Changing the World by Changing the Way We Learn

(Sample Chapters) by Brenda Hamilton

CHAPTER ONE _______________________________________________________


This book calls for a revolution - - not by force, but a gentle, pleasant one brought about by fresh thinking and superior technology.

Change is necessary because one of mankind’s primary systems, “education,” has been found to have a deadly defect, is extremely antiquated, unable to reform itself, and causes inestimable harm every day it is allowed to continue. What is wrong with it?

1.) Schools don’t teach the way children learn.  Babies and toddlers (our best models) learn as joyfully, fearlessly and naturally as they breathe, with fascination, boldness, curiosity and delight. Their very reason for living is to fully absorb the environment in which they find themselves. Within a few sensible limits, they are free to do so.     

2.) Current educational practices destroy the potential brilliance of the human race.   Sterile, monotonous environments, lack of freedom to move and explore, an imposed curriculum and tactics of fear and coercion - - all destroy the habit of thinking for oneself and starts habits of passively drifting, waiting around, killing time.  Subject matter has been stretched out, chopped up and made complex, with abstract information meted out in small teaspoonfuls. It withholds the big picture, presenting the world as piecemeal and incomprehensible.   This is like expecting someone to put together a 5000-piece puzzle without first seeing the photograph on the box, giving them only a few pieces at a time.         

After twelve years, the bright- eyed toddlers become apathetic, mentally paralyzed and overloaded. They feel passive, confused and cynical; their eyes dull with indifference.  Only a small fraction of their inborn neural “software” has been activated due to non-use and non-stimulation.  They rarely initiate, create or invent.

3.) Traditional schooling causes paralyzing boredom.  Most of today’s children, living in this fast, electronic age, have been exposed early to interactive gadgetry and “magic” of all kinds:  interactive toys, high speed video games, cell phones, cars, airplanes, spaceships and the Internet.  In contrast to children 100 years ago, they also know well that the world is much larger than their own village.   Confinement to textbooks and workbooks feels like cruel and unusual punishment. 

4.) All reform efforts within the system are doomed to fail because of an inherent fatal flaw.    This flaw is control, which carries with it a lack of freedom.  True learning involves freedom to choose based on real, personal needs and desires, freedom to move in the direction indicated, and freedom to fail without embarrassment.     

5.) Even if radical change were possible, deeply vested interests oppose and firmly resist fundamental reform efforts. The $5 billion per year textbook industry and the 4.2 million strong teacher’s unions are only two of the most obvious stumbling blocks.   

6.) Outrageous sums are being spent without question to underwrite this system. Within the next three years the U.S. will spend $2.5 trillion on public education.  These are only a few of the most blatant problems. There are many more. But now we must ask, “why does it matter? Why must we try to change all of this?”    
  1. We have at last become smart enough as a species to begin to understand the awesome capabilities of our own brains. Computers help us better comprehend our amazing “hard-wiring,” our rich and plentiful “soft-ware,” and how to “activate” it.   Brain physiology has turned up astonishing facts about the human brain and central nervous system, while carefully controlled scientific experiments hint at vast little-used abilities.  
  3. We face serious global challenges. We will need all the genius we can muster to successfully grapple with climate catastrophes, energy shortages, waste disposal, nuclear power misuses, world hunger, disease epidemics and depletion of natural resources. 
  5. Planetary hostilities must end or we will destroy ourselves. We need all the mutually respectful, empathetic and joyful people possible, as we try to thrive together in a complex world.  True and delightful learning nurtures psychologically healthy, mentally alert, socially happy, hopeful and energized people.  Resentful, fearful, angry, depressed, and cynical people perpetrate terrorism and war.  
Can’t we just reform the system already in place?  What has not yet dawned on most people is that education is a problem to be solved by invented device, not by reform. Two invented devices that have transformed the world are personal computers and the global Internet, both astonishing in their powers of handling and disseminating information.   Both have profoundly changed learning in  “virtual land.” But no one, until now, has yet invented an efficient machine for how we learn in “3-D land.” Nothing has made it possible to easily discover, experience, enjoy, master and apply all of this wonderful information in tangible ways.  And no master switch has yet “booted up” our brains to fullest potential.          

This is not about tinkering and reforming schools.  It is about “re-forming”- - bringing forth a wholly different design from scratch, totally reconceived.  This book unveils such a device, a new “machine,” that delivers adventures, discoveries, perceptions, organized knowledge, solid understandings, skills and deeply satisfying work in real time and space.  It is the product of over 30 years of careful thought, research, design and first-hand experience.  It is based on our unfathomable human potential, and modeled after the learning style of babies, our best examples of what real learning looks like. It is what the world needs now, and what is ready to be delivered with the help of those who “get it” and those who can “give it” (the needed resources of time, energy, know-how and money).

