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Reinventing Education/What If Conference

Last weekend I attended the Reinventing Education What If 360 conference at UNCA.  Check out the What If and Reinventing Education websites.


At the conference I got to meet lots of interesting educators from around the country; a principle that runs a network for teachers using Star Wars in the classroom (he was pretty psyched about Endor believe it or not), some interesting folks from Next high school, and more.  I also got to talk a lot about Endor, which led to some good connections.


I was fortunate enough to get to talk at the conference.  All talks at What If conferences are pitched as what if questions, so my question was “What If We Dropped the Concept of Education.”  The talk as about learning by doing, and re-framing our mindset to not condescend to the important work of young people.


I would really feel like this was egotistical if it wasn’t for the fact that this is all about Endor.  Here’s a transcript of my talk:



What if we dropped the concept of education?


What if I told you to open your textbooks to page 156 and to read the chapter on attending conferences.  You probably wouldn’t want to be here – we all know full well that top-down non consensual compulsory education is not the way of the 21st century.  (otherwise we wouldn’t be here.)


So what if we dropped that, that concept of education.  Something that young people do for a while and then grow out of.  Let’s drop it.  Let’s instead pick up the concept of lifelong learning.


We’ve got lots of different kinds of learning, there’s learning things that can be taught.  Things that already exist; languages, history, etc.  Let’s call this learning about things.


Then there’s other kinds of learning, learning things that only you can teach yourself, things that have yet to be done; going places no one else has gone, writing things that’ve never been read, creating new music, having an idea and starting a company.  Like work.  It’s the kind learning by doing things.


In adult life, both of these kinds of learning are happening all the time, so why pretend they come one then the other? School then work.


We’re addressing that question at Endor.


Endor is a self-directed learning center for 14 to 20 yr old human beings here in Asheville.  At Endor we have participants, not students.  Endor is an education space, and a work place.  The participants at Endor decide how they spend their own time, and take part in the governance of the project as a whole.  We make a schedule together each morning, setting the day as a community.  The participants and facilitators have equal ground in directing the things that we do.  Endor is all about learning.  The about kind, and the doing kind.




We use learning about things to help us with work.  All of us.  You buy a new oven, you read about how it works, then you do some baking with it.  We’re doing this kind of learning-then-doing all throughout our lives, learning how to do things as they come up.


So why are our schools filled with things that have no relevance to what the students in them wish to achieve?  Because it will one day become relevant?  Well why don’t we teach kids about retirement?  What it’s like to be put in a nursing home?  Because those are adult things that adults will learn how to deal with when they need to.


Now that we live in an age with such constant change, it seems much more productive to let young people grow up in a system of learning things as they become relevant, because that’s what their whole life is going to look like.


What if we respected the things young people want to do, the doing of young people.  Giving them space to fail, and a community to support them when they do.  Giving them access to other things to work on when their project falls through.


That’s what we aspire to do at Endor.  Endor is about to go through a major transition.  On Monday actually, we’ll be moving across town to be a part of a new project called Open Space Asheville.  OSA will be filled with all sorts of different projects: entrepreneurs’ coworking offices, a makerspace, a tool library, an arts space, various meetings and events.  When we’re there, we’ll really be blurring the lines between adults there to “work” and teenagers there to “learn.”  Everyone there will be working with and learning from eachother.


What if we replaced education with cycles of learning how/why and then doing?  Sure young people would likely spend more time on the how/why, and lots of adults who have “figured it out” would spend more time on the doing, but this cycle is a lifelong process that we see in every age group.  We could call this cycle “work” because that’s something we can all respect.  And it is work.  After all, you put all your work hours in the same resume you put your educational hours in.  And what’s the resume for?  Work!


If young people learn the why behind putting long hours into learning the about in a real and tangible way through cycles of “work,” they will continue to benefit from that throughout their whole lives.


Having a purpose in mind for what they’re learning seems to be crucial for self directed learners – that being said, it’s important for them to be able to learn new things outside of their scope, things they don’t yet see benefit in.  But growing up with these cycles of “work” would exercise their curiosity, since they see the benefit behind the “abouts” in everything else they’ve done on and have reason to know everything they know.


The ideas behind schools with age segregation and constant instruction and evaluation start to seem absurd.  So the question becomes What If our schools were replaced with all ages learning/creation spaces?  Well that’s what we’re asking and and trying to answer at Endor and Open Space Asheville.


If children grow up this way, then the patterns they develop will go on serving them all throughout their lives, living as people who do what they love.


Thank you,



Liam Speaks at conference

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