Month: April 2013

Bridge 21 – Bridging the gap between learning and education

In Dublin City, at the end of Nassau St, behind Trinity college and tucked away in the red brick of Oriel House , is the headquarters of an intriguing educational experiment that has been gathering momentum for five years now. Bridge 21 is a team and tech based learning program (emphasis on ‘team’ rather than tech) that in the words of Kevin, one of the program coordinators, is “basically looking to make school more interesting”.

bridge 21 pic 2

What started out as an outreach program for Trinity College to give student’s on the fence about going to college a taste of what it would be like, has now evolved into something more. When I sat in on a portion of one computer programming focused workshop, the 24 Transition Year students from 13 schools around Dublin were learning to program their own games through ‘Scratch’, they were combining Wii-motes and laser pens they had customized themselves to turn standard laptop screens into multi-touch interfaces, they were testing out and discussing each others ideas, and above all they were enjoying themselves, interested and a picture of what real learning looks like.

 These workshops aren’t the extent of Bridge 21’s work though. They’re working in tandem with 12 secondary schools, 8 of which are in Dublin, to help teacher’s redesign their classroom and reinvigorate learning. The real barometer of Bridge’s success though is in the feedback from the students themselves.

bridge pic 3

After the program I sat down with 6 of the 24 students present who had time to stay back. Full of beans, I couldn’t have stopped them talking, either about the insanities and restrictions of the schools they attended, or how different and empowering they found Bridge 21 to be.

Evelyn from Colaiste Brid: “You have more freedom to do what you want here and be creative. In school you’re shot down for creativity – you’re told it’s not practical or educational, but here they love wacky ideas.”

Lourdes from Mercy, GoldenBridge in Inchicore: “In Bridge 21 we do things, instead of just learning everything by heart from books like in school. If you’re allowed to take learning into your own hands instead of just being instructed you become more confidant. Mutual respect as well. “

Ben, from Droimne Castle: “In Bridge we’re treated equally. Not specially but normally.Kevin is very friendly and he gets everyone involved. If someone is shy he’ll notice and give them the encouragement they need to get them out of there shell.”

 Other points were that the students were afforded a mutual respect in Bridge that they don’t get elsewhere and they were unanimous in their agreement that they learned more and enjoyed themselves more there. They felt they were being trusted to make their own decisions and build on their own ideas, while at the same time being both challenged and supported by their facilitators, who treated them as equals and co-learners.

Bridge 21 is taking our stale, teacher focused traditional classrooms and turning into them into exciting hubs of team based learning through modern technology, leading to more confident and thoughtful young people, and demonstrating that learning and enjoyment are inextricably linked.

For more info on Bridge 21 visit their website at bridge

The Disease of Sexual Objectification: Inside a society that turns women into things.

Giant boobs leaning down at us off billboards, phallic innuendos in ads for everything from Burger King to Tom Ford perfume, teenage boys hooked on lads mags and online porn, girls taught by everything from Disney to Reality TV that their sole worth is through their looks and value as a sex object, that life is a competition to be ‘the fairest of them all’, Paris Hilton and co. plastered all over magazines and portrayed on television as actual news, photoshopped models striking provocative poses in every second shop window, or every few pages of any magazine.

sexual ob

 Are we living in a culture of sexual liberation for women as some might argue, or are girls being treated and learning to treat themselves as sexual objects, and what effects could this be happening on their development and life satisfaction?

Carole Heldman On Sexual Objectification:

Carole Heldman PHD, a prominent feminist blogger on sexual objectification in society has a pretty powerful answer to this question. On her blog she writes:

“Women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health (e.g., clinical depression, “habitual body monitoring”), eating disorders, body shame, self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, sexual dysfunction, access to leadership, and political efficacy.  Women of all ethnicities internalize objectification, as do men to a far lesser extent.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths… Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  Subjects are sexual, while objects are sexy.

Pop culture sells women and girls a hurtful lie: that their value lies in how sexy they appear to others, and they learn at a very young age that their sexuality is for others.  At the same time, being sexual, is stigmatized in women but encouraged in men. We learn that men want and women want-to-be-wanted. The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up.  Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate.” (


There have been a number of studies showing that on the one hand sexual objectification of women is on the increase, and secondly that seeing their gender be sexually objectified is harmful for women’s cognitive development amongst many other things.

A study titled ‘Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone’ found that hyper-sexualisation of women has dramatically increased while for men it hadn’t.

“A study by University at Buffalo sociologists has found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even “pornified.” The same is not true of the portrayal of men.

