“EMPOWERMENT HUBS” — the 21st century alternative to schools that the world is now starting to create
By Leo Wölfel and Marc Prensky
IN THE 21st CENTURY parents have no alternative to “school” for their kids. They need one, however, because the concept of school is fast becoming outdated and no longer a good fit for many kids. We propose the world begin to create “Empowerment Hubs” alongside, and in addition to, schools, as an equally valid (or, for many, a more valid) alternative.
For the complex task of bringing up our kids outside the home, today “schools” are all we have — everywhere in the world. What is remarkable is that all schools — public, private, religious, charter — do the same thing, i.e. conduct “classes” and “courses,” with “students” and “teachers.” They are based on an academic, “thinking-only” model. Their goal is “learning” and (in some cases) “character building.” They mostly ignore the older tradition of accomplishment (i.e. parent to child, master to apprentice) which now happens later, in our workplaces.
While schools may try hard to differentiate themselves from each other — each adding various kinds of Incremental Changes (“ICing”), such as technology, STEAM focus, religion, social-emotional learning, Montessori or Waldorf elements etc. — to the basic “cake” of literacy, math, language, science, and social studies, schools are all, at a basic level, the same — i.e. they all offer some version of what I call “20th Century Education” — i.e. classes, courses, students and teachers. Now, with Covid, we are seeing the emergence of “home schooling,” “micro schools,” “pods,” and other alternative forms of schooling — all still similar in their basic goals.
Most adults in the world today consider this necessary for kids, because, in the 20th century — when all of them grew up — it was. All our schools offer a version of 20th century education — because today there is no widely-accepted alternative.
But an alternative is emerging in many pockets around the globe — it just doesn’t yet have a universal name like “school.” It needs a new name, because what happens in these places is very different than what happens in schools. Rather than sitting in classes taking courses and subjects, kids — starting at the earliest ages (e.g. kindergarten and even pre-K), do real-world-impacting team projects — projects they choose, based on their own unique interests, concerns, strengths and passions — that fix some problem that they see in their world, and improve their world (and themselves) in the process.
The name we propose for this process — an alternative to what the 20th century called “Education” (as it is practiced in the world today, not as you may idealize it) is “Empowerment and Accomplishment.” Because it has such a radically different focus, it is an alternative to education. Schools are not the right place for this — even if some want to be. In schools, Empowerment and Accomplishment will always be ICing — a marginal addition to the core.
So we need “Empowerment Hubs.” What are they? We don’t yet know, as we are just creating them, but the name itself suggests a number of things:
1. They are part of a network (that’s what “hubs” are).
2. They can be virtual, in-person or a combination.
3. They can have members of varying ages.
4. They have doers, imaginers and dreamers — not “students”
5. They have guides, empowerers and enablers — not “teachers.”
6. People get, and leave with, Resumes of Real-World Impacting Accomplishments — not diplomas, certifications or grades.
The details of exactly what goes on in Empowerment Hubs needs to be constructed — by people, young and old together, who desire Empowerment and Accomplishment, and see it as a better and more useful goal than just “learning.” Learning will of course take place at Empowerment Hubs, but it will be for the specific purpose of accomplishment, not for “its own sake.” Not “vocational” accomplishment, either, but rather “getting things done” in any arena — and not just thinking and writing about it. The focus of an Empowerment Hub is real-world accomplishment and impact.
A Naming Stake
What we are doing here is putting a “naming” stake in the ground — or floating a name in the air — for what we are trying to help create — “Empowerment Hubs”. We do not propose to “own” the name, nor, we hope, will anybody else. We declare the name public domain, with a Creative Commons license. Everyone can create their own variations, and the best features — different, perhaps for different places — will emerge and be shared.
We are happy to be the “hub” for collecting and sharing these variations.
The key point is that for raising kids outside the home there is, today, no alternative to our academic-tradition-derived “schools” — which are no longer as useful, for most, as they were in previous, pre-Internet, times. Our new 21st century needs a new alternative, and we think “Empowerment Hubs” is a good generic description — above any individual brands that emerge (of which we hope there will be many.)
Leo Wölfel is a 21-year old doer and imaginer. Marc Prensky is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed keynote speaker in over 40 countries, author of 8 books, and coiner of the term “Digital Native.” Their joint goal is “Empowering the Humans of the Future.”