Parents today are considering alternative methods of educating their children. Many have figured out that the systems used by public education for the last 100 years have become outdated and inefficient. It likely does not provide the best education possible for your child. Jerry Mintz has spent his entire career helping people put together alternative education programs. He specializes in student-led learning. This concept is something to consider for your child and you can learn about it in this episode.
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Jerry Mintz: I think that the main problem is, it's quite out of date in terms of what people now know about how kids learn and about modern brain research. You see, there are two basic paradigms about learning. There is the one that most schools seem to be using now, which is the kids are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn. And then, therefore, somebody has all the answers for them. They need to force them to remember those things and regurgitate them, and then they'll be set for life.
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Phil Weaver: Hello, and welcome to the Learning Success Podcast, where we learn to embrace your child's brilliance and unleash their full potential. Today we have Jerry Mintz. Jerry has been a leading voice in the alternative school movement for over 30 years.
In addition to his 17 years as a public and independent alternative school principal and teacher, he has also helped found more than 100 public and private alternative schools and organizations. He has lectured and consulted in more than 25 countries around the world.
Phil Weaver: In 1989, he founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization and since then has served as its director. Jerry was the first executive director of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools and was a founding member of the International Democratic Educational Conference.
In addition to several appearances on national radio and TV shows, Jerry's essays, commentaries, and reviews have appeared in numerous newspapers, journals, and magazines, including the New York Times, Newsday, Paths of Learning, Green Money Journal, Communities, Saturday Review, Holistic Education Review, as well as the Anthology, Creating Learning Communities. Hello, Jerry, and welcome to the show today.
Jerry Mintz: Hello, Phil.
Phil Weaver: It's great to have you. We've got some interesting times going on here. Let's talk first. I'd like to get some of your opinions on public school, just to set a groundwork here. What do you think are the fundamental issues with the public education system today?
Jerry Mintz: Well, I think that the main problem is, it's quite out of date in terms of what people now know about how kids learn and about modern brain research. You see, there are two basic paradigms about learning.
There is the one that most schools seem to be using now, which is the kids are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn. And then, therefore, somebody has all the answers for them. They need to force them to remember those things and regurgitate them, and then they'll be set for life.
Jerry Mintz: Well, this paradigm might have worked a hundred years ago. I think it might have, but it is not working in the new millennium for sure. The paradigm that our schools, alternative schools, learner-centered schools use, is that children are natural learners and don't need to be forced to learn. And educators need to basically build on that natural interest. Not only that but if you force them to learn things they're not interested in, you will tend to extinguish that natural ability to learn.
Jerry Mintz: Then it becomes self-fulfilling. After seven or eight years, then they do need to be motivated, to where they've lost a lot of that original interest. Think about it. We're taking kids who just learned how to speak a language or two themselves, without classes, without school, learned how to walk or run.
And we're not telling them, "You learned that way on your own, but from now on, you have to listen to us in order to learn anything. Now you have to sit quietly in a classroom and not say anything, not come up really with many of your own ideas," and so on. That is the difference. It's two very different paradigms.
Phil Weaver: Yeah. You don't have to convince me that those kids are natural learners. I mean, that's just blatantly obvious. I can see issues where the school is stifling that natural learning about. Of course, you mentioned sitting in a desk. It's really detrimental since we learn through our bodies a lot. Let's talk about specifics about... I've heard you mention that grades are not... Grading and testing, why is that an issue?
Jerry Mintz: This is an extension of the same thing I just talked about. If you believe that kids are natural learners, you do not want to motivate them externally to do things that they don't necessarily want to do, just because of getting good grades or praise for that matter. Not only that, but you don't want to give them homework because if it's something they were going to do on their own at home, you wouldn't have to assign it to them. So those things don't relate to that second paradigm.
Phil Weaver: If there are no grades, how would you gauge progress?
Jerry Mintz: Well, I think you can do evaluations. The teacher can work with this student and talk about, well, what did they do, and what do they think about it? What does the teacher think about it? And all that sort of thing. That's fine.
Letter grades mean practically nothing, don't they, and in no detail. But you see this, it goes beyond that, because, for example, when you walk into a library, you have some purpose. You're a learner and you go and do whatever you want to do when you go in there, look for whatever you want, try to get the information you want, take a book out, whatever.
Jerry Mintz: Not only that, but you can leave whenever you want, you don't need permission and nobody gets to evaluate you on the way out. The whole point, you see, is that, to what extent do people have the right even to evaluate these people as learners? The people who-
Phil Weaver: Sure, sure. But when you're talking about when you need to measure a certain level of proficiency, say somebody that is going to be a doctor and they need to have the qualifications of being a doctor, how would you measure that they are at that goal or are moving towards that goal?
Jerry Mintz: You're jumping way far ahead.