These findings may be cause for concern, the researchers say, because previous research has found sexualized images of women to have far-reaching negative consequences for both men and women.” (

Interview With Irish Feminist’s Network (IFN):

I interviewed a representative of the IFN named Collete, and here’s what she had to say:

 Asked how big of a problem she thought sexual objectification is in our culture answered

“Sexual objectification is a huge problem in our culture, for both men and women.”

The next question was ‘What are the roles of media in proliferating sexual objectification in society? What impact do TV, Magazines, Porn etc. have on a culture of sexual objectification?’

She answered –

“We’re surrounded by media images for such a large portion of our daily lives, it’s almost impossible to escape from it. We get the majority of our information today through media, be it music, tv, the internet, advertising or magazines, so it really is incredibly important for us as a society to think about the messages we receive from the media critically. On a personal level, I find the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ to ring true for so many girls and women today. If you repeatedly see women presented as sexual objects and not as leaders in a variety of roles and careers, it can be difficult to aspire to leadership positions as a woman. Only around 15% of our Dail representatives are women.

The 2010 Hunky Dorys ad campaign that featured women in revealing clothing, posing as rugby players is a good example of sexual objectification being used in advertising. When you look at how well the Irish Women’s rugby team is doing now, and how little media coverage and funding they get compared to the men’s team, it’s hard not to see a link between the two. Sexual objectification plays into seeing women as sexual objects, and not as individuals with their own experiences, talents and personalities.

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We really need to see more women in positions of influence within the media sector in Ireland. This will lead to more accurate and diverse portrayals of women in our media.”

She added –

“A simple way to tackle inappropriate and irresponsible media in advertising is to make a complaint to the advertising standards authority at

The Irish Feminist Network have shown the film ‘Miss Representation’ in many places around Ireland. It deals with how mainstream media portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions.

Sexual objectification of women also contributes to rape culture, it encourages people to see women as sexually available inactive objects, and not as individuals with their own feelings and thoughts.”

Do you think that this culture has its roots in financially powerful media owners pursuit of money?

“I would agree to the extent that these issues can occur when profit is privileged over creating responsible content. However, there are plenty of examples of companies who can turn a good profit without resorting to creating damaging images and messages.

This is a point I have often heard made in criticisms of the beauty and fashion industries/magazines – i.e. that they deliberately encourage low self-esteem and anxiety in women in order to get them to buy products.”

Hollaback Dublin:

In an interview with ‘Hollaback Dublin’ Co-Founder Vanessa Baker she spoke about rape culture in Ireland and Hollaback’s attempts to confront the problem.

“We’re trying to spread awareness that this is a problem. A lot of people we talk to either don’t think it’s a problem and say we’re overreacting or haven’t really heard of it and don’t realize how big of an issue it actually is.”

“We live in a culture that deems this kind of behavior ok, and its new that people are speaking out against it saying that it’s not just a simple ‘boys will be boys’ problem, or refuting people who insist that it’s a compliment to be catcalled, which obviously it’s not.

Society is set up in such a way that men are supposed to pursue women , and a lot of the time street harassment is less of a sexual desire thing than an issue of power and a group of boys trying to show off and assert their dominance.”

d&g offensive ad

In Ireland Ryanair have received criticism for their advertising methods – In 2011 a member of their on board staff rallied together over 7000 people in an online petition to ask for the online advert, which portrays a member of the Ryanair cabin crew posing in a bikini, to be banned for sexism.

Ryanair also release an annual ‘the girls of Ryanair charity calendar’ displaying thirteen members of staff again posing in bikinis.

The letter read that “’Ryanair must stop using this demeaning advert or any other which objectifies their staff in such an offensive way.

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‘You should be selling your service, not the attractiveness of your female staff. Were you actually hiring your female staff based on their looks, it would be illegal.’ (

But these are only one and two examples among thousands.


Sexual objectification is a disease that has spread throughout Western culture including Ireland, it has a wide range of damaging effects on a wide range of people and unlike some illnesses, there is no cure to be discovered except for people to cop on and stop disrespecting our sisters, our mothers, our friends and ourselves.

This blog might argue against the flaws in our education systems but there is one area where our bottom line obsessed society educates our children very effectively. In the same way as a perverse linguistic experiment might teach a child that the word for ‘love’ was ‘hate’ or that the word ‘pig’ represented people, and let the child off to see how it got on, our media (magazines, movies, billboards, books, mainstream porn etc.) teaches young people that images such as the one at the top of this article are sexy – That a young woman with no life in her eyes about to be fed with a phallic object too big for her mouth, is ‘sexy’. We are constantly assaulted with images conflating big boobs, generic faces, sexual promiscuity etc. with sexual attractiveness when true sexual attractiveness is not a characteristic of an individual but a dynamic between people combining looks, smell, humour, proximity, ideas, ideal, experience and so much more. And if you spend every day since you are a small child around this lie, you will learn to believe it, and think it’s the natural order, just as we learn to think our education system – a mongrel between a prison and a factory is natural and good, just as we took everything the priesthood did as the natural order, just as we failed to question the financial conmen who have us kissing the troika’s bottom.

