Start up education (or education as start up)

By solle on 20/03/2014 — 4 mins read

Below is something I wrote for the Do Lectures blog last year. Since then they’ve overhauled it and the post seems not to have made the cut. So I’m going to republish here with a few extra notes and updates from the last year.

Since I started writing below, the one thing that has appealed to me is the balancing of technology (invariably screens, variable sizes) with non-technology (invariably reading of books, paper bound or writing with pencil or pen). This balancing (particularly technology) factors both engagement and interaction and subjugation. It’s about the child and their concept of needs not our concept of our children’s needs. Education and learning shouldn’t be an assault on our children. Their upbringing and lives is not a bar to be continually raised.

Getting a balance right is invariably a balance when there is more than one guardian involved. Always the danger of one pulling too hard in the direction of most resistance. Resistance achieves little in learning unless the child has chosen to pull purposefully, with conviction and an aim. One person’s too much is another’s too little and scales rarely balance. We seek to achieve something different, something new and behold right before us raw achievement.

These are changing times. Everywhere you go there are active pockets of home (un)schooling. People are taking real responsibility for their children’s growth and lives and education. Placing it firmly on their own doorsteps. Looking it straight in the eye. Getting to know what is going on and getting to know their children. Experiencing the immediate results – and the problems. It is far from easy, it is really hard. And you will often want to give in, just give up. Some days you will think that you have made a really bad decision and believe they really would just be better off (back – if you took them out in the first place) in the education system.

There are many definitions of what it means to take the education of your child seriously and many, many expected outcomes. With that in mind we have decided to play with the definition of ‘start up’ and ’education’ and what they are and what they can be when brought together.

Whether the education of a child can truly be referred to as a ’start up’ is probably beside the point. A child’s education should never just be a business, but that doesn’t mean that approaches and ideas can not be borrowed in a pursuit of growth, development and success. As Paul Graham has written, the only essential aspect of a startup is growth.

How it starts: taking a child out of mainstream education, getting them started, unschooling them, letting them feel ready, prepared, excited – a sort of Sprint 0 while they get out of old bad habits and get excited for learning growth, their potential, their own interests – what really interests them as drivers of their schooling.

This idea of start up education is fast moving and fast growing. Constantly offering opportunities to investigate different approaches and understanding of what children’s learning actually is and could be. Learning is remembering what you are interested in combined with turning everything into a learning system and opportunity.

What holds this approach together are ideas, lots of ideas, and the sharing of ideas. Everything is about ideas. The ideas become the rules and the ideas become the framework.

Everything has to start somewhere. A good place to start is with talking. Talking is a foundation to just about everything else. Young children’s talking and conversation skills are rarely seen as something that requires nurturing or developing beyond answering questions or replying to direction or requests. Being able to speak out loud with confidence and assurance and to make yourself understood is something that doesn’t always come naturally to a lot of people. So, why do we leave it so late (or if ever) to work on this vital attribute? If the issue is addressed when children are young, I’m sure it would be far more straightforward to assist them with ordering their thoughts clearly and for them to become far more confident and assured orators.

This start up approach doesn’t necessarily have to be repetition and practice practice practice learning but inquisitiveness first then practice. Better for the child to be practicing the thing that they have discovered by way of an inquisitive mind and that they are interested in than working at something they are not. Outside a traditional system it is much easier to think for yourself. You can use systems but you aren’t in the system.

Often the idea of (un)schooling seems to crumble in front of you – to barely exist at all. When you are pushing against accepted norms (children go to school) a gnawing doubt will always be ready to start whispering in your ear. Your confidence questioned. A ship adrift.

Anyway, more to come on this. Biggest challenge of my life.

//somewhere in england


I am a user centred design leader working across senior design leadership teams and user centred design operations. I work across a wide range of digital services within the public, private and not for profit sectors.