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Amazing as it might seem, educational reform is still struggling to deal with some fundamental parameters that have been “with us” for 60 years or more. If we are trying to provide “universal education”…that is, a certain level of education to every child in US, then how do we do that and still account for the fact that students vary dramatically from one to another?

Here’s Anya Kamenetz most recent column from NPR Ed, discussing some of these rather obvious, but still fundamentally challenging circumstances for eduction. Who is accepted into the “learning circle” or SLC? And who is not?

Policymakers don’t understand complex challenges that teachers face in the classroom, added Emily S. Purdy Apmadoc.


“They have no concept of the range of needs, abilities, family environments, etc. that affect a student’s life at any point in time,” she wrote. “Yes, there are things that each child needs to know, but there is no way to make any sort of blanket approach that will work for every single student.”


During recent “learn by doing” trials and experiments, PSA discovered that there’s a big difference between saying that a group within a Social Learning Construct could help meet each others needs to support learning…and the actual human needs requirements that exist, which, in some cases, may be far beyond any SLC ability to address within the group. IOW, as the teacher above says, if you are dealing with the whole person, you are going to be dealing with a broad range of problems within any group of people.

PSA has a broader understanding now of what dealing with the whole person entails, and the challenges of trying to envision and design learning tools that apply and “work with” the widest range of “learners” possible.

This means any SLC would need a full roster of supplemental services available such as community resource libraries and referrals to the extant “social safety net”…but also innovative supplemental soft skill learning materials online that a learner could access themselves, and tools for those in the SLC itself to learn how to “handle” various need situations of other learners in the learning circle.

In addition, facilitators would have to skilled at dealing with “non academic” needs of learners…either through natural “helping” abilities, training in needed skills, or combination of both. However, PSA reluctantly admits that there is no way of knowing how well this would all work, until it’s tried. Certainly there are examples of learning going on for groups where the individuals have difficult need situations, such as addictions, or controlling violent behaviors. Name a challenging behavioral need, and there’s some program somewhere trying to deal with it.


But some problems and needs are more intractable than others…there’s probably an infographic somewhere that social workers know that shows a spectrum from “fixable” to ‘intractable”. How well new online communication tools can improve outcomes for the worst of these problems and needs, is far from clear. Not to say it wouldn’t be a huge plus if cloud tools could turn intractable problems for some into fixable and supportable learning circumstances.

PSA still believes this is very possible. What has been realized “in the field” is that fixing certain problems that some people bring to the SLC will turn out to NOT be solvable, and that the group inside the SLC membrane needs to be “protected” from learners who can’t work with the model, despite every effort to be accommodating to differences that people bring to the group.

An example of this online, is the Troll. It seems that any or most quality communication circumstances online that are developed or grow, will sooner or later encounter someone who simply can’t resist the temptation to “mess” with trust and transparency in some destructive way.

OTOH, people also continue to seem motivated to achieve some of those “higher needs” that Maslow talked about, and to do so online, despite security and privacy concerns, and presence of trolls.


As has been noted elsewhere, schools do attempt to deal with  needs requirements, by having some health care on site, having some counseling on site, having some extra curricular activities, providing meals, PE, etc. Schools also address these needs through teachers’ individual ability to reach out, which is progressively limited as class size increases, and depends on “non academic” schools that teachers may or may not have.

Parents are also considered to be “part of the solution”…but the track record of accomplishing quality parent interaction and support of their children’s learning program, is mixed at best and varies greatly in different communities and schools. It seems there’s perennial calls for “more parent involvement”, and it’s not hard to see that many parents have limited resources in time and energy and funds to substantially help out.

In some instances the school is a warehouse to provide a supervised place to stash children because no one is “at home” to take care of them. To say nothing of actually solving the home environment problems that students live with, which can include the parents themselves as dangerous cohabitants.

What happens when students don’t need to be physically in any place or building to access learning resources, tools, and programs? Do we have a place for young people to “be” for that? There’s all the homes and apartments that are empty during the workday, which could be used somehow, if “supervision” was available. How could we accomplish that? Use family members that could be trained? Employ people to make visits? Use webcams to  connect with learners in their homes, partly supervising, partly facilitating learning?


Schools also often use police on site, regimentation, discipline, and coercion, in order to cope with certain needs. Some of this is for lack of a more effective approach being implemented, or even envisioned. Corporal punishment being thought of as an acceptable behavioral modification approach still exists, and prisons with bars and armed guards aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.

PSA certainly wants to help create circumstances where that approach can be as limited as possible. OTOH, what’s out there on the streets, will be also what’s inside the school to some extent, and ideals must sometimes succumb to practical realities, such as physical safety.


As has been noticed, if one pre-selects a group to exclude certain intractable problems, the remaining needs can be much more readily addressed, and learning supported. We sometimes refer to this as “creaming“…taking the top level of desirable learners, and leaving the rest behind.

Not surprisingly, this approach is one of the most exercised. OTOH, there are also enough examples of taking a new educational approach to the “non desirable” learners and creating success out of the non cream to warrant examination of “why can’t this be done everywhere?”.

PSA wants to be part of the solution, and to help push adoption of tools that can help make “everywhere” a closer, if still distant, goal.