A lot of people will read this and think ‘whiney moany feminism’, well I’m a boy, I’ve personally been around boys and men all my life. I know how many of them speak in private, away from women, and how many of them speak even when they are there. It is not natural that so many of us know multiple people who have suffered sexual abuse, it is not natural that girls can expect to be catcalled in the streets, it is not natural that women should be so obsessed with, and insecure about their image, or that boys and girls both see women as a sexual object to be possessed and acted upon. It’s not natural that boys grow up with a constant narrative of saving the world and getting the girl while girls grow up with the narrative of be ‘pretty’ and get saved by a handsome prince or be ‘ugly’ and well, it doesn’t bare thinking about. None of this is natural or right – it’s an imposed social order.

There’s definitely room for a couple of posts exploring in more detail the ways our children are brought up by media to think this way, and also the historical context for this happening, which as far as I know has a lot to do with the invention of agriculture and capitalism and their creating a hierarchical and materially unequal society in which men needed to consolidate their lineage and legacy, as well as women’s dependency on them. All for another day!

For more information is a fantastic site with a great documentary available on the stuff (I eventually found it online on, otherwise you have to order it or arrange a viewing which is a bit stingy on first glance, but otherwise maybe they couldn’t have afforded to make it, I don’t know). They also have an interesting campaign on Twitter called #NotBuyingIt where they call out sexually biased merchandise and get companies to change through the power of the people! They’ve had a few successes too.


So check it out, and if you liked this article please share it or leave a comment.

Mucho amore, Bernardo.

The Boston Bombings And US Terrorism


A number of reactions to the Boston bombings have struck me as either naively ignorant, or blatantly narrow minded and bigoted. As a result I felt it important to post links to a number of well thought out articles making the following relevant points –

I feel like I’m living in ‘The Truman Show’ but instead of one person being unaware his life is a lie – nearly the whole lot of us are! But why bother thinking for ourselves when there’s so many people clamoring to do it for us – for the paltry price of our souls at that!


An interesting definition of philosophy: Inspired by Slajov Zizek

Slavoj Zizek.

Slavoj Zizek.

I’m watching a documentary called Zizek, by Astra Taylor, and in it he gives what I think is a good myth-busting definition of philosophy, separating the kind of pretentious ‘the rock is not a rock, nothing really exists’ kind of philosophy, from what he calls true philosophy. Now personally I’ve never had an issue with the true semantic origin of the word ‘philosophy’ when it comes to understanding it: it is very simply a combination of the Greek words for ‘love’ and ‘wisdom’ and means roughly – ‘the love of wisdom’.

However I know a lot of people are turned off by philosophy’s apparently inaccessible nature, or at least its reputation for being inaccessible. And I went off it for awhile myself thinking it was a load of academic codswallop that did more to veil meaning than reveal it; just a primitive search for knowledge that should have died because of the efficiency of science at that task.

Zizek though, reveals that there is both more, and less to philosophy than your average dark-lensed beatnik might have you believe.

Zizek describes philosophy as a very modest endeavor, “not some crazy exercise in absolute truth and then you can adopt this skeptical attitude.”

Philosophy simply serves to redefine problems, and to ask what we actually mean when we say things; to break concepts down. Philosophy doesn’t ask ‘is there truth’, it simply asks what we actually mean when we say something is true.

Take this example given by Zizek in the documentary:

Say the earth is about to be hit by an asteroid that would destroy all life on the planet. In that situation, there is absolutely no need for philosophy. The threat is a very real, simple, and direct one. This is not a problem we can redefine our way out of, we don’t need a different perspective, we need some big ass nukes to blow the offending rock out of the sky. So this is one of many problems where philosophy is about as helpful as bandaging a corpse.

But that’s OK, because the job of philosophy is not to solve problems, but to redefine them.

Its an interesting perspective, and I think its best illustrated by an excerpt from Zizek’s work quoted earlier in the film:

“In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all the mail will be read by the censors, he tells his friends:

‘Let’s establish a code: If a letter you get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it’s true; if it’s written in red ink, it’s false.’

A month passes, and his friends get the first letter (written in blue ink):

‘Everything is wonderful here, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, cinemas show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing you can’t get is red ink.’

