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Exploring the New Paradigm of Education: Microschools, Parental Involvement, and Lifelong Learning

This blog post was generated from the following video:

School Vs. Education: A Panel Discussion

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, traditional models are being questioned and reimagined. One such advocate for change is Mike Witherspoon, a lifelong educator whose experience spans founding four schools across three different states. This blog post delves into his journey, the vital role of community, and the promising future of microschools.

Mike Witherspoon's diverse background includes not only his professional endeavors but also his personal growth, greatly influenced by the Love family. He credits Becky Elder and her brothers for shaping his dialectical maturity—thinking through subjects from multiple angles while maintaining a balanced temperament. This ability to consider all perspectives is a critical skill that is increasingly rare in today's culture, and one that Witherspoon believes should be central to educational reform.

In a recent gathering of educators, industry leaders, and community representatives, the discussion centered on the state of education. The resumes and achievements of the attendees were impressive, underscoring the significant collective impact they have had. This meeting highlighted the necessity of celebrating the accomplishments within the education sector, while also multiplying these positive effects through collaboration and innovation.

The Dilemma: School vs. Education

The central theme of the discussion was the distinction between "school" and "education," a topic that is both timely and essential. Many young individuals feel constrained by the traditional school system, which is under increasing scrutiny. Identifying a clear measurement of success within schools is challenging, prompting a reevaluation of what education should truly entail.

Introducing the Panelists

The panel featured a diverse group of individuals, each bringing unique insights and experiences to the table:

  • Nathan Washer: Head of School at Wichita Collegiate, with a background in public education in England.

  • Terrell Davis: Head of School at The Independent School, with extensive experience in public education and turnaround administration.

  • Dalena Wallace: Homeschool mom and representative of Wichita Innovative School, advocating for outside-the-box educational models.

  • Russ McCullough: College professor of Economics at Ottawa University, emphasizing market-based solutions and entrepreneurial attitudes.

  • Pete Farrell: Ranch owner with a focus on practical, hands-on learning and ecological education.

  • James Tooley: Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, specializing in low-cost private schools in developing regions.

  • Leroy Hershberger: Repair shop owner and high school shop teacher, promoting the value of practical skills and experiential learning.

Working Definition of Education

Drawing from its Latin roots, education is defined as "leading out" the learner, an ongoing process that prepares individuals for new paths and knowledge. It is a lifelong journey that goes beyond the confines of traditional schooling.

Distinguishing School and Education

The conversation explored the essential differences between school and education, considering whether they are in conflict or harmony. While school often implies a structured, systematic approach, education encompasses a broader, more holistic process. The key question is whether these two concepts can coexist or if they inherently clash.

The Role of Compulsory Education

What would happen if education were no longer compulsory? This provocative question led to a fruitful debate. Historically, schooling was widespread even before it became compulsory, suggesting that the desire to educate is a natural inclination for parents. However, compulsory education ensures that all children, regardless of background, have access to learning opportunities. The challenge lies in balancing this mandate with the flexibility to cater to individual needs.

Partnerships and Industry Involvement

The role of industry in supporting education cannot be overstated. Apprenticeships and internships provide valuable hands-on experience, bridging the gap between academic knowledge and practical skills. However, the question remains: Is industry doing enough? Effective partnerships between businesses and schools can enrich the educational experience, but this requires a collective effort to align goals and resources.

Standards and Accountability

Determining the standards for education is a complex issue. Who decides what constitutes a successful education? This question is critical in both public and private settings, as it influences the direction and quality of learning. Accountability must be maintained to ensure that all students receive a meaningful education, but it should not stifle innovation or flexibility.

Decentralization and Choice

One of the promising trends in education is the rise of microschools—small, community-driven schools that offer personalized learning experiences. Decentralization allows for greater choice and adaptability, catering to the unique needs of students and families. However, concerns about fraud and accountability must be addressed to ensure the integrity of these models.

Funding and Resources

State funding and surplus present opportunities and challenges for education. Voucher systems and incentives for private education can provide families with more options, but they must be carefully designed to avoid unintended consequences. Effective use of resources is crucial to support diverse educational models and ensure equal access for all students.

Socialization and Cultural Impact

Schools play a vital role in socialization, imparting cultural norms and values. The tension between homogenization and respecting individual cultures is an ongoing debate. Education should aim to cultivate well-rounded individuals who can navigate a diverse society, while also preserving the unique identities of different communities.

The Value of Rigor and Consequences

Rigor and discipline are essential components of education. Deadlines, challenges, and consequences teach students resilience and accountability. These experiences are invaluable, preparing students for the realities of life and work.

Addressing Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences

Trauma significantly impacts learning and brain development. Positive adult relationships are crucial in helping children overcome these challenges. Mentorship and support systems within schools can provide the stability and encouragement that students need to thrive.

Encouraging Passion and Self-Direction

Allowing students to pursue their passions and interests leads to more engaged and motivated learners. Self-directed curriculum models, such as those found in microschools, foster creativity and independence, enabling students to take ownership of their education.

Integrating Ecology and Nature

Teaching ecology and understanding the natural world are essential for fostering a sense of responsibility and connection to the environment. Incorporating gardening and livestock care into school curriculums can provide practical, hands-on learning experiences that are both educational and enriching.

Embracing Technology and Innovation

Technology plays a significant role in modern education. Makerspaces, innovation labs, and virtual reality offer new ways to engage students and enhance learning. Schools must balance technological advancements with the need to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Building Community and Humanity

Education is not just about academic achievement; it is about fostering a sense of community and interconnectedness. Schools should cultivate empathy, cooperation, and mutual respect, preparing students to contribute positively to society.

Ensuring Efficiency and Accountability

While the market can drive innovation and efficiency, there must be safeguards to ensure accountability. Transparent practices and regular evaluations can help maintain high standards and prevent misuse of resources.

Prioritizing Happiness and Well-Being

Measuring success in education should go beyond economic indicators. The concept of Gross National Happiness, as practiced in Bhutan, offers a holistic approach to evaluating the well-being of individuals and communities. This perspective can inform more balanced and humane educational policies.

Focusing on Human Scale and Engagement

Smaller, community-based schools allow for more personalized and meaningful interactions. Engaging at a local level ensures that education is relevant and responsive to the needs of students and families.


The future of education lies in reimagining how we approach learning. Microschools, with their emphasis on personalized, community-driven education, offer a promising alternative to traditional models. By fostering partnerships, encouraging parental involvement, and prioritizing the well-being of students, we can create a more equitable and effective educational system. The collective efforts of educators, parents, businesses, and communities are essential in building a brighter future for all learners.

As the education landscape continues to evolve, platforms like "Really Good Schools for Everyone" aim to link associated schools and promote innovative models. Whether public or private, urban or rural, every school has the potential to contribute to this movement. It is through collaboration, creativity, and a shared commitment to excellence that we can reshape education for the better.

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