-seeking politicians mandate their one-sided view of reform of the system called education/school. They profess that specific, rigorous curriculum requirements, a focus on math and reading, more stringent tests, and rating students/schools/teachers by state/national comparison evaluations will solve the ills affecting the antiquated 150-year-old organization of schooling. This organization usually includes nine-month attendance, grade levels by chronological age, academic report cards, and required courses of segmented subjects. Such patterns can be acceptable for taxpayer support, if they are truly optional choices—agreed to by the involved parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

In contrast, educators and philosophers who know the difference between LEARNING and SCHOOLING have the research proving the success of implemented non-traditional programs. Optional learning environments produce better results for most who volunteer. As declared in the Focus section, one illustration of this fact is simple: education should follow the religion model of choice rather than insist on mandated one-size-fits-all models of confinement. Many youth often learn more, wherever feasible, outside the school building—in the community, and in natural environments—rather than being restricted the majority of time inside a brick and mortar structure.

Below, under Comparisons, described are only 12 of 69 major clarifications of differences between optional LEARNING environments and mandated SCHOOLING systems. More of the 69, and examples of no-cost options (one illustrating three schools-within-a-school) can be located in Glines, Declaring War Against Schooling: Personalizing Learning Now (Rowman and Littlefield), pages 116 to 119 and in the extensive bibliography on pages 185 to 188. The redundancies throughout these treatise paragraphs are only to reinforce very important distinctions. Improving education requires allowing choices for everyone: non-traditional LEARNING environments or traditional SCHOOLING systems.

1. In LEARNING, if 100 items are pursued on a test, the learner is encouraged by mentors indicating: “How wonderful that you know 69; of the 31 topics on which you are unclear, are there perhaps 10 you ideally should learn? If so, how can we best help you understand them?” If the other 21 were not that important, why were they asked?

In SCHOOLING, a common traditional evaluation system on a standard test of 100 questions says to the student that if the individual only knows 69 or less, that is an “F”, 70 – 78 is a D, 79 – 86 is a C, 87-94 is a B, and 95-100 is an A—a negative experience for low-achieving students, not a positive learning model. Wally Eagle, an actual Indian youth in Waubay SD, received a D-minus on his science report, returned full of red markings by the teacher. He discarded it in the hallway wastebasket.
2. In LEARNING, learners begin with their strengths and interests. The focus is on a confluence of the affective, psychomotor, and cognitive domains, with the priority on the affective domain and human potential. Person Centers can assist, if needed.

In SCHOOLING, the focus is on the weaknesses and failures of the student, with emphasis on cognitive outcomes, as evidenced by the intensity of test results, grade point averages, a push for college, and inappropriate math and reading programs that are required for ALL in K-1, obsolete courses in secondary schools, and suspensions.
3. In LEARNING, there are no required topics at a specific age level. Curriculum is personalized. Learners and their self-selected advisors and guides create programs for the individual best-suited at this moment in time; there is no research to support specific ages for topics or courses.

In SCHOOLING, students are assigned curriculum subjects such as algebra or reading for ALL, at a pre-determined age or period in their school years. One example: Hewlett Packard gave large sums of money to districts that would require Open Court reading and Saxon math for all students. Good teachers knew those programs were inappropriate for many at a specific grade level, yet coaches and monitors were hired to ensure that everyone was on the same page at the same time. The results: test scores were lower.
4. In LEARNING, learners progress at their own rate of development, and are provided with the appropriate materials and amount of time. All can learn with no failures or low achievement, realizing very few have strengths and interests in all the compartments of schooling and life. There are no remedial classes.

In SCHOOLING, students are given group assignments and are expected to achieve equal results in the same amount of time as others, and to excel on all required assignments. The Detroit Intelligence Tests, the Swedish and New Hampshire math studies, and the Winnetka Individualization Studies found that many students did better learning a topic by starting later or earlier than in the commonly prescribed traditional years.
5. In LEARNING, there are no report cards, tests, or homework. Learners progress as outlined by their own goal sheets (or other plans), which can be modified or changed as they progress toward their personal desired outcomes.

In SCHOOLING, there are comparative student report cards/evaluation systems, homework, subjects, and mandated tests. Students are compared to each other. Heavy doses of homework are now required in K-1—even algebra problems, which cause difficulty for many families.
6. In LEARNING, there are no traditional classes of 30 with one teacher in one room for a specified amount of time. Learners create their own daily non-schedules related to their individual or group plans for the day, with optional attendance made possible by year-round continuous learning programs. Learners have the freedom to change locations as desired, and where possible, avail themselves of longer school hours.

