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School Needs To Change

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

School needs to change. In this case, “school” means the whole model of K–16 education in America. By and large, the model we’re using, especially in higher education, is based on a model well over 100 years old and supports an economy, indeed, a society that no longer exists. The current model does not support the American way of life and is not sustainable.

First, the disclaimers. These thoughts are mine and don’t necessarily reflect the thoughts of my colleagues at ICC. However, I can tell you that my Fab Lab ICC staff agree to the need to change the way we educate our youth and all our community colleges and universities should recognize the need to change too. These thoughts are not meant to be critical of the legions of dedicated teachers and administrators throughout the United States. Many are working hard to figure out away to buck the system of standardized testing and rote memorization that plagues our schools and kids today.

Many of the thoughts here are inspired by a new book by a Ted Dintersmith titled “What School Could Be.” He toured all 50 states over a year or two, seeing schools in the traditional model, mostly failing our students, to pockets of innovation in various schools involving students of all ages from kindergarten through college. Most of the innovative school environments having the most positive results involved students working on projects of meaning to them. It validates what we’ve learned in four years of Fab Lab ICC; students will learn whatever they need to learn in order to make a project work if it has meaning to them. Dintersmith spells out four common principles that emerge from the innovative schooling he saw during his tour.

Purpose-Students attack challenges they know to be important, that make their world better.

Essentials-Students acquire the skill sets and mind-sets needed in an increasingly innovative world.

Agency-Students own their learning, becoming self-directed, intrinsically motivated adults.

Knowledge-What students learn is deep and retained, enabling them to create, to make, to teach others.

Dintersmith calls these PEAK principles. PEAK does not result from standardized testing and the passive pedagogy (teaching method) used in the traditional educational model. This includes college entrance testing and much of the curriculum in higher education.

The current model was developed in the late 19thcentury by a “Committee of Ten” university and government leaders who developed a model based on the factories of the industrial revolution. Standardized class periods of 40 to 50 minutes with students all sorted by age.

Learning was all geared toward giving students suitable skills for the repetitive work of the factories of the day.

Students today don’t want to do repetitive work. They want to do work that matters, solving problems in a world that’s changing fast and needs too many new solutions to be supplied by an elite few.

Today this model churns college graduates with five-figure college debt (some, six-figures) and half of them can’t find work in the disciplines they’ve studied. Paying back the debt is bad enough if they’re making good money, but nearly hopeless when making substantially less. This model is not sustainable.

The change we need in schools can start with a change in focus. The goal should not be to prepare students to be “college ready” or “career ready.” The goal of all education should be to make students “life ready.” That will give them the PEAK needed to take ownership of a path that will lead to a life of service to others, whether working for someone else or working directly with customers in their own businesses.

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email

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