What If Schools Had Never Existed?


Today one of my tweets about educational systems provoked an exchange of ideas between ‘rebels’ that reminded me of a blog that I wrote not too long ago.  I would like to offer that blog post as my first contribution to ‘Educator Voices.’

Recently I was interviewing a potential Head of School candidate with other members of our academic leadership team when one of the statements the candidate made resonated with me and began to make me wonder.

‘What if schools had never existed? I am convinced that if schools had never existed within past societies they would not look like they do today.’

As I thought more deeply about this statement I began to imagine what type of learning community people would develop today if they had the creative freedom to design a school without any previous constructs that existed within their mind.  In all honesty as I attempted to envision this myself I found this incredibly difficult to do because of my previous and current experiences as a teacher, leader and learner in existing and traditional school frameworks.  The structures that have shaped our perceptions of schools and schooling are hard to ignore as I personally attempt to reimagine schools.

As I began to contemplate my vision of what a school designed today would look like, and how it would be designed, I was reminded of the work of a few educators whose writings I have read recently. Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon would like us to reimagine education through the innovative and transformative work they are doing with Modern Learners. In their publication, ‘10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning,’ they discuss a re-imagination of the school experience that is taking place throughout the world but, understand that the radical type of change necessary requires visionary leadership, community support and time.

‘Today, truly transformative change at a systems level in pre-existing schools is very difficult to find. It’s easier to build a new school than to change an old one.’ @willrich45 @bruceadixon


Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Marie Hubley Alcock recently published the book, ‘Bold Moves for Schools.’ Together they attempt to provide a conceptual foundation and concrete strategies for redefining school roles and reconstructing educational facilities, systems, structures and policies to support 21st century learners. They believe that:

‘Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies.” Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.’  @HeidiHayesJacob @mariealcock

In many ways educators around the world have come to the conclusion that are existing facilities, systems, and school structures need to be redesigned and re-envisioned to reflect the visions our innovative and transformational leaders share.  However, we all recognise that the challenges to bring about real change in our schools is difficult, and at some times, may seem impossible. Educational reformers and theorists have for decades shared new ways of thinking regarding schools and learning. Although these theories have been widely accepted and discussed amongst educationalists, a resistance to change on the part of our policymakers and other stakeholders has stalled our mission to turn these theories into a tangible reality.

Today our ability to connect with one another and share ideas instantly with people around the world has accelerated our calls for action. Transformational practices that schools and educators are applying in authentic contexts around the world has led to a louder discourse and a growing excitement within the educational community regarding a new vision of schools.  It is my hope that these trailblazers will lead us on the path of fundamentally changing the structure of schools and the learning experiences our students co-design.


At this time I would like to challenge you to take a moment to contemplate the following questions; What if schools had never existed? Are you able to truly reimagine schools?  Clear your mind of all your previous impressions, experiences, and images of school.  Now, share your most creative ideas and visions of what schools would look like if they were created today for our world of tomorrow.


5 thoughts on “What If Schools Had Never Existed?

    • Thank you! I truly enjoyed the exchange between John and yourself. I’m happy you were able to make the connection to our Twitter conversation. I was actually going to embed our Twitter feed into the blog post but was unsure about permissions. Looking forward to future collaborations.


  1. Thanks for re-posting this – it gives great food for thought. If we are truly going to shake up learning and teaching we need to cast aside many long-held beliefs.


  2. Great ideas, Joe. But I would recast this question.

    Asking ‘What if schools had never existed?”, in the modern industrial context, is like asking, ‘What if capitalism had never existed?’ It’s an awesome thought experiment, but I’m not sure it gets us very far in our current ‘rebel’ thinking. Our educational model is based firmly in the industrial model.

    I would, instead, ask: ‘How can education help create the best version of capitalism?’

    We know from recent research and reporting that technological advances have reshaped the modern workplace. Employers are looking for so-called soft skills: critical thinking, written and oral communication, collaboration, creativity. I think we, as schools, should be asking, how we can develop these skills in our students; but more than that, how can we develop these skills with a sense of purpose?

    How can entrepreneurship–coupled with social media and thinking skills–better shape capitalism into a force for good and equality? I have a feeling our students have the answer, if only we have the courage to give them the space to find out how.


    • Thanks for your comment Dan. The question that you recast is an interesting one and would make for an intriguing blog post. Some of the questions you raised, and the ideas you shared reminded me of the writings of educators like Benjamin Doxtdator (@doxtdatorb). If you’re not familiar with his work I think you’ll find his writings very insightful.

      One of the things you mentioned in your comment was, “our educational model is based firmly in the industrial model.” Although I agree with you, I feel it is this model that I am questioning and attempting to reimagine, redesign and reconstruct. Devin Vodicka, Chief Impact Officer at the AltSchool recently wrote, “What we need now, in the post-industrial era, is a model of learning that better represents the active engagement that occurs when students drive their learning. our educational system has an opportunity to take a massive evolutionary leap by transcending what we have done in the past.

      John Goodwin, the CEO of the Lego Foundation, posed the question, “If the technological revolution is to continue, where is the educational revolution to match?”


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