Lewis J. Perelman
William Morrow and Co., 1992, 368 pages, $23.00, ISBN 0-688-11286-2
School's Out: Hyperlearning, The New Technology, and the End of Education
"This book is not about education. It is about an economic transformation that is being driven by an implacable technological revolution. It is not about saving schools, or improving schools, or reforming schools, or even reinventing schools --- it's about removing altogether the increasingly costly barrier schooling poses to economic and social progress." - From the preface of School's Out
Lewis J. Perelman
William Morrow and Co., 1992, 368 pages, $23.00, ISBN 0-688-11286-2
If Marshall McLuhan were alive in 1993, he'd find Lewis J. Perelman's new book an intriguing read. With a keen eye for the liberating effects of educational technology, Perelman puts forth a thesis that schools as we currently know them have outlived their usefulness. In the author's words, "This imminent hyperlearning world, where learning and expertise are diffused everywhere and where people of any age may be engaged in learning anytime, makes the infrastructure of 'schooling' irrelevant and even obstructive."
In truth, to say that Perelman, "puts forth a thesis," is to understate the forcefulness with which he conveys his ideas and prescriptive recommendations. School's Out is a book that is purposefully contentious. With a boldness rarely seen in the genteel writings of "educational reformers," Perelman minces few words in articulating his rather radical educational stance.
The opening chapters of the book examine how in this information age knowledge and learning are the very substance of all economic activity. In a previous age our country minded the land for its wealth. But in the very near future we'll be "mining minds" for wealth. "Because knowledge is the steel of the modern economy --- the essential commodity all else depends on --- learning has become the strategically central enterprise for national economic strength that steelmaking was to the industrial age. As a result, the nations that stop trying to 'reform' their education and training institutions and choose instead to totally replace them with a brand-new, high-tech learning system will be the world's economic powerhouse through the twenty-first century."
Perelman draws interesting analogies between the emergence of new technologies in the industrial age and the emergence of technologies in the information age. Just as the telegraph and the railroad rapidly made the Pony Express totally useless, so too are new learning technologies making industrial age schools outmoded and counterproductive.
The concept of productivity looms large in much of Perelman's analysis. More than a few times in the book he makes mention of the fact that the United States spends over $400 billion per year on education. Judging from the results we're getting, is this money being spent wisely and prudently, he asks. Might there not be a better way to achieve more learning at a lower price?
As many thinkers have done in the past, Perelman has come up with a catch-word, "hyperlearning," to summarize his ideas and point of view. In the second chapter of the book he gives a credible explanation of what he means by hyperlearning: "Hyperlearning is a categorical step --- the proverbial 'quantum leap' --- beyond 'artificial intelligence,' beyond broadband telecommunications, beyond information processing, beyond biotechnology. Rather, hyperlearning represents the fusion of these technological threads. HL is weaving into the fabric of a new industrial base for a new kind of world economy."
To his credit, Perelman doesn't hark on the concept of hyperlearning in every chapter of the book. In the early chapters of the book he defines this core concept, but doesn't indulge excessively in "concept-trumpeting."
Neither does he hyperventilate about hypermedia, virtual reality, and other mega-dollar educational solutions that seem to have grabbed the attention of much of the educational technology establishment. Although, to be sure, in a few passages in the book he does wax poetic about the future capabilities of these technologies.
Debunking Historical Myths About Schools and Learning
One of the most persuasive chapters of the book is chapter seven, which step by step debunks ten of the most common myths about schools and learning. These myths include the myth that: people learn best in schools; school is preparation for working in the real world; the teacher is the fountain, while the student is the bowl; academic achievement is an accurate indication of learning taking place; you have to learn to walk before you learn to run; education is different from training; some people are smarter than others; facts are more important than skills; learning is a solitary experience; and, schooling is good for socialization.