One starts by agreeing that one has all the freedom one wants, then one merely adds that the only thing missing is the ‘red ink’:

We ‘feel free’ precisely because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.

If I may extrapolate on the point Zizek makes in this excerpt, and connect it with the earlier asteroid analogy, then I believe he demonstrates that one of the most fundamental purposes of philosophy is, not to solve problems we have, oh no. It is fundamentally for dissolving problems we think we have, but really we don’t, and for revealing to us the problems we really do have but were previously unaware of.

To redefine problems so that they may be solvable by our proverbial nukes.

For example: A culturally brainwashed woman (I’m not being sexist here, its just that woman are targeted for the following behaviors by corporations and men are not) may, bizarrely, refrain from going to the shop to pick up required essentials (milk, bread etc) purely because she doesn’t look good enough to go outside. She’s not ‘dressed for it’, she might not be wearing make up, or she’s sniffling from a cold. Thankfully, most women are more sensible than this. So for the time being she does without her milky bread.

Some simple philosophy could reframe  this problem for her – the issue is not that she cannot go outside lest she be seen looking anything other than ‘her best’. Of course she can go outside, and no one, unless they are as foolish as she is, is going to care less. Her real problem is that she has been inadvertently led to believe that her appearance is important in a situation to which it is completely irrelevant.

Her problem is deeper and more complex than she thinks, and neither dressing up, nor wearing make up, nor recovering from her cold are the nukes to solve it for her. Where rockets save us from doom from the sky, philosophy saves us from the doom of misguided thinking and misguided values. And sometimes it doesn’t save us from anything at all.

“It is a very modest thing, philosophy. Philosophers are not madmen searching for some eternal truth.”

Such madmen exist, but they are not philosophers. Or are they?

Astra Taylor

Astra Taylor

Review of ‘Better Than College: How To Build A Successful Life Without A Four Year Degree’ by Blake Boles

Many people, young and old, are well aware that college is both overpriced and overemphasized both here in Ireland and the UK, and also across the Atlantic in the US. But the idea of taking any route other than the traditional one, the one everybody expects you to take, can seem daunting. College provides a safety net, and an excuse not to worry about any important life decisions for a couple more years; its a temporary shield from the ‘real world’. Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone – if your heart’s desire is to be a surgeon then chances are you’ll require some specialist training and accreditation before people are gonna let you cut holes in them. But for many people, this is not the case. For journalists, writers, entrepreneurs and any number of other ways to make a living, college is often little more than an expensive cop out.
But isn’t a life without college equivalent to walking a tight rope without a safety net? Sure if you succeed you’ll get a round of applause but your no circus performer, you’ve had no training and chances are you’re going to fall and not break your neck, no, its much worse than that – you could break the bank.
That’s where Blake Boles comes in with ‘Zero Tuition College’. All in all, a bit of a character
, Boles has created a social network for self-directed learners to provide and seek mentorship from each other on their way, and written a kind of users manual for anyone interested in that path. ‘Better Than College: How To Build A Successful Life Without A Four Year Degree’, is a well researched and thoughtful book with both practical and inspirational content. Here’s how it describes itself –
Do you need college in order to be taken seriously and earn a real living?

Conventional wisdom says yes. But true success relies upon self-knowledge and entrepreneurship: two qualities that you can obtain effectively and inexpensively without traditional college.Better Than College provides the step-by-step guidance and inspiration necessary to design your own higher education. This book teaches you how to find community, stay on track, and get hired or start your own venture, all without a four-year degree. Curious college students will learn to think clearly about their motivations, plan a gap year, or navigate life after school. And Better Than College will show parents how self-directed learning can lead to a lifetime of achievement no expensive institution required.”Now if you’re understandably a bit distrustful of a book’s opinion of itself (lacking brains, books are notorious for self-bias and other not very brainy behavior) then consider mine -If you or someone you know have their doubts about college or school than this book will provide you with useful info on how to figure out what you really want to do, how to be financially secure without college, how to structure your life when you are free of imposed structure and well… Read the book!What’s that I hear you say?

“I can’t just go buying any old book Bernard, think I’m made of money?”

Not at all. Boles has made it so that anyone can download his book for free as a PDF (if they can’t afford it themselves, that’s where a bit of personal honesty comes in). Skint as I am, this is what I did, however I recommend buying the print version, it’s well worth it. And that’s what I’ll be doing when next I have a tenner in my account and dinner in my fridge.

So if you’re curious about the book (And you should be by now!) to read a snippet or find out more then have a mosey on over here.