Phil Weaver: Okay. I'm trying to understand.
Jerry Mintz: What I mean is, you've just jumped to about 10 different levels of school before you get to a doctor. We're talking about kids learning when they're children when they're young adults and so on.
Phil Weaver: Is this adequate for a certain age group then? Is that what...
Jerry Mintz: What I'm saying is, if someone decides they want to become a doctor, they've made a choice about something that they want. They want to do it in a very disciplined way. That's a choice. They've chosen to do that.
But when we're talking about general education, they're going to pursue what they're interested in and so on. If I decide specifically that I want... Well, I mean, I have people that I've taught table tennis to. It's in a fairly structured way. They want to become good players. So that's fine when you've made that choice. But the key is the choice.
Jerry Mintz: See, the kids in the schools, the way we have them today, they're a captive audience, you see, and they shouldn't be. They should be able to decide to learn what they want. They should even be able to decide whether they want to go there or not. And, of course, homeschoolers have made a choice not to. So-
Phil Weaver: But how does that apply to the fundamentals, reading, and writing math? If a child doesn't like math...
Jerry Mintz: I'll tell you a story about a kid who didn't like math, or wasn't interested in learning algebra. He was interning for an organization as a teenager, and he was unschooling at the time, meaning he was just homeschooling and studying what he was interested in. And he was never interested in algebra. He just hadn't taken it. And so, then he decided to go to college when he was 16. But in order to get into the college he wanted to get into, he had to pass a test which included algebra. He had to pass algebra.
Jerry Mintz: So what he did is he studied algebra by himself for one week and aced the test. Not only that taught other people. He understood it. Well, the key here is that if you're not forcing kids to learn stuff that they're not interested in, they retain that ability to learn what they need to learn at lightning speed.
Phil Weaver: Okay. That makes sense. Right. But if. at that point... Going back to that story of that particular kid, what math foundations did he have before-
Jerry Mintz: Why does someone need to know? If they find they need to know something, they'll learn it?
Phil Weaver: I mean, most learning is progressive, right? And so, one would think that if he had never done addition and subtraction, the basics of fundamentals of math, that he'd be coming from quite a deficiency to have to jump into algebra. So is that relative or is that...
Jerry Mintz: Well, again, let's say, if you're going to become a doctor, I want to know if I want to hire you as a doctor, that you have passed certain tests and that you have certain kinds of proficiencies. I think, reasonable to expect. But I think that is when you've specialized already and you've made that choice to be a specialist. That's a whole different story from when you're just learning in a general term, what you want to learn and what you're interested in. You're trying to figure out what you want to actually specialize in. So you're talking about two different things, I think
Phil Weaver: If you're at that stage of trying to figure out what you want to specialize in, and you don't have exposure to a lot of different things, I mean, doesn't that leave a person in a position of... Without the exposure of not being able to choose something that...
Jerry Mintz: Who should determine what that exposure should be?
Phil Weaver: Oh, I don't know. I'm asking this.
Jerry Mintz: Well, that's a key question because the old paradigm was that kids didn't know anything and that it was the teachers that had to decide what they needed to be exposed to, to be able to be successful in life. Well, that just doesn't work anymore because what you're being trained for today maybe not one exists 20 years from now. And the things that would be important 20 years from now, no one even has a concept of them. I mean, 20, 25 years ago, did people know about Facebook or...
Phil Weaver: Sure. No, I get the point. I understand things are changing very quickly.
Jerry Mintz: The key is actually being able to have an education in which you have confidence in yourself as a learner and you can be entrepreneurial and all that, and where you don't expect that somebody is going to have all the answers and you just have to regurgitate what they do. One other thing that's interesting is when you talk about homeschooling, we'll get to that, I suppose later, but people say, "Well, what about socialization?" Of course, you've heard that question a lot for the kids who are homeschooling?
Jerry Mintz: Well, of course, homeschool is called the S word, and, of course, it makes no sense. Every study that's been done shows that homeschooled kids are perfectly well socialized. But think about what kids are being socialized to in a regular traditional school.
They are being socialized in a classroom in a situation that they will never experience again in their lives. They will never be in a room with 20, 30 kids of their exact same age. It's never going to happen. Not only that, but the problem with being socialized to that is they lose the ability to interact with people a lot older and a lot younger, whereas homeschoolers are always exposed to those things.
Phil Weaver: I see. Yeah, that makes sense. I guess, what I am gathering from your point is that it's more about the ability to learn rather than the specific, is that correct?
Jerry Mintz: Yes. That's absolutely crucial. It's important that it not be extinguished, and a lot of the traditions of the traditional schools tend to extinguish it.
