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The Team

Directors and advisers are being sought to represent the views of some or all of the following groups. The time investment for people joining the team is mostly upfront time, the time it takes to understand how self-directed learning works and how it stands to better serve the interests of the particular group a team member represents.

Group Description of Representative
Students a student leader who can provide a strong voice for students to ensure their concerns are addressed as appropriately as possible.
Parents a parent who firmly believes in the self-directed learning model and who is known among parents as an advocate for children.
Special Education a parent connected to the group of parents who have children with special needs.
Alternate Parents a parent connected to the group of parents who have children in OCDSB recovery or retention programs.
Alternative Parents a parent connected to the group of parents with children in the OCDSB alternative programs for elementary age children.
Child Care Workers a career social worker focused on the problems of children and youth and how schools can better address them.
Homeschoolers         a parent well-connected with the homeschoolers community who has decided to homeschool because of dissatisfaction with public education.
Teachers a union representative who sees the potential for teachers to have considerably more satisfying careers in a system built on self-direction.
School Administrators an executive member of a school board who believes public educators need to thoroughly investigate the self-directed learning model and who has an understanding of how to maximize the benefits of two competing schools operating under the same roof.
School Board Trustees an existing or former school board trustee who believes in self-directed learning and who understands the problems boards face in trying to affect change, and how these problems can be overcome.
Ministry of Education a representative of the Ministry who can keep the team in line with Ministry requirements and who can have the Ministry consider relaxing some guidelines in order to broaden the study of self-directed learning.
Faculty of Education a member of a Faculty of Education to be involved in studying the proposed pilot programs in action and to provide advice from the Faculty’s perspective.
Seniors a senior who knows that schools are failing to tap into the vast knowledge and wisdom of retired people who are willing and wanting to meaningfully share what they know with young people.
Business Community a business leader who sees the endless opportunities with self-directed learning for mutually beneficial exchanges between school and workplace, as well as envision the prospect of being able to hire employees better equipped with 21st Century skills.
Taxpayers Watchdog a noted taxpayer watchdog who sees the potential for considerable cost savings with schools based on self-directed learning.
Operations Manager a person to run awareness building campaigns, to maintain membership records, to meet with potential supporters and to maintain good communications within the team and with all supporters. This position is currently filled by Richard Fransham.

 

Richard Fransham – intro

This intro is provided because people need to know where this initiative is coming from and that there is nothing whimsical about it.

“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet,
saying nothing becomes as political an act as speaking out.
There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
– Arundhati Roy, Power Politics (repeated by Guy McPherson at the Bluegrass Bioneers 2012 Conference.)

I was born in Montreal and graduated from high school at the end of grade 11, age 16. I worked in a bank for a year then attended a two year college program that qualified me to be a teacher. In 1966 at age 19, I began teaching physical education in two of Montreal’s tougher inner city elementary schools. I also started part-time studies at Concordia University which led to a degree with a concentration on psychology.

From the start of my teaching things felt wrong. I blamed it on my inexperience, but after three years I had to get out and I went travelling. A year later I returned to teaching. With a different school board, a different teaching assignment, and a fresh look I thought things would be different. In no time the old look was back. In searching for answers I stumbled upon George Leonard’s book titled Education and Ecstasy. He had put into words everything I was feeling and in my naivety I gave a copy of his book to my father, a successful teacher who had risen through the ranks to become a superintendent with a large school board. I thought it was only a matter of days before he and I would have a reform movement underway.

Not long after I visited him and found him livid. The usual easy-go, decent man had been wounded by Leonard. The book so incensed my father that he said he couldn’t get past page ten. I told him Leonard’s criticisms of public education seemed bang-on to me, and my father shot back, “Well what’s the alternative?”

George Leonard provided a scenario of an alternative, but I couldn’t grasp it at the time. It assumed a faith in kids that only later I appreciated, and so I could only respond to my father by saying, “I don’t know.” I hadn’t anticipated the question and I was embarrassed that I should see so many problems and have no solutions, so that moment set my course. I had to find the answer and at the same time I realized I was going to be up against very caring and dedicated people like my father. Thomas Kuhn, the person who coined the phrase “paradigm shift” said that disciples of an old paradigm may take a long time to convert to a better one and some may never convert, but it didn’t mean that they were not good people.

By the mid 1980’s the alternative I was searching for had crystallized. In the interim, I switched from teaching physical education to teaching math and science, and I quit and returned a couple of more times. For awhile I was a science teacher advisor and wrote some science curriculum. I left that position to publish a magazine called Child Focus in 1979, The International Year of the Child. The goal of the magazine was to create a permanent national publication that would rally parents in some nebulous way to bring about change in education. It ended with me fulfilling the prophecy of a chartered accountant who said at the outset, “It sounds to me like an expensive way to get an education.” I went on to teach for a year at the American School of Paris then came to Ottawa where I began to teach high school math and computer courses. Declining enrolments put me on a redundancy list after two years, but my newly acquired computer skills led to a position with the University of Ottawa teaching in its Faculty of Education. I spent the next three years in that role during which time I acquired a master’s degree in computer applications in education from The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

It was while I was at the University that a colleague suggested I read Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It introduced me to the idea that a new technology can bring about a paradigm shift like the telescope helped to bring about the Copernican Revolution. I clung to that idea seeing the computer as the technology that would help to transform education, and I tempered my continuing restlessness with efforts to further understand and develop its potential.

