Sunday, April 14, 2013


The general assumption is that all good things come from somewhere else, and as I was talking with a friend last night, he mentioned that folks out in the big world may not necessarily think much of my home state of Arkansas. We have no Ivy League school. Many folks here are relatively uneducated in comparison to folks in some places. The value of knowledge is clearly stratified and measured in the culture at large and in some modes of thought, Arkansas might not measure up. Some knowledge is presumed to offer a higher paycheck and greater status than the kind of commonsense know-how that is held and dispersed by common folk.

I want to list the most squandered resources in American education. First is the interest and natural learning inclinations of each child. We make schools uninteresting by ignoring the child's natural inclination to learn things that are interesting to them.

Secondly, we ignore the educational value of the places in which our schools exist. We try to impose a uniformity in design and curriculum that is completely ignorant of place. Children are not taught to engage in their own environments as stewards and participants in natural life and community. When you realize how engaging place and community can become, you begin to realize how this resources is squandered. We do that by putting kids behind desks in classrooms in which they are actually deprived of engagement in real life.

Third, we squander the educational value of folks who live in our diverse communities all across this vast nation. We ignore their skills and potential contributions thus failing to utilize them in the education of our children. That is a particularly tragic loss because both students and mentors would have received huge benefits from a learning partnership.

This squandering of educational resources is a great way to insure that our children are disengaged from learning and that the wisdom of common folk is never put forth into the hands of coming generations except by accident. Fortunately a great number of students are put off by standard American education, drop out and get out into their communities to learn from these three neglected and squandered resources.

How can I dare say that dropping out of high school or college can be a good thing? While it may not be good for most students to drop out of school, it seems that some who have, have offered great benefits to the rest of us. My friends Elliot Washor and Charlie Mojkowski begin their new book, Leaving to Learn, How Out of School Learning Increased Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates, with a long list of successful folks (including Bill Gates) who did drop out from school, and thence bestowed the benefits of their own outside-the-classroom learning on our economy and culture. The list includes a wide range of contributors, who despite the American system of squandering educational resources, plugged into what was most natural for them and successfully followed their own interests which led them outside conventional education.

One dropout connected to my own family history was Lovell Lawrence, Jr. (Bunny), a friend of my dad's who was founder of RMI Reaction Motors, Inc. and later became the head of Chrysler Engineering and took charge of the successful development of the lunar lander. He dropped out of school because there were no teachers capable of keeping up with his own interests. His portable rocket launch stand is enshrined in the Smithsonian.

To make things perfectly clear, Washor and Mojkowski are no advocates of children dropping out of school. Their book points to how children actually learn and how they learn best and that we might actually restructure schooling to make use of available resources. If schools made best use of available resources, children, kept captivated by learning, would not drop out and our communities would be enriched as a result.

Of course the most squandered of available resources when it comes to learning is our hands. When those who decided that the hands were not the most essential tool in learning arrived at that point, began disparaging the the value of skilled hands, and separated the hand and mind in their thoughts of themselves, they launched our nation on this course of educational stupidity. We learn best, most thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on.

Yesterday I had about 30 visitors from the Oakland Art Museum. As you can see in the photo above, I put out a few boxes to sell to my guests. Sadly, I neglected to get a photo of them while they were here. Who knew such a long bus could make it all the way up our long drive? What I most hope my guests carried away from their visit was a new understanding about how kids learn, and how, by engaging our hands in learning, and regardless of age, we can insure the success of economy and culture. There are very special things to become acquainted with in Arkansas. One visitor told me, that Eureka Springs was like Carmel, but without the sea. I can assure you that if you were to visit, you would find it's even better than that. Come to Eureka Springs and let us surprise you.

Make, fix and create...


  1. I've been to Eureka Springs. It is not just a very beautiful place, it is very special in other ways. To have that kind of concentration of creative people in one place adds something that isn't found just anywhere.


  2. Mario, we loved having you here. While not every place will have as many artists, every place will have important values to pass along to kids. The cultural heritage of Buffalo, and the appreciation of your special place should be an educational resource used each and every day in schools. And so, as I know you agree, it is near criminal to keep kids behind desks when there is so much learning to do.