Phil Weaver: Yeah, yeah. Right. Yeah. I mean. I do study enough neuroscience to know that the love of learning comes from exploration and figuring out things on your own. So-
Jerry Mintz: I tell you another related story, related to what you asked. We're involved with alternative schools. Our organization is the Alternative Education Resource Organization, AERO. And so, we network educational alternatives around the world.
Well, one of the first ones of this century was called the Modern School and it was actually organized by Francisco Ferrer in Spain right at the turn of the century. Well, it's a whole other... I can tell you all the things that happened to them. But the fact is that there were some schools based on his work that was established in the United States.
Jerry Mintz: I met someone who went to one of those schools in 1911. He was a hundred years old at the time. He was actually a famous painter and had 20 of his paintings in the Metropolitan Museum. I met a woman who is a teacher at one of those schools.
She was 96 at the time, and she had taught her own son who was never interested in learning how to read until he was 10. When he was 10, he asked his mother to buy him a particular book. And she said, "Why should I buy you that book? You don't know how to read." And he said, "Okay, I'll learn how to read that book."
Jerry Mintz: Well, he learned how to read that book. Of course, learned how to read it. A few months later, they couldn't even stop him from reading. The mother would say to him, "Well, why don't you go outside? It's a beautiful day, play with the kids today?" And one of the other staff members there at the Modern School said, "Well, you weren't pleased with him when he wasn't ready. Now you're not pleased with him when he is." But he went on to become a very famous pediatrician practicing on Long Island here in Oyster Bay.
Jerry Mintz: I met another person at one of their reunions who didn't learn how to read till he was nine and he was a psychiatrist. The first one, Jim Dick, he got a scholarship at Columbia University Medical School.
Phil Weaver: Yeah, I know that there's a lot of examples of really brilliant people that have come from those environments. Off the top of my head, I believe Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Montessori, which is a similar thing to what you're talking about. Is that correct?
Jerry Mintz: Similar. All those, Montessori, Waldorf, democratic schools, I can tell you more about them, homeschooling, unschooling, they're all part of the spectrum of schools that are involved with learner-centered education, that believes that kids are natural learners and they are not top-down, curriculum-driven approaches.
Phil Weaver: My question is that, yeah, I know there's a lot, huge, tremendous success stories, but do you ever see the example of the kid that at 10 still has no desire to read and just goes on and doesn't? I mean, does that happen, or in math or...
Jerry Mintz: One of the most famous schools in the world that pioneered democratic education and non-compulsory class attendance was Summerhill School in England, which still exists by the way. Next year they'll celebrate their 100th birthday. They were started by A.S. Neill 1921. In all the years, I think someone said they could hardly remember anyone who ever graduated, wasn't a proficient reader.
But they remember one particular guy. I met him at a reunion, that he really didn't read when he graduated. But then he discovered he needed it, learned it very fast, and he eventually became part of the IMF. He's a financial consultant now and doing really well. So that's the only example that I found from that school over a hundred years of a student that someone just literally never learned it.
Phil Weaver: Okay. Yeah. I know in today's world that there are a lot of parents that have had their children in public school and are questioning it a lot. But the things such as this, as unschooling, or what you're presenting, is very foreign to them. So I'm trying to get across as the questions that they might have, what to look for because I know a lot of people are looking for other approaches.
Jerry Mintz: What has just happened in the last couple of months is very extraordinary in terms of education. I mean, it's very tragic in terms of the people who have died as a result of this. When this first happened, I could not quite realize what had happened in this sense. The name of our website is educationrevolution.org. We have been trying to promote the education revolution for the 31 years of our existence.
That is education, making it available everywhere, learner-centered education. It's just amazed me, when I realized, well, wait a second. We've just gone from three and a half percent of the people homeschooling to 96%. And so-
Phil Weaver: Where are the other 4%?
Jerry Mintz: Huh?
Phil Weaver: Where are the other 4%? Who's not?
Jerry Mintz: They're maybe in places where they decided not to cancel school yet. I don't know.
Phil Weaver: I think it's 100%, frankly.
Jerry Mintz: The thing is, some people said it first, "Well, that's not really homeschooling."
Phil Weaver: I've seen that. Yeah.
Jerry Mintz: I realized, yes, it is. Those people have kids. They were thrown into this situation. It wasn't something they necessarily chose, but they have kids and they're going to do the very best the thing they can for those kids, and they're going to figure this out, and they've been figuring it out.
Phil Weaver: Well, I see something that parents, before this, and when this started, parents often feel inadequate when it comes to educating their kids. I see a lot of times from schools, a pedantic attitude where you have to be a professional yet parents are their first...
Jerry Mintz: They've been programmed by the traditional system to believe that they're not professionals, that they can't do this, the school has to do this. They've been programmed as students to believe that, from the very beginning.