In SCHOOLING, elementary students are usually assigned to one teacher in one room all day; secondary students are usually assigned for 55 minute periods with one teacher in each class throughout a typical seven-period day. Important learning is often “extra-curricular.”
7. In LEARNING, learners select their own advisors and guides, usually choosing those who have “pied piper” personalities—adults who love learners and therefore learners love them. Learners help each other learn, individually or in small groups. Learning environments relate to the learner communities; the backgrounds of ethnicities, cultures, and levels of poverty and affluence are major considerations. Therefore, learning is personal for each individual.

In SCHOOLING, students are assigned to teachers, the former of whom usually cannot help each other during classroom time, or on tests. If students live in poverty, bi-lingual, minority or low achievement communities, they are expected to compete and excel over the same material at the same time and meet specific expectations without the benefits of those who live in high income, college-graduate communities. Example: Most Native American Indian learners on reservations do well K – 4, slow down in grades 5 – 8 as they learn perceived negative history, and drop out at 70 to 80% rates in high school, especially boys.

8. In LEARNING, there are no group schedules; individuals function in a non-scheduled environment in a year-round program. Learners help each other learn, as there are no tests on which to cheat. Learners work alone or in pairs on special projects. They may meet in self-designed groups of 8 – 10, or occasionally benefit from a meaningful large group experience. Learners may spend all day, all week, all month, as desired, on their own interests and projects. Learning environment philosophies believe in continuous activities available 24/7/365—LIKE HOSPITALS, NEVER CLOSED.

In SCHOOLING, students commonly meet in assigned locations and groups with the same teacher, as in a classroom of 30 in elementary schools. In secondary, often the following is reflected: period 1—math, period 2—English, period 3—science, period 4—language, Period 5—lunch, Period 6—Elective Choice, and period 7—gym. Universities are no better: lecture halls of 300 students for an hour, or MWF one-hour semester schedules, or Tuesday, 7 to 10 PM once-a-week class. Schooling systems, K-12, believe most students learn only 9:00 to 3:00, September to June. They close for three months, for traditionalists believe learning does not occur in the summer or that some families prefer vacations in January. Now there is the effect of technology.
9. In LEARNING, curriculum is interdependent; there are no traditional segmented course subjects (unless requested by an individual for a study of interest). Learners can take advantage of the tremendous advances in technology.

In SCHOOLING, including colleges, most common are traditional segmented classes and subjects, primarily taught in isolation from truly inter-related information. Technology is available, too, but online courses may be more one-sized than personalized. “Remedial Classes” are common, even in colleges.
10. In LEARNING, all programs are non-graded (no K-1-2-3, 7-12, junior designations). Learners of all ages are mixed together by choices, interests, projects, and goals. Older learners help younger, younger help older; strengths and interests are shared related to individual growth and desired outcomes.

In SCHOOLING, there still exists in most institutions, traditional K-12 and college years, taught separately to mostly the same age group. Little recognition is given to the six-year developmental span among chronological 12-year olds, or the minimum 24-month gap among K-1 students.
11. In LEARNING, there are no assigned class textbooks; instead there are varieties of resources available from the home, institution, community, and technology. Multiple views are sought regarding aspects of the learning goals. In learning to read, there are at least 23 different programs and approaches. Many learners benefit from starting a specific study later—or earlier—than the traditional schooling prescribed times. All former separated subjects are considered equal for learning: art is as important as math, and interrelated.

In SCHOOLING, there are usually standardized reading programs and U.S. History textbooks, common algebra materials, second-grade math, and remedial classes. Everyone takes the same test on Friday.
12. In LEARNING, all fields of study are determined by personalized plans. Traditionally speaking, K-12 Home Economics is academic and just as important as Geometry; K-12 shop programs are for the young, too, not just for older learners, and are available for everyone.

In SCHOOLING, art, music, shop, home economics, physical education, chorus, drama are usually relegated to “non-academic” status and often are not available to all students. In most college prep high schools, there is often one elective period; thus only one interest can be pursued, even if all fields of learning are available.

A. Research Supporting LEARNING (a few examples)

–Goodlad, John, and Anderson, Robert, The Nongraded Elementary School, Harcourt, Brace, World, New York 1959.
–Aiken, Wilford, Story of the Eight-Year Study, (5 volumes) Harper and Brothers, New York, 1942.
–Washburne, Carlton Ed. “Adapting Schools for Individual Differences,” 24th Yearbook, NSSE (1924), School Publishing Company, Bloomington, Indiana, 1929.
–See previously cited, Glines, Don, Declaring War Against Schooling: Chapter 4 for multiple additional references.