These ten myths have a powerful hold on our minds. Understanding that these myths might not be true involves acknowledging that our own schooling was not the meaningful, positive, uplifting experience it was made out to be. Yes, it might have been hollow. Yes, it might have been boring. Yes, there might be a completely different way of cultivating young minds.
One of the hallmarks of the new learning, or hyperlearning, is that learners take active control of the learning process. When important knowledge needs to be learned quickly, people don't wait around for schools to teach it to them. They teach themselves or find people who can guide them through the process of teaching themselves.
Nowhere has this self-directed learning blossomed so much as in the personal computer field itself. "Of the more than sixty million Americans who learned how to use personal computers since 1980, most learned from vendors, books, other users, and the computers themselves, not in schools." Perhaps the best model for future learning establishments should be user group electronic bulletin boards (BBS's) rather than a little red schoolhouses.
Leaders of the New Learning
A person with such radical ideas about education necessarily needs to point to current examples of the types of learning environments he or she thinks serves as commendable models. Perelman dutifully carries out this duty by citing various private sector educational projects including Christopher Whittle's Edison Project, and Education Alternatives, Inc., the for-profit schooling corporation based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Whittle project is still in the earlier research and planning stage, but Education Alternatives has had noted successes in Minnesota as well as in Miami, Florida.
On a smaller scale, Perelman points to the inspiring work of Al Rogers, founder and director of the FrEdMail Foundation. With his nationwide network of intercommunicating Apple II computers, Rogers has pioneered the exchange of electronic-format writings by students and teachers. Perelman quotes Rogers as saying that electronic mail is one of the most practical vehicles for learning writing skills, since, "...electronic text may be the last frontier for written discourse in the age of information."
A Few Comments About the Typography of the Book
Book reviews very rarely comment upon the typography of a book. And for good reason. The form and presentation of the book is far less important than the content.
Yet this book is so attractively layed out that it seems only appropriate to say a few words about typography. The font used in the body of the book appears to be Minion, or a close relative of Minion. The letters of this font are rounded in a gentle and soothing style, somewhat reminiscent of Palatino.
Given the sharp and pointed nature of the content of the book, the rounded, curved lettering provides for a soothing delivery of the ideas. In perfect honesty, this reader would not have had the patience or staying power to reach the end of the book had it been printed in a plain-vanilla Times font. The ideas expressed may well have been less palatable, too, had the font size been smaller or the inter-line leading been reduced.
Some Remarks About the Footnotes and Bibliographic References in the Book
Complete and thorough footnoting places Perelman's thinking within the context of other contemporary commentators. Surprisingly, the footnoted references are predominantly to writings in business periodicals rather than education periodicals. Frequent footnotes are made to articles in Business Week, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, The Washington Post, and Harvard Business Review. But the footnoted references also point to respected education-centered periodicals such as Educational Researcher, Phi Delta Kappan, and Education Week.
References to books include citations to James Burke's insightful Connections (the companion book to the PBS series by the same name), Howard Gardner's 1991 book The Unschooled Mind, and Edward B. Fiske's 1991 book Smart Schools, Smart Kids: Why Do Some Schools Work?, as well as two recent books that strongly criticize the SAT exam: James Crouse and Dale Trusheim's 1988 book The Case Against the SAT, and David Owen's 1985 book, None of the Above.
One of the contemporary thinkers who's ideas appear to have influenced Perelman strongly is George Gilder. Two books by Gilder are cited in the footnotes: Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology, Simon & Schuster, 1989, and, Life After Television, Whittle Direct Books, 1990.
Readers interested in examining Perelman's earlier writings might find his 1985 book: The Learning Enterprise: Adult Learning, Human Capital, and Economic Development, worth examining.
Anyone who has spent time thinking about how the learning process could be streamlined may find echoes of their own thoughts in the pages School's Out. Perelman has written a thoughtful book, albeit one that is sure to ignite a storm of controversy in the educational establishment.
Graduate schools of education would do well to add this book to their list of required readings. Naturally, they should so do with due haste --- before their very existence is abolished.
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