So the thing is I've done several talks to people around the world, parents who have been thrust into this situation. I did one that went to Ukraine that was accessed by 2,000 parents in Ukraine. But my main message to all of them is the same, basically. Kids are natural learners. They bring with them their own curriculum. You do not have to make this curriculum for them.
Jerry Mintz: Not only that, but you also don't necessarily have to follow the curriculum that the school tells you to follow. That can get pretty old. The key is you need to follow the interest of your students and help them build on that as guides. That is how it works best.
Phil Weaver: Tell me, like on a day-by-day basis, how does that look? I mean, exactly. The child says this, the parent says that. How does that look exactly?
Jerry Mintz: Well, I think the answer is it doesn't look like anything on a day-by-day basis because it's different every day.
Phil Weaver: Well, let's just say just any day.
Jerry Mintz: Just like life is different every day. For example, a lot of our schools took the same approach, that maybe some of these individual families we're taking. That is they start the day with people making announcements.
What are the students saying what they would like to do, teachers saying what they would like to offer? The students can choose which ones they want to go to. There are about 250 schools like that around the world. Some of them are public too, by the way. In Israel, there are about 25 of them that are public democratic schools. I'm talking about democratic schools.
Phil Weaver: Okay. So there is some level of guidance then.
Jerry Mintz: [crosstalk 00:24:29] is those classes that meet where they're supposed to meet and do what they said they were going to do. So the individual parent doing the same thing would work with their kid in the same way. Now, of course, there's a lot of use of the internet, but the parents are probably more sophisticated about how to find information. They can work with their kids, as I said, as guides to help them if they get stuck. But older kids probably can do most of this by themselves.
Phil Weaver: So there is some guidance. There are choices that the kids are going to be pulling from or...
Jerry Mintz: Yes, of course. But I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Sugata Mitra?
Phil Weaver: No, I'm not.
Jerry Mintz: Sugata Mitra was a guy who's Indian background. He was an IT guy, but he was in a slum in India and he just had this feeling about the kids outside. He was curious about what would happen if he just simply stuck a computer in the wall outside where his office was and just let the kids see if they could figure it out. In a lot of cases, they didn't even speak English and so much of it was English. Came back later, three months later, they knew everything about using the computer. They also had taught themselves English, and they could do very sophisticated things with it.
Phil Weaver: That's not surprising at all.
Jerry Mintz: He's built on that and has something called School In The cloud now, you see. The adults that are involved are basically, as I said, in this situation, guides, if they get stuck or need encouragement or whatever.
Phil Weaver: Okay. Okay. It's making a little sense now then. Okay. A learner-centered approach to curriculum development, simply the child... I think we've pretty much covered that, but...
Jerry Mintz: Well, you see, the thing is, something amazing has happened, and what's amazing is what we already knew could happen. And that is the kids and the parents have been at this now long enough that they've begun to see, "Hey, wait a minute, my kid is doing some pretty creative things.
I didn't realize that he or she could do that. And wow, they're really interested in this, and they're just spending a lot of time learning and they're really, really good at it. Gee, they're doing a lot of reading," and so on, and so on.
Jerry Mintz: And so, more and more parents that have experienced this are, number one, thinking, "Well, I don't want to just put my kid back," or they may not even send their kid back. Number two, if they do, they want the school to take a different approach.
They want them to take a more learner-centered approach working on building on the student's interests. By the way, we have a think tank that is part of our organization that's now meeting every week to help the public schools, when there's a return, come up with structures that will help them figure out how to deal with this brave new world.
Phil Weaver: Can you tell us about some of the suggestions that are coming out of that think tank?
Jerry Mintz: I'll give you a few examples.
Phil Weaver: Yeah.
Jerry Mintz: In California, because there are so many homeschoolers now, every district in California has something called independent study. This is basically homeschooling that's part of the public school system. There are teachers that are there as resources for the parents, for the students. They sometimes will occasionally do some home visits. The schools are actually available as resource centers for the students. They can be involved with it. They could be on a team if they wanted to and so on, even take a class there. So that's a whole new approach.
Jerry Mintz: There are other states that are doing this, but California was the one that I think pretty much pioneered this. So that's one example. Another is something that happened in the early '70s in public schools called schools within schools.
That was that schools set up sometimes self-contained classrooms in which the students could even make decisions democratically about what happened in those classrooms. My local school district has one that dates from 1971. In Brookline, Massachusetts, there's a school within a school that dates from about the same era.
Jerry Mintz: So these could be recreated for those parents that are saying, "Hey, I want my kid in a different situation that's more like what we just did." The third thing is that when kids go back, we may not have solved this whole problem with the virus.
And so, there needs to be a more decentralized approach. Schools need to look at themselves now more as resource centers, where kids can go around and get information and help and use the resources of the school. So that's another thing, is schools as resource centers.