He’s written an earlier book as well called College Without High School, and references a number of other people with interesting relevant work, so there’s no harm in having a look.

Interview With Jerry Mintz, Director of AERO – The Largest Alternative Education Organisation In The World.

Interview with AERO founder Jerry Mintz by EduCoup author Bernard Moran:

4’437 words were spoken in forty four minutes so we spoke, oddly enough, 100 words a minute. And in a moment belying my inexperience at transcription, I edited out the funny bits (For example at one point my laptop started emitting frantic little beeps when I plugged my charger in – Jerry remarked “Ah, I thought someone wanted you to go outside, and was honking you. From a very small car…” maybe you had to be there?) but hey read it anyway, you’ll feel a small sense of achievement if you get to the end.


Bernard – So Jerry, in your own words – what is the alternative education resource organisation (AERO) all about?

JerryAERO is the main networker of educational alternatives around the world. We help people who are looking for learner centred educations for their children, teachers looking for such places to teach, and people who want to start new schools which are learner centred. We’re very much a non-profit organisation. Too much! We have a conference every year, we have a course for school starters. We have an online magazine, and we have an E-Newsletter that comes out regularly.

Bernard – The point about being ‘too’ non-profit is an interesting one. Public education is basically a government programme, the purpose of which is to create the labour force that the economy requires. Would you agree with me?

Jerry – Hmm… I think it has other functions. That may be one of them.

Bernard – What are the other functions?

Jerry – I think it keeps young people out of the labor force (laughs).

Bernard – Until a certain age, yeah.

Jerry – Yeah. It also extinguishes the natural ability to learn or question things so that they will just follow orders and do what they’re told.

Bernard – But those are exactly some of the most important requirements of the labor force for the last hundred years or so. So I think that matches what I’m saying – the economy requires the diligent performance of boring busy work, so school gets them to do that. They need their three R’s (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic) so they’re handy around an office, so school drills that in. And the economy also needs obedient worker bees so schools also drill home the importance of deference to authority.

Jerry – Well, it may have been a useful function for a while. Of course, John Taylor Gatto still thinks the school system is doing what it was designed to do (laughs ironically). And that wasn’t to create free thinkers.

Bernard – I suppose the people on top of the system, the people who profit most from it as it is, who have their fingers in the pie – all they want from people below them in the pecking order, people in the schools and later the workforce, is for them to do just enough to keep the economic machine chugging away. Just enough and nothing more, so that they can keep their fingers in the pie. The last thing they want is to produce a population full of free thinkers who are going to reinvent the system and make it fairer and more efficient for everyone, because than they would have to share the pie, and more than that the balance of power which is stacked in their favour, could be put on a more even keel.

Jerry – Well, I think there are some people who might object to this cynical approach, or call it cynical. In John Gatto’s speech when he received the teacher of the year award, he said he had some friends who were teachers, and he although he thought they were pretty good he couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get anywhere. Then he said that he realised the problem was that the system is psychopathic, and that you should take your kids out of school and teach them at home.

Bernard – I total agree that it’s a cynical approach, and it’s not right. I’m just saying that it’s the way it is. And I’m wondering if we have different perspectives on it, or if you agree with me, or what?

Jerry – I will help and work with anyone who wants to change the system from within. I’m just very skeptical because every time I’ve seen someone even who is doing good work in the system, as soon as they left any vestige of their work disappeared. Because the system wants to keep its same shape. So, yes we’ll help, we’ll work with them. But my feeling is that the only way to actually change the system is to work outside of it.

Bernard– To replace it with a better one. Is that right?

Jerry – Not really. Here’s an example of what can happen. In the state of California the home education network is so big that the public education system was losing a lot of their tax money as a result of losing the students to home schooling. So in self defense almost every school in California now has something that is called ‘Independent Study’, so that they can retain those students and still get the tax money per head off the state. So far the schools haven’t been telling parents how to do it, which everyone was afraid they would. So that’s an example of something outside the system having a profound effect within the system. The kids can home educate and they are still considered to be part of the system, so schools can get their tax money from the state

Bernard – What state of affairs would you have to have for you to consider AERO’s mission complete?

Jerry – Our mission is to make learner centred education available to students everywhere. That doesn’t mean it would have to be that approach for every kid. We would still want the kids to be respected and empowered so that the parents and students would at least have the choice, if that’s the education they wanted. So that’s our mission.

Bernard – How viable do you think it is? Do you think you can do it?

