What is PaleoEducation?

If you are a teacher, think about the best lesson you do.  All of us have that one lesson that we cannot wait to teach every year.  It is the lesson that has the students so engaged they are shocked when the bell rings.  You actually hear, “Awwwwww…” when the period ends.  Picture teaching that lesson.  If you are not an educator, think about your time in school.  Picture a lesson you found inspiring, informative, important and engaging.  Think about a lesson that left you sad when it was over.  Educator or not, answer this question: how much advanced technology was involved in that lesson?  If you are like the overwhelming majority of people we surveyed, the answer is little to none.  Now answer a second question: what made (or makes) that lesson so great?  Again, if you are like the overwhelming majority, you will answer something about how important the teacher was to that lesson.  The experience of creating a rich learning experience for students has always been dependent upon a well-trained, well-prepared educator.  Paleo-educators create these engaging lessons more often than tech dependent educators, because they are drawing on the natural needs and skills of themselves and their students.

After reading about the destruction wrought by our over-reliance on educational technology, it would be natural to assume that we advocate zero technology classrooms. That is not the case. In any event that would be impossible, as the most rudimentary classroom tools such as pencils and chalk can broadly be classified as “technology.” Our concern is not “technology” per se. To be certain, though, one of our major concerns is the rising over-reliance on modern technological gadgets as a panacea for education. As we pointed out in Part One, simply giving teachers iPads and other mental pacifiers for use in the classroom does not make for better teachers. A bad teacher with a classroom set of Kindles is still a bad teacher. Similarly, removing technology from a classroom does not make for better teachers. A bad teacher who gets rid of all of the laptops he has been regularly having his students use is still a bad teacher. Paleo-education is not technology-free education. Further, it is not simply about returning to “the good ol’ days” when teachers only lectured and could whack students with rulers. Salty, curmudgeonly teachers who are looking for support for the “sage on the stage” model of teaching, which entails lecturing bell-to-bell every class, are going to have to continue looking.

To truly conform to the paleo-method, removing technology that proves to be harmful to the educational goal is merely the beginning to creating a truly effective classroom. Paleo-education is about much more than that. It is about developing a new way of teaching by using and reorganizing “old fashioned” ideas about learning and social interaction. We have experienced vast improvements in technology in a relatively miniscule amount of time in the human experience.  This is undeniable. What has remained almost completely unchanged since the paleo-lithic time is human anatomy. How our brains function, how we develop thinking skills, how we learn, how we interact with one another has been engrained in all of us. What we advocate, and know to be successful, is a recapturing of our natural abilities: teaching simpler and learning simpler.

Paleo-education is based on three core principles: 1) Instruction is delivered in the simplest possible manner; 2) Instruction focuses on what students are able to do, rather than what students know; and 3) Instruction fosters face-to-face human interaction and opportunities for community building. These principles guided Brog’s teachers, and they should guide us today because they use the innate learning abilities and tendencies that all students have. A “perfect” paleo-lesson can be done in any classroom, from the wealthiest school district to the poorest, from pre-school on up. It could be done in a classroom, but also on a bus during a field trip, or on the side of the road if the bus breaks down, far from electrical outlets or the nearest wi-fi hotspot.