From the University I went to teach math and computer courses in one of the Ottawa Catholic School Board secondary schools. It was a move made with the hope of implementing the new vision I had for education and after a couple of years, a colleague and I put forward a proposal to run a self-directed learning program. Initially we had in mind something along the lines of the Sudbury Valley School where students would learn whatever they wanted to learn and we would be facilitators. That proposal became the CHIP program upon which the pilot programs advocated here are based. It was so watered-down from our initial proposal that I thought we were being set up to fail, but my colleague saw more opportunity than I did and we went ahead with it. I now view all the constraints and conditions placed on the program as a fortunate, accidental stumble that provide a critical piece to the puzzle. Despite the limits placed on the students, the absence of timetabling and the small cross-age factor allowed them to flourish. It became clear that a dramatic right turn of the big, cumbersome institution of public education was unnecessary. With a clear vision of the destination in mind, it could be remade through a series of many small turns starting with the elimination of timetabling.

Changes in the school administration and a lack of knowing how to operate competing schools housed under the same roof resulted in the program being cancelled after two years. I fought the cancellation to the point of being reprimanded then withdrew to the computer lab where I was increasingly able to let students be more self-directed. I considered getting out of teaching and started a part-time computer business which led to me taking a leave from teaching to help a client company implement ISO 9000 standards, but like people keep getting drawn back to their homelands, I kept being drawn back to teaching. After a year of leave I again returned to teaching thinking I would quietly spend the rest of my career in the computer lab, but that didn’t happen. Events transpired in such a way that I decided to press as hard as I could to resurrect CHIP and if I couldn’t do it, then I would quit again and attempt to bring about change from the outside. My pushing got me suspended indefinitely and after exploring all rays of hope and finding them empty I resigned from the Board.

I spent the next year and a half trying to raise general awareness of the benefits of self-directed learning. I became an executive member of the Ottawa Carleton Assembly of School Councils, the main parents’ voice in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), and co-chair of its Secondary School Committee, and I advocated for change wherever it seemed appropriate. Ultimately I got nowhere. I was a lone voice screaming in the wilderness. I couldn’t justify the sacrifice my actions meant to my family, and so again I went back to teaching.

I had burned my bridges with the Catholic Board which left me with only the OCDSB as a potential employer in Ottawa, but I thought it too wouldn’t risk it. During the time I was co-chair of the Secondary School Committee, I had opposed as anti-community a new vision for secondary schools that the OCDSB was promoting and I thought that would make me an untouchable, but it did hire me which made me wonder. Some of the secondary school principals had also opposed the new vision and so I asked my new department head, hoping to learn that I had a like-minded principal, “Did I get hired because I opposed the new vision?” “No,” he said. “You were the only one who applied.” People with computer skills were not entering teaching at the time. It was the shortage of computer teachers that allowed me to be critical of my superiors and yet still be employable. The computer kept me out of the poor house and I kept trying to develop its power to help transform education.

I taught at Cairine Wilson Secondary School for the next ten years. The power of the computer to support independent learning kept developing and I became a teacher of self-directed learning skills where computer skills were just a by-product. I also tried to get a program like CHIP running at Cairine, but despite interest from the school administration and some teachers, support from above was lacking. I retired from teaching when I left Cairine.

For more than twenty years I tried to write a book that could make a difference in how we educate children, and after I retired I tried even harder. To date I have written nothing that would help the cause more than it might hurt it, or that hadn’t already been better said by someone else, but writing is a great exercise. It challenged me to really clarify my thinking and my ability to look at things from different angles. I dealt with every argument against self-directed learning and it only strengthened my view that public education has to adopt it as its modus operandi.

After scrapping my latest, long tedious book and I was wondering how next to advocate for self-directed learning, I did some volunteer work for Ecology Ottawa and became impressed with how it operates. It’s a collaborator and avoids polarizing people by saying, “Go out and find our friends, and don’t worry about the others.” It doesn’t try to change the world. It just encourages the Ottawa City Council to be a leader in green policies and works to build the community support the Council needs to be that leader. I have decided to apply the same approach to education.

This initiative is small in comparison to what Ecology Ottawa is doing. Ecology Ottawa’s work involves a 24 member City Council, the population of Ottawa, and five campaigns including trees, waters, complete streets, climate change and the Energy East Pipeline. The plan for the group I’m undertaking is to work with just the OCDSB community. Its trustees number little more than half the number of city councillors; the population involved is only a fraction of Ottawa’s total population, and it has only the one self-directed learning campaign. The success of Ecology Ottawa in a short time is encouraging and largely due to the urgent need to address environmental concerns. The urgency for educational change is also a driving factor. Four years of high school can make or break a child and leave a trail of damage. It doesn’t have to be the case. A proper self-directed learning environment can provide for the well-being of all children. Other things that make prospects for success look real are the growing number of good resources like Class Dismissed and Alternatives to School for promoting self-directed learning, and the power of social media to make them known. The moment to make a difference may have arrived.

I have worked several summers in children’s camps which gave me experience working with young people in less structured environments than schools usually provide. I raced bicycles for a number of years and cycled across Canada. I have run marathons and completed the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times. I participate annually in the Ottawa Bicycle Club Tour of the Rideau Lakes.

I live in Beaconhill North with my wife of 46 years. I have two children who went through the public school system and graduated from Colonel By Secondary School. They both now have two children and good careers.

One Comment
  1. Sharon Holzscherer permalink

    Richard,
    Although my own journey differs enormously in detail from yours, my quest has been similar. I am frustrated by a system which does not seem to give an education along with the diploma. I have been a follower of Sir Ken Robinson and John Gatto for years. I have never taught within the public system because I have a M.Ed. but not a B.Ed. which makes me “unqualified”. Not a problem, I have taught independently for most of my life. I raised and educated four children privately but I do strongly believe in a vibrant public school system. I am intrigued by your initiative and wonder if I might have something to offer. I would enjoy an opportunity to speak with you if convenient.

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