Jerry Mintz: Another more specific example of a potential problem is some people are saying, "Well, teachers over 60 shouldn't be encouraged to go back. They could be vulnerable." Well, there are going to be a lot of families that don't necessarily want to send their kids back. Those teachers could teach those kids, you see. They could continue this as an option, as an option. By the way, last week, kids went back to school in Quebec.
Phil Weaver: Oh, wow. Okay.
Jerry Mintz: It was very interesting. You see, this was part of our discussions. We just had a discussion today about this with our think tank, and we found out from the people in Canada that this had happened... Well, what happened is less than half the kids went back. And so, the schools are continuing to offer home education for the ones who want it. In some cases, a school of a hundred kids and only one went back.
Phil Weaver: Yeah. That makes sense. Right.
Jerry Mintz: So we're seeing these changes. These are some of the structures that we-
Phil Weaver: No, okay. Let's go back one second. Why are the parents not sending them back? Is it because of fear of the virus, or are they realizing that there might be a better way?
Jerry Mintz: Both I'm sure. I don't know how that breaks down.
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Phil Weaver: I like the paradigm of what you were saying, as schools as resource centers. That's making more sense. So kids will be more exploratory in that. What variety of resources do you think that schools could provide if that was what they went to? Yeah, I mean...
Jerry Mintz: Well, I mean, that's a list of some of them, and we're going to continue on with some of these ideas. We're going to try to continue developing them. One of the members of our think tank is the superintendent of a Long Island school district. And he wants to start applying all these things.
He even used the education revolution from our organization for an editorial in Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, saying our kids deserve an education revolution. That was the headline. So this I think is going to happen. It's beginning to take hold.
Phil Weaver: Well, how about the transition period? I mean, we've still got testing in place and all of that. Say, a school was able to do that school-wide, that's going to conflict with what's going on pretty badly, isn't it, with the standardized testing and requirements and that?
Jerry Mintz: You see, that's a whole other subject, the whole idea of standardized testing. And we discussed it, to some extent. I think, yes, the standardized testing does interfere with the paradigm that we've been talking about.
Phil Weaver: Well, it's their polar opposite, I think. Yeah.
Jerry Mintz: The interesting thing is most of the independent alternatives that we're involved with don't use standardized testing. Now, some schools do, but only in the sense that if a parent or particularly if a student is curious where they stand against the norm in reading or any of these things, math, they could ask for a test like this. That's not a problem. Also, some schools evaluate themselves by seeing how the kids are doing, but they don't use these tests as a way of grading the students, you see.
Phil Weaver: That makes sense. I was just speaking in terms of schools not being able to get their typical funding in that if they weren't submitting to the standardized-
Jerry Mintz: Well, let's talk about Long Island in that respect because it's very interesting. Many, many parents on Long Island had seen through the problems involved with these standardized tests.
They've seen their kids sick when they go to school on days when there's going to be testing. They've seen the negative sides of this. So there's such a thing called the opt-out movement. And the opt-out movement is where parents have the right to opt-out of having their kids take these tests.
Jerry Mintz: On Long Island, believe it or not, and to me, it's stunning, half of the kids going to school on Long Island have opted out of taking these tests for the last several years. That's massive civil disobedience. It's unbelievable. So the tests are not even valid because they're not testing everyone. They don't know who's opting out.
And so, then you see, is a whole other thing to go into, and this will be a long discussion. Where do those things come from? Why are they there? Who put them in place and why? The fact is, it has almost nothing to do with education. When they give these kids the test, they don't even give the teachers and the students the results so they can learn from them. They're just useless.
Phil Weaver: Oh, they don't. Okay.
Jerry Mintz: The overall results, but the individual, where they'd go back and see what they missed. No.
Phil Weaver: Yes, that is useless. Absolutely. Okay. Right. Oh, that's where... I got you. Okay. Interesting. Hey, tell me about a documentary about the Butterflies thing that you did.
Jerry Mintz: Oh, you mean, about Butterflies, is an organization in India that works with homeless working children. I met a kid at one of our conferences in New Zealand who was living in a train station, homeless on his own, but he was part of this Butterfly organization that services kids like that. And so, the woman who is the director brought him to this conference and I got to meet him there. An amazing kid. Among other things, he's a union activist for student unions.
Jerry Mintz: And so, I was very curious, if I ever had a chance to go there to go see Butterflies, and I finally got to do it when we had a conference there in India. I went there a day on the way over and a day on the way back. And I did a documentary. If you go to the AERO website, which is educationrevolution.org, and you go to our list of member schools, and you go to India, you will see butterflies.
Under the link to their organization would be the video that I took interviewing those kids there. It was quite amazing. You had kids even nine years old living on their own, who would never miss a day of the school they had there.