Jerry – Well I think it’s a reasonable mission because it’s based on something that is true, scientifically, and that is that kids are natural learners. So I think as time goes on in this millennium people will realise more and more that they really must take this approach for survival. They can’t keep on producing the kind of students that they were in the last century where it didn’t matter if they were creative or if they could adapt to new job situations and so on. So I think it’s not unreasonable to think that we could move in that direction and may move rapidly in that direction. You know, just as the Soviet Union collapsed all of a sudden.

Bernard – Do you think that the current education system will persist as it is? What do you think the future is for public education?

Jerry – I think that with communications changing the way they are that may be the most powerful effect on things changing the way they are. For better and for worse that may drive the change. I think that 25 years from now the system probably won’t look the way it does now. There will be some similarities but it won’t look much like it does now Colleges certainly I think are in for a collapse.

Bernard – Five grand would be the most you’d be paying annually for college here in Ireland per person and people here are protesting that. So when people hear how much a college education costs in the US they can’t believe it.

Jerry – I know, and that’s because people have really bought into the idea that this is your ticket to a successful life economically. It will be up to us to stay ahead of the curve because those changes could happen so that education stays devoid of humanism. For example I think Goddard college which I went to when I was a kid is on the right track. It was the most radical college in the country at the time. They had a hard time explaining to parents at the time that they didn’t have gradews, students evaluated themselves at the end of the semester. They were co-educational and students could pick their own independent studies. They could create their own major. They were way ahead of the curve. But what happened was the economics caught up with them a little bt sooner than some of the better endowed colleges and they wound up almost going under because they couldn’t afford to keep boarding full time students and they did always want to use a sliding scale to some extent so that they could use the money from some students to pay the fees for students who couldn’t afford it, which was one of the ways I was able to go there. What happened is they almost closed but instead they pioneered something about 40 years before other people were doing it – a form of distance learning. What it was was people would spend a week or two per semester there and then go back home and continue their work independently and its much less expensive. And that is now the basis of the entire college and its called low residency. Those of us who went there at the time were furious that they closed the full time facility and went to this low residency method. But it turns out they were ahead of the curve again. And now the college does ok economically.

So to me that model is better than studying completely in a vacuum and completely at a distance.

Bernard – Like the what do you call its – MOOC’S? Massive open online courses.

Jerry – And that’s the direction its going because people can make money off that. Which is ironic because my school starters course is completely online. We do try to meet at the AERO conference if they happen to make it. But you know we do the best that we can and we do pretty well considering.

Bernard – And do you think for the whole child centred learning philosophy are the economics going to be a big stumbling block to rolling that out on a big scale.

Jerry – No I don’t think so because I think that’s not a matter of economics it’s a matter of philosophy. I don’t think if you do it right its necessary to have more staff numbers or anything like that because the kids are working independently and of course you make sure they have the materials and resources and so on that they need. I’ve seen some schools that don’t have any different ratio than they do in regular state schools and they do fine.

Bernard – How do they keep themselves afloat?

Jerry – Well at one of the schools that we work with, ‘Brooklyn FreeSchool’, they use a sliding scale tuition so basically people pay what they can afford to so it’s not an elitist school and it has a cross section of students. We also do a lot of fund raisers. You have to remember that we’re competing with ‘free’ essentially, unlike other Countries than the states where you actually do get some money as a private school from the Government.

Bernard – Isn’t there Charter Schools in America, isn’t that what Charter Schools are, or are for?

Jerry – No. No, no, no, no. Yes there are charter schools, and no that’s not what they are. The original idea was something like that but the way it turned out eventually is that they have to meet a lot of these same standards, they have to do these stupid tests. In fact they’re very dependent on how the kids do on these tests, it’s one of the ways they decide whether or not these schools can even stay open. I know the guy who started the first Charter School, I helped him start it. He still stands behind them and all that but I think that he can’t accept that his idea has gone awry.

Bernard – What if the Charter Schools didn’t have to do those same tests?

Jerry – That would be one thing that would be helpful yes.  Well one of the fundamental ideas behind Charter Schools is that they have to demonstrate effectiveness or they can be closed down. So how do you demonstrate effectiveness if you’re not subject to some kind of testing? It’s a problem that they haven’t solved so I’m fairly skeptical. Not only that but last year one of our school starters was bound and determined to start a Charter School, which she did, last year, and it didn’t even make it through the whole year.

Bernard – Was that because of test results?

Jerry – No what happened is that sometimes the funding depends on local authorities and the Charter Schools are supposed to be paid per head of student and what happened was the Local Board just didn’t pay them. They just didn’t give them the money they’re supposed to have and they had to close. This happened in Florida and there it was dependent on the local board. There are now over 6’000 Charter schools around the Country but more and more Charter Schools just resemble other schools.