B. Programs Supporting LEARNING (a few examples)

–Wilson Campus School, Minnesota State University, 1968-1978, Mankato MN.
–St. Paul Open School, St. Paul MN, 1970-1990.
–Walker Elementary School, Amphitheater District, Tucson AZ, 1963-1968.
–Programs under Congress authorization of ESEA Title III, Lyndon Johnson, President, for innovation, experimentation, research, evaluation, 1966-1980.
(example: Minneapolis Southeast Alternative Schools Project, focusing on the “cluster schools” options, 1968-1975)
–100 Learning Centers in Minnesota: members are part of the Minnesota Association for Alternatives (MAAP) 2016. Illustrations: The High School for Performing Arts; Jennings Charter School.

C. Books Supporting LEARNING (a few examples)

Willis, Margaret, Guinea Pigs Twenty Years Later, Ohio State U Press, Columbus, 1961.
Holt, John, How Children Fail, Pitman, New York, 1964.
Goodman, Paul, Compulsory Mis-education, Vintage Books, New York, 1970.
Holmes, Edmond, The Tragedy of Education, Constable Co., London, 1913.
Rogers, Carl, Freedom to Learn, Merrill, Columbus OH, 1983.
Jackson, Phillip, Life in Classrooms, Holt, Rinehart, New York, 1968.
Illich, Ivan, DeSchooling Society, Harper and Row, New York, 1971.
Harber, Clive, Toxic Schooling: How Schools Became Worse, Educational Heretics Press,
Nottingham England, 2009.

D. Statements Supporting LEARNING (a few examples)

The California Legislature and Congress are wrong requiring one-size-fits-all SCHOOLING. The right way is providing learning options for everyone. Common Core and state test mandates neither reflect the whole person, nor individual potential for societal contributions; these will not narrow the gaps between the “have and have-not communities,” or the graduation rates of 90.9% at UC Berkeley versus 28.5% at CSU Dominguez Hills.

Education codes are established by lawyer, business, career politicians who only know traditional SCHOOLING. They ignore the hundred years of LEARNING research. Education should reflect the religion model of choice rather than the incarceration model of confinement. School people accept political edicts in return for more money.

Nationally, 7,000 youth are pushed out of school each day. Of those who remain, 30% receive “D/F” evaluations; 40% rate “C.” Thus, 70% of learners are average or unsatisfactory. These figures do not reflect a LEARNING system. Of the 30% who receive “A/B” reports, many are bored.

There is undeniable proof that “7th graders” are spread six years in physical development and eight years in achievement. It is inhumane to continue grade levels based upon chronological ages. Teachers of the young are faced with a 24-month developmental gap. Mandated pre-kindergarten will not create equal achievement.

Most students reach reading and math success between ages 3-10, when individually paced. LEARNERS advance best by focusing on their strengths, not on perceived weaknesses. The famous Eight-Year-Study proved that the high school courses taken make no difference related to future success. The reductions of art, industrial, home, music, drama programs are huge mistakes. Changing the name from Junior High to the wrongly implemented Middle School design has done nothing to improve learning for these ages. There is still a “7th grade.”

Providing choice is easy at no extra expense. The schools-within-a-school model is but one example. Open enrollment options and charter schools have failed to meet their original intents. Though “Charter Schools” have mushroomed in many states, there are very few that are significantly different and better. Most are too small and lack facilities for involvement in all learning fields.

Year-round education can reduce the lockout of learners and the waste of expensive facilities primarily used only ¼ of the day, 180 days, nine months of the year. As visionaries continue to plead, LEARNING should follow the hospital model, always available 24/7/365, easily achieved by staggering staff and using modern technology. In 1976, California Governor Brown signed Education Codes 58500-58512 requiring districts to offer alternatives, but Common Core advocates ignore this legislation.

Improving education nationally and in California involves the elimination of one-size-fits-all schooling, replaced by a variety of voluntary parent-teacher-student choices.
E. Conclusions Supporting LEARNING (a few examples)

The author is a perfect example of the attributed Einstein comment involving the classroom of animals taking the same test, which included the fish trying to compete with the monkey to reach the top of the tree; failing, the fish lives his life believing he is stupid.

Though the author was an “honor student” who passed French and German, has published sixteen books/booklets and 136 articles, and has given circa 1200 conference addresses, he is a technological and mechanical idiot. He still writes like James Michener—with paper and pencil. He cannot use a computer or Twitter or pound a nail in the wall. He received D- grades in algebra, geometry, trig, and inorganic chemistry, but an A in nutritional chemistry. He also twice failed the Graduate Record Exam but has a PhD with six majors.

He is the perfect example of what is wrong with the “Common Core” curriculum and state and national tests. Not every learner can pass the exam when that fish must try to climb to the top of the tree, especially when competing with the monkey. There is nothing so unequal as to try to make equals out of unequals.

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