Phil Weaver: Really? That's amazing. That's amazing. Yeah. I'm going to have to check that out. Okay. Let's jump to homeschooling. Parents are thrust into it. What's the most important things that they need to know right now about homeschooling.
Jerry Mintz: I already said the most important thing, is don't stress about this because your kids are natural learners. And it's even important for you to know that if you start out taking this approach of just listening to them and building on their interests, that at first, they will probably want to do nothing, is a reaction to the experience they've had up to this point. We call it detoxing. In democratic and alternative schools, there's always a period of decompression, detoxing.
Jerry Mintz: It could be a year before all of a sudden, and this is an interesting thing where kids, will say, "Oh, I'm bored." And our reaction to that is always, "Great. Now you know you have to do it for yourself. So what do you want to do?" And then they're off. You see what I'm saying?
Phil Weaver: I do. I do. What's a parent going to do if that lasts a year if that detox [crosstalk 00:41:58]-
Jerry Mintz: It doesn't matter. If you take your kid out of school and start homeschooling, it may take them a year for them to detox. You're lucky if it's only a few months. You'll still see some positive things happening. But then when things really begin to happen, it will blow your mind what kids are really capable of doing when you're building on their interests. I could tell you many, many stories.
Phil Weaver: Sure, sure. So during that time, a parent just does nothing at all.
Jerry Mintz: No, not at all. They can offer things. It's fine. They can offer things that may be interesting. Fine, you can go take them someplace. If the pandemic is relatively over, you could take them to the library, or to a museum or whatever. You can do it virtually if it's not. Yeah.
So these are all kinds of things you can do. But I'll give you just one example of a kid who went to that school, Summerhill, that I told you about where nobody had to go to any classes. I met a kid back when I was visiting there. He was about 12 at the time. He liked reading Stephen King books, and liked music, and stuff like that.
He eventually graduated or left Summerhill when he was 16. He didn't go to college. He went to a Zen monastery in Japan. That's where he wanted to go. Then he went to New Hampshire where his mother lived and he got a job to organize the papers of a philosopher who was donating them to Harvard. Harvard became so impressed with him that they gave him a job as an adjunct professor of philosophy. But he had no high school diploma and had never been to college. They eventually offered him a full scholarship to Harvard, which he took and finished that.
Jerry Mintz: They wanted him to go on to graduate school, but his wife to be was Bangladeshi, and she was in England. So he figured he's going to go to England, which he did. Went to the London School of Music, which was his interest at that point. And they had a contest to invent a new musical instrument.
When he showed them this instrument, which was like a piano with flexible notes, where you could go higher or lower, Yamaha said, "Oh, this is not a contest anymore. We want to buy this from you." And he said, "No, thank you," and went ahead and has actually developed his own company to produce this thing, which is called the Seaboard and is now in music stores all over the world.
Phil Weaver: Very nice. Very nice. So I-
Jerry Mintz: That gives you an idea of what you can do if you follow your own interest and get off the track.
Phil Weaver: And it's not a linear course, it's not a linear direction.
Jerry Mintz: By the way. Yeah. It's something like a hundred million dollars worth of financing.
Phil Weaver: Excellent. Yeah. No, but I mean the progression of education in this manner is not linear. It can jump around considerably then.
Jerry Mintz: Absolutely.
Jerry Mintz: The key is if you still have your ability to learn naturally anything you need, you're just going to learn.
Phil Weaver: Sure, sure. Yeah. I'm seeing a consensus among homeschoolers, that what is learned in a regular school only takes about three hours per day in a homeschool environment.
Jerry Mintz: I think that's an exaggeration. It's probably much less.
Phil Weaver: You think so? Yeah. Do you think that there's a lot of parents that are figuring that out right now?
Jerry Mintz: Oh yeah. Even the ones who are using their school curriculum, that school curriculum is only an hour and a half or so a day. These teachers are not sitting there for six hours every single day. No, it's not happening, so that everyone now understands that is a lot of its busywork, counterproductive stuff. By the way, we have a conference every year, and we're going to have one this year. This will be the first time we've ever had a conference that is virtual.
Jerry Mintz: Any parent that's listening to this, any teacher, anybody, any student could go to this conference and meet all kinds of people all over the world. The nice thing about this, because it's virtual, we have presenters from all over the world, from South Africa, from Russia, and so on, and find out more about this kind of education.
Phil Weaver: Well, it seems to me that... We'll definitely put that information in the links below, Jerry so that people can get to that. It seems to me that, in today's world where now virtual learning is becoming very popular, that that would lend itself to what you're doing quite well. Because if you have some very obscure interests, you can probably find an educator in that interest somewhere.
Jerry Mintz: Every kid now knows. I mean, every kid now knows that if they have a question that they want to be answered, they don't just wait till they can talk to their teacher about it. They just Google it. And they know that.