B – There’s a real glut of entrepreneurs looking to ‘revolutionize’ education but who are really just looking to make a profit out of education.

J – That’s right and I was skeptical about this at first, I don’t really like to subscribe to conspiracy theories but it does seem true that there are business people looking to cash in on some of the dollars that are in education.

B – What do you think of Sal Khan and Sugata Mitra?

J – I was homeschooling a kid last year and he found Khan useful for what his own purposes were, and the other guy, he’s tapping into the fact that kids are natural learners and that’s all there is to it, they are, and it works.

B – I read a couple of articles questioning the methodology and the motivation and funding behind Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole In The Wall’ experiments . That some of the kiosks in the villages were abandoned and stuff. Articles that were just punching some holes in the hype and the science of the experiments. I’ll send you on the articles so you can make up your own mind because I can’t remember them well enough to explain properly.

J – Sometimes people have a tendency to overhype their particular ideas so the truth is probably somewhere in between. But the concept is valid, I think.

B – You think children are natural learners for everything? I suppose there are a few questions people who are used to the mainstream system would ask about child-centred learning, say – how are kids going to learn English, math and . . .

J – When I explain our approach to education to kids up to the age of eleven or so, they never question that. They know they can do that. But what happens is after six or seven years of operating off the paradigm that kids are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn, it becomes self-fulfilling. Then you see kids who have had their natural ability to learn extinguished do need to be forced to learn because they’ve lost that ability. So the adults that you speak to and even the older students are kids who have been through that and it’s hard for them to look back and recall the time when they were natural learners.

B – Parents main concern for education with regard to their children in my experience from talking to people tends to be first and foremost that their kids find employment and a way to make a living and second that they be fulfilled and happy with what they’re doing. Another concern would be that without assessment there would be no guarantee of college entry, and no way to fairly sort who deserves to occupy scarce college places which supposedly promise economic security.  What’s your response to that?

J – Well let me tell you something about that. There’s something more profound about this than you realize. Because of this school paradigm that people have been subjected to, in which they go through this hated period of time called school and then they go and can take a break and enjoy themselves and go home or take a vacation and do what they want to do. They have developed in their mind the idea that work substitutes for school, therefore work is something you do that doesn’t necessarily fulfill you. Not something you want to do but something you have to do. That’s the basis for so many people wind up doing jobs they don’t like. There’s a couple of reasons. For one because they’re used to it, and number two because by the time they look for a job they don’t know what they like anymore. Conversely if you look at kids who’ve been to alternative schools, democratic schools and even home schooling they usually wind up doing something they like. They don’t have that dichotomy, that split. So they wind up doing what they enjoy and doing fine with it because they enjoy it and I think that is more relevant  to your question.

B – Can everyone get a job that they enjoy doesn’t someone have to do the jobs that nobody wants. It would be lovely if we could all do things we love but we live in a capitalist society and our whole system is nearly serving the economy rather than the economy serving us.

J – I don’t think that’s the way things would be. I think if you had a society of people who were fulfilled they would be creative about finding ways to take care of their needs. Just like people who live in intentional communities. What we used to call communes. People have chosen to live in them, to live cooperatively and they share the work.

B – You think that’s a scalable model for communities and society?

J – I think so yeah.

B – As far as kids from alternative education tending to do something they enjoy a case of correlation rather than causation and that kids who enjoy that fate tend to have had a certain mind of parent and a certain amount of privilege of socioeconomic background and that’s why they end up being able to do something they enjoy.

J – Its funny that question used to come up a lot, which is one of the reasons why I started the school that I did, which was in a low income area of a city with mostly low income students the majority of whom were on welfare. One of the reasons why I wanted to do that was that AS. Neil of Summerhill used to say he’d love to do an experiment like that but that the economic model just wouldn’t work for him that he had to take the people who could afford to pay the fees. But for my school, no one was ever turned down for lack of money. We had to raise the money ourselves, we were always fundraising. And those kids did every bit as well and better as kids from higher economic backgrounds. And for the most part it was the kids who found us, it wasn’t the parents.

B – Is the school still open, and what kind of careers did those kids end up having?

J – Well I ran it for 17 years and as I said it was run on that ideal. When I left to help a national organization of schools I tried to leave some parents In charge but it just didn’t last, part of the reason was it was never meant to be an institution because it wasn’t based off people who were rich.

B – So do you think that what’s needed is more a kind of community learning resource centre to help people overcome the problems and find the things they’re looking for if you know what I mean?

