Discussions of education are no longer limited to the three R's. A fourth R has has been added to the list: that of 'Reform'. Lewis Perelman, on the other hand, does not entertain discussions of any of these R's. Instead of reforming schools, he believes we should replace them altogether. And in place of the R's, he
emphasizes instead the three C's: costs, consumers and competition. Perelman argues that schools should be replaced by "a new mechanism more attuned to the technology and social fabric of the modern world". This new mechanism is hyperlearning or "a universe of new technologies" that will prepare Americans for the "knowledge-age economy" and technological revolution of the upcoming millennium. Using elements from the Total Quality Management model and fixing "privatization as the primary goal of restructuring education and training", Perelman presents a radical prescription for a future of learning without schools.
The future is what Perelman has in focus. Not "a vision of the future that is glued to the rearview mirror", but a vision of a twenty-first-century "knowledge-based economy". Education's mission, argues Perelman, is to prepare the young for this future. Unfortunately, "education is far more concerned with the past and tradition than with the future". These same traditions have led to educational practices based on myths that place schooling and learning "at odds". These myths would have us believe that "people learn best in school", that knowledge can be "chopped up in discrete subjects", that school prepares students for the workplace, that teaching is "knowledge injection", that there is a predefined order in which things must be learned, that "education is different from training", that those who get higher grades are necessarily smarter, that "facts are more important than skills", that "learning is solitaire" and, finally, that "schooling is good for socialization".
Perelman's criticisms of schooling are not limited to strictly pedagogical concerns. At issue in School's Out is "the increasingly costly barrier schooling poses to economic and social progress". While the rhetoric of educational reform traditionally bemoans lack of spending on education, Perelman's argument emphasizes exactly the opposite: "the central failure of our education system is not inadequacy but excess: Our economy is being crippled by too much spending on too much schooling."(p.24) Educational reform's strategy of
"spending more has utterly failed". A "surplus of overschooled professionals", "hollow diplomas" "unmet needs for reeducation and retraining",
an ineffective research and development process,
lack of "innovation and productivity",
emphasis on "elite credentials rather than real learning": these are all characteristic of America's ailing education sytem. Meanwhile, economic management, or mismanagement as Perelman might term it, has resulted
in labour costs for education that are "nearly double those of the average U.S. business", a situation with student as "servant" of the "educational provider" rather than "consumers in our economy", and an absence of competition and "profit motive" that have killed "attempts at innovation".
Reforming education and schools will neither cure schools of these ills nor provide the necessary changes to prepare for the knowledge-age economy of the twenty-first century. Instead, argues Perelman, we must replace education and schools by hyperlearning which "represents not merely a new form of "education" freed of this or that encumbrance, but a world freed of the encumbrance of education altogether".(p.63) Nations that choose a "brand-new, high-tech learning system will be the world's economic powerhouses through the twenty-first century". This new form of learning will be shared with smart machines and will extend beyond the school, beyond the static roles of teacher and learner and beyond the school years. Smart environments, interactive hypermedia systems, biomedical and brain technology, and a "communication infrastructure that makes all knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime': these are the "four threads" of hyperlearning technology. The impacts of the "HL revolution" will include greater accessibility of learning through distance education, smart environments that make learning characteristic of everyday situations, expertise as a property of "systems and networks" rather than persons, and people of all ages and levels learning together and throughout their entire lives.
Moving from the present state of education to hyperlearning will require draconian changes to the economic organization and management of education. Using terms such as 'productivity', 'market competition', 'human capital investment', 'learning consumers', and 'learning industry', Perelman describes his vision of economic reform of education. Replacement of the "government-owned and -commanded economy of schooling with competitive markets for learning", the introduction of "commercial choice" and "profit-motivated competition" in education - these are the essential components of Perelman's plan. Schools must be run like a business, as "autonomous, profit-making enterprises" that are "accountable primarily to the consumer through the mecanism of the market". This is Perelman's radical plan for reinventing education, his educational perestroika that will revolutionize, revitalize and liberate learning for life in the twenty-first century.
Perelman makes it clear in his preface that
School's Out is "not about education" but about "economic transformation". What the book makes distinctly evident is that both issues are very much interrelated and dependant on each other. Economic health and growth now, and particulary in the future, will be dependent on how well we perform as consumers and producers. In turn, this performance is dependant, to a large degree, on how and what we have learned and how well we are able to continue to learn. This same economic transformation will also dictate how we must and can learn. The economy of the future needs a restructured education system powered by technology -an expensive system that will require changes in the way funds for education are allocated and spent.
Perelman's thesis is complex and somewhat convoluted with economics and education figuring on opposite sides of the same coin, each one reciprocally dependant on the other. As such, School's Out highlights some of the intricacies of educational change as well as its interrelatedness with the economy and society. For Perelman, learning's purposes are subservient to the needs of the economy - a perspective likely to provoke virulent criticism from those who see education as an end in itself or from those who see it as a means of social transformation. Furthermore, his economic plan for restructuring education is likely to draw criticism, particularly in Canada where total privatization would surely provoke concerns of social and economic equity.
Perelman may also draw criticism from educators and instructional designers for his attempts at reinventing education. School's Out includes some remedies and suggestions for improvement but it does not provide a detailed blueprint for action nor does it provide a coherent picture of exactly how the new system would work. The term hyperlearning is bandied about by Perelman in such a way that it defies clear definition. Just how primary and elementary education would be organized and structured under hyperlearning is not clear. Like Perelman, many hold a utopian vision of education reform made possible by technology. Yet neither Perelman's plan nor any other has resulted in transformation of an education system that appears virtually impervious to large scale alteration.
School's Out reminds us that there is more to education than the traditional three R's. And yet, there would appear to be more than Perelman's three C's. Rather than the earlier description of a coin with education and economics on either side, what we find instead is a multifaceted prism of economics, politics, social traditions, cultural mores, schooling practices, conceptions of learning and, at the core, students and teachers. Change in this complex entity may be a phenomenon that occurs more indirectly and subtly or more as an side effect of change in another facet of the prism than by change aimed at education alone.
Educational reform, reinvention, revitilizing, revolution: regardless of the term used, bringing about substantial, systemic change in education has proven to be a difficult task. Perelman uses the Peristroika and revolution analogy to describe the approach he feels must be taken to effectuate true change. Yet the present situation in the Soviet Union suggests that revolutions can not only be costly but often fail to realize the changes that were originally intended. Likewise, large-scale education reform simply by nature of the added complexity, has the potential to invite complications and increase the possibility of failure.
On the other hand, change on a smaller scale such as that of a single school board or even a single school may be more easily initiated and accomplished. Although the effects would not necessarily far reaching, they nonetheless would be measurable and could provide a starting point for further efforts. As well, change at this micro level has the potential to more effectively meet the individual and particular needs of schools and the communities they serve. This style of reform does not demand an end to education yet it can incorporate new technology and some of the aspects of hyperlearning. For Perelman, school may be out but for many of us, we're simply hoping to improve on and change the three R's.