See, that in itself has begun to revolutionize education, but it's been hard for the education system to figure out how to catch up to it. They just do things the way they've always done them and it's just very counterproductive. The teachers know it, good teachers know it. Parents know it. But the problem is that we're all programmed to believe that that's the only way you should learn.
Phil Weaver: Yeah. So this is happening organically anyway.
Jerry Mintz: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Weaver: Okay. We've talked quite a bit about where education may go. Is there anything else that you see as long-term effects [crosstalk 00:48:16]?
Jerry Mintz: Well, that's a very interesting question. Of course, nobody seems to be able to predict anything. They say, "Who is going to predict this? Not me." But I did write something up. We have a weekly e-newsletter, it's free, that our organization puts out. You can sign up for it on any page of our website. I was asked to write, well, what did I see as the future of education? Well, I already realized a couple of things I did wrong in that editorial. One of them was I thought that most, everybody was just going to go back to the way things were, but now it doesn't look that way.
Jerry Mintz: I thought maybe 10% of people would decide to continue homeschooling as opposed to the three and a half who were doing it before. I think now it's going to be a lot more, unless the public schools, in self-defense, maybe, figure out how they can provide more services to people who want things in a different way. I think it's going to all be a big game-changer. I think they will adapt. I think it's way, way past time to do this.
Jerry Mintz: Now, I'll tell you an interesting story. In the '20s and '30s, there was a phenomenon based on the work of John Dewey called Progressive Education. Those kids going to progressive schools, a lot of those schools still exist. There are quite a few of them all over, progressive schools, based on experiential learning and that sort of thing. And they mostly didn't have grades. So the colleges wanted to know, well, how do we compare those kids to the right kids coming out of other schools?
Jerry Mintz: They did a study on this called the Eight-Year Study. A result of that Eight-Year Study was that those kids, in every single measure, excelled over the other ones. They did better in college and they did better working afterward, all that stuff. What happened is, so people thought, "Well, that's going to be what we're going to do.
The education system's got to change. Guess what happened. World War II stopped everything in its tracks, and it pretty much got frozen. The teachers' unions came along. A lot of things changed, and everything just got frozen the way it was at that time. And it's still that way.
Jerry Mintz: Do you know the subjects that are taught in school right now, for the most part, the people who came up with those subjects, it was called the Committee of Ten in 1900. They're still the subjects people are teaching, the main subjects. Yeah.
I think that what's had going to happen is now this change that's so long overdue will happen, and teachers, many good teachers want to see this change happen. Many good administrators want to see this happen. Now there's going to be many millions of parents that want to see this happen.
Phil Weaver: Right. Right. Do you think that there's some level of adaptability in the schools, where they're going to be capable of going in this direction?
Jerry Mintz: Yes. For example, if they do the kind of thing that they did in California, this independent study will basically redefine public education as an option. It's interesting that, when this first came out in California, many regular homeschools have said, "Oh, we can't trust that.
They're going to try to push them in a direction of going back to the school," and all that. Well, guess what? It didn't happen. It really didn't happen because the schools didn't want to alienate those people because they knew they could just decide to opt-out of it.
Phil Weaver: Right. Right. Good. Say, a parent is I'm really seriously considering homeschooling, but they know they're going to go have to go back to work at some point, what do they do?
Jerry Mintz: Well, you see, this is a fairly new phenomenon that's begun to happen. I have an online course for people who are starting new alternative schools. Again, they can find out about that on our website. It runs every year from September to January. It's a long thing, and it's totally online. There's a dedicated website-
Phil Weaver: So they could co-op something like that with other parents in their area? Is that...
Jerry Mintz: Well, that's exactly what's happening, you see. That's what I was going to say, that now parents are getting together, setting up homeschool resource centers, and this enables people to be working.
Its an interesting thing is then, especially in a lot of countries where there's a problem with the traditional system, it'd be hard to start a regular school. But where homeschooling is legal, we encourage them to start homeschool resource centers as a way of getting going, and they've done this.
Jerry Mintz: But it also happens in the United States all over too. Some of the best schools and programs around New York that we've helped people are technically still homeschool resource centers, you see. Homeschooling is legal in every state in the United States. What's interesting, it's illegal, and almost it's legal in almost all countries, but there are a few exceptions. Germany, we know. But how many people knew that it's illegal in Sweden?
Phil Weaver: That's odd.
Jerry Mintz: Yeah, and in the Netherlands. Anyway, that's a whole other long, interesting story.
Phil Weaver: Can you give me one, 30 seconds, of why it's illegal there?
Jerry Mintz: In Germany, I think they were concerned about the fact that a lot of homeschoolers were fundamentalist Christians. But the funny thing about that is, even the Christian homeschoolers, it's a different paradigm. And I met many people who were Christian homeschoolers who were just fine and got all the benefits of homeschooling.