J – Well we’re doing our annual conference and it turns out that one of the keys of this year’s conference are people doing homeschool resource centres. One of the keynote speakers is the director of North Star which is a homeschool resource centre. Students can come and go as they please, it’s not a school they don’t have to submit anything. It’s very successful and growing and the stories of the individual kids are phenomenal. If you go to our website at, you may have to be a member to get this video, but I can send it to you, of the kids from North Star telling their individual stories where they go from being failures in the system to being incredibly successful and going to university at sixteen, it’s incredible. And not only that but they have been a model for a number of places and now there’s going to be five or six of them doing presentations at this conference. I think we’re beginning to see the beginning of a phenomenon, I think this is going to grow, very fast.

B – If intentional communities are so great why don’t you live in one?

J – Our office has kind of become one, we’ve got a family with a one year old living here and a couple of homeschoolers who come round. But the reason I’ve never chosen to live in one is I don’t like living in an oasis, you try to create a little bubble and that’s fine for some people but it’s not something I was ever interested in. My school was a community in itself in a way but we didn’t ever think of ourselves in those terms. I think it can be unintentional and work OK. So that’s just not any particular thing I wanted to do myself.

B – Is that how you create a better alternative to what’s there? Isn’t that what the child centred education movement is doing where there’s lots of little bubbles created and then they link up until there’s a vast galaxy of them.

J – Yeah I think that’s fine and it can work that way. I’ve been a little surprised to find that a lot of intentional communities don’t put as much energy into their education of the kids as you would expect. But that’s a whole other subject, we won’t get into that right now.

B – I suppose it is yeah. As far as the whole school starter course goes, I’m a 20 year old student and maybe it’s still only a bit of a dream for me and I probably won’t do it in the immediate short term. But as far as the financing of it and the fact I wouldn’t be a trained teacher and legislation would be there around someone setting up a school, what would your advice be on all of that?

J – You might very well wanna go in the direction we were already referring to. You right now could organise a homeschool resource centre. I don’t know what the law is for home schooling in Ireland, but in England and Scotland it’s not that hard. And if you do it like that nobody cares what qualifications you have, because the parents are taking the legal responsibility for their children. I started my first school when I was twenty three. So you’ve got about a year or two.

B – Two and a half years. Ok, I’ll work on it.

J – It all depends on the law, you really need to check  the laws where you are to find out the best way to go.

B – For somebody who does share your criticisms of traditional education what’s your advice for AN ordinary person who wants to contribute to the education revolution and the solution?

J – Well I think you’ve really got to do it for yourself, I think that’s important. Have you heard of a guy called Blake Boles?

B – No.

J – He’s going to be one of the speakers at our conference and he’s written two or three things. One is called ‘College without Highschool’ and another called ‘Zero Tuition College’, and he’s an interesting guy to look at. And another one called ‘Better than College’. He discusses alternatives to doing things In the way they’ve always been done.

B – Finally, Is second level education failing its students?

J – No, they’re all failing. Not just second level: Primary, secondary and Higher Education, because they take the wrong paradigm. And here’s the key when you talk about second level education and some of the innovative things that are happening in it – you better look at them carefully, because those innovative things may still be using the old paradigm, just sweetening it up a little bit, but it’s still the old paradigm, and that’s still not going to work.

B – One more time could you explain the difference between the old paradigm and the new paradigm?

J – The old paradigm is that kids need to be forced to learn. Now you can trick them into it, you can manipulate them into it, you can motivate them into it, that’s still the old paradigm. It’s based on the adult knowing the answers and having a direction they’re going to steer you in. Whereas the new paradigm is that if you believe the kids are natural learners, then they go where they need to go, and they know where they need to go. And you’re job is to listen to them and help them go where they need to go. You just create the right environment in which they can learn what they need to learn and if they need help they’ll ask you.

B – What do you say to the issue that there’s so much stuff being thrown at them from the media and stuff like MTV etc. That’s not really healthy for anyone as it’s just a whole bunch of people trying to make money off young people and looking for their mental real estate and that perhaps if you let people go where they go than those things are going to tell them where to go?

J – I think that if kids are learning in an environment where they really have choices and can go in the direction they want to go in they will develop media savvy. Also the teacher doesn’t abdicate the responsibility for creating an environment in which its easy for kids to learn the things they want to learn.

B – Alright Jerry, thanks so much for talking to me, it’s been great talking to you and I appreciate you taking the time to do this. Best of luck with everything.

J – Ok and next time we can talk more about what you need to do to organize your education alternative.

B – I’ll have a look at the laws so. Ok Jerry, I’ll talk to you again.

J – Take care, bubye.

And so endeth the interview! Well done for getting this far! (Unless you just skipped to the end, in which case you should be ashamed, ashamed I say!)