Phil Weaver: Got you. Okay.
Jerry Mintz: It's a different story in different places as to why this is the situation.
Phil Weaver: I see. I see. This is what I think going to be interesting to a lot of parents. I think a lot of parents are really searching for... Now realizing that they can take some responsibility for their child's education. Where do they go from here? Where do they learn more about this?
Jerry Mintz: If you know the answer to that if anybody knows the answer, we-
Phil Weaver: No, I mean, as far as, how do they learn more about what you're talking about?
Jerry Mintz: Well, of course, if they want to learn more about their choices, let's say people are beginning to go back to school and you don't want to send your kid back to the regular public school, so we have on our website, a list of alternative schools all over the world.
So they can look at that and find something near them. Some people contact me because they want to move somewhere where there's a good alternative school and they do a consultation, you see. So that's one of the things you can do.
Jerry Mintz: But it's not just democratic schools. We have a separate list of democratic schools. But that whole spectrum of learner-centered schools that I talked... There are four or 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States alone, you see. So there are options out there.
See, there are undoubtedly homeschool groups near where you live and you can find them, and you can find out what the laws are in your state and so on. So there are resources out there.
Phil Weaver: More than likely, parents are not going to have to start from scratch. There's going to be plenty of resources available.
Jerry Mintz: Absolutely. This is how you can find the information that you need. You could, of course, keep on homeschooling. You can homeschool through an umbrella organization that helps provide the curriculum for you.
Now, there are some fairly traditional ones, which I don't like very much because they try to recreate school at home. But there are others like Clonlara in Michigan, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a Global Village School in California that have people all over the world that are homeschooling through them. They're very flexible and they can even provide help for unschoolers.
Phil Weaver: Okay. Very good. Very good. What about funding? Is it different across different states as far as... I know there was talk of credits for homeschooling in that. Is that...
Jerry Mintz: Well, it varies from place to place. Some people think that homeschoolers should be provided funding in the local school. And so, it varies from place to place. The reason why in California they wanted to set up independent study is the local school districts could get the state aid if those kids were technically part of their school [crosstalk 00:57:50]-
Phil Weaver: Oh, I see.
Jerry Mintz: You see?
Phil Weaver: Right, right.
Jerry Mintz: That's why it's important for them to do this. Think this is basically true in every state, really. So that is another example of it.
Phil Weaver: I've-
Jerry Mintz: Here's an important thing to understand, that education in the United States is given to the states. It is not a federal thing. There are federal projects and so on, and they can try to wave a carrot at you and say, "Oh, if you do this, you can have this."
But it's really the states that can make the laws about education. Every state has a different law about homeschooling. It's really easy, for example, in places like Texas. It's harder in New York. It varies.
Phil Weaver: Yeah. Being a service provider, our organization has been a service provider for homeschooling. We're in California and I've noticed that there are some homeschooling charter schools I could talk about that do provide funding. They could come to our classes and then others that don't, and within the same state.
It really varies. For example, in Massachusetts, it varies by the school district. So, you see, every state has different laws. Another organization that we work with is called Outschool. Have you heard of it?
Phil Weaver: No.
Jerry Mintz: Outschool provides classes for kids, mostly homeschoolers. When this all started, they were pretty big. They had 8,000 students and they had a thousand teachers. What happened is they went from 8,000 to 80,000 students in this short period of time, and they're looking for thousands of teachers. They would like our teachers because they are learner-centered approaches. The founder of Outschool is going to be a keynoter for our conference and they're also a sponsor.
Phil Weaver: Nice. Nice. Okay, good. It sounds like there's a little bit of research that parents need to do, but they can find a lot of that on your website. Is there anything that we have not covered that's important for parents to know?
Jerry Mintz: Yeah. Have you got another week?
Phil Weaver: Let's just give them the highlights.
Jerry Mintz: The key is don't freak out. Don't stress. You can do this. Your kid's a natural learner. One of the reasons why I did what I did in India is because kids are natural learners. This is the ultimate test of it. The parents are not even in the picture, you see, and they were doing pretty well, with the help, of course, of Butterflies as an organization.
I think that this is happening all over the world. I think we're in the midst of seeing a change, the likes of which nobody could have imagined and nobody could have predicted. And it'll be quite amazing to see where it goes.
Phil Weaver: I think that you are correct. I've seen everybody's watching. Well, thank you very much for coming on today, Jerry. It's been a really interesting interview, and I think this is opening up a lot of possibilities for people. We will put links to your website below and send people your way to find out more about this. And thanks again.
Liz Weaver: Thank you for listening to the Learning Success Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. We also hope you have learned something useful, something that you can take back and improve your life with today. If you would like to say thank you, the best way for you to do that is to share this podcast with a friend.
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