Is this revolution based on a new theory? No.  It is based on what we already know and two simple observations.      
  1. Human beings have an innate impulse to survive that leads us to explore the environment in which we find ourselves. Mastering this environment is a primary drive in life as well as one of our greatest sources of ecstasy and comfort.    
  3. There exists a continuous natural flow of sparkling life-energy. It consists of inborn curiosity, the need to test, the joy of discovery, the drive toward mastery, the impulse to create and the confidence to invent.  It is easily seen in all babies and toddlers - - anyone before they’ve “been schooled.” 
Accordingly, the revolutionary invention is simply a new thing (model, environment, device, machine - - call it what you will) engineered to utilize and work with these two natural, familiar (though awesomely powerful) forces.

Our schools are like the ancient mills, powered by man or beast trudging around and around to make the wheel grind the grain. The amount produced is paltry, the weary result of tedious toil.  The first water mill was invented around 200 BC when someone finally thought to utilize the energy of the stream!   When the mill can be cunningly designed, properly built, and correctly situated to take advantage of the natural, constant, swiftly flowing water, how effortlessly can the job be done, and how efficiently can it produce enormous amounts of life- giving sustenance.          

The re-engineered learning machine will be designed in such a way that the mighty stream of these natural drives and impulses flows right through the center of it and nothing will be allowed to hamper the clear and mighty force.

How can this new model change the world?  It will produce happy people who are energized, focused, active, eager and in touch with their natural gifts and aptitudes.  They will realize who they really are at an early age and begin heading “true north” toward their life’s work much sooner.  It will develop great amounts of self-respect as well as heart-felt respect for others, seeing in them sacred needs and divine sparks.

By being constantly surrounded by beauty and order, they will value the peace and delight of these things and absorb understandings of categorization, placement, subtle harmonies of color, texture, form and scale.  By mastering innumerable tools and skills to do important tasks, they will have much to offer friends and family. By getting the whole picture and being exposed early to the needs of the world, they can begin to be truly effective in offering solutions to problems of hunger, clean water, proper housing, pollution and climate change.

It will change modes of operation from coercion, control, fear, pressure and stress to modes of freedom, confidence, relaxation, bliss and genius.     


Who am I to offer such a plan?  I’ve pondered this at length.  To begin with, I have a tremendous heart cry and reverence for freedom, probably insured by my agonizing two-day breech birth. Strongly loved, I was sane enough to notice the problems of the greater world, even at an early age.  I learned from an older sister the magic of imagining, in order to bring new things into being. I was constantly and deeply enthralled by the wonders of nature on beautiful emerald-green Norris Lake in East Tennessee, giving rise to immense curiosity.

My very dramatic and intense experiences as a young high school English teacher in the rural south opened my heart and eyes to the needs of humanity. But the lights really came on for me one particular day when, with my two babies leading the way, I discovered their main reason for living, and how to present knowledge in sync with their natural learning style. The magnificent vision that soon presented itself has been a personal touchstone that has energized me for decades.  As a mother, I was trying to preserve the innate learning drive of my own children.  I went to the very end of the road to reform public education as a schoolteacher, a school board member with a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision, an appointee to the Governor’s Task Force on Education, and an elected member of the Tennessee School Board Association.  Alas, however, I finally realized I could not make a serious dent.

In the 1990s, I became familiar with the ways of capitalistic free enterprise, seeing a way for philanthropy and conscientious capitalism to solve the problem. I persistently ran up many blind alleys and knocked on many heavy doors, learning hard lessons as I went.

I also decided to experiment on myself using the “activation by absorption” notion for skills I wanted to master, becoming open and confidently expectant, immersing myself in music and art.  I successfully accomplished this after age 50, proving it’s never too late.

This vision needed to be birthed by one who had intimately and tenderly nurtured a human being from earliest infancy.  Such a person knows many subtle and important things.

Travel has expanded my perspective, as I have absorbed new ideas in over twenty countries on five continents.

I am founder and president of Hamilton Learning Foundation, which has a mission of creating the first prototype model, financed by a creative coalition of philanthropy and free-enterprise, quality controlled by a special “seal of approval,” and franchised throughout the world, utilizing cost efficiencies of mass production and replication.

My thinking has been strongly influenced by: 
  1. EDUCATION AND ECSTASY, by George B. Leonard, who understood that the process of real learning is one of ecstasy.
  3. All the writings of Buckminster Fuller, especially UTOPIA OR OBLIVION, which show clearly that true reform comes through action and new inventions.
  4. IDEAS AND OPINIONS and other writings by Albert Einstein, who said so much so well about how real learning takes place. Disdaining schooling, he taught that your only model is yourself, however frightening.
  5. THE ABSORBENT MIND and THE MONTESSORI METHOD, by Maria Montessori, who made inestimable contributions to the understanding of how children learn, and invented so many clever devices for helping them.  Her respect for their abilities was at the level of holy awe (as is mine).
  7. HOW CHILDREN LEARN and HOW CHILDREN FAIL, by John Holt, who wrote so passionately about his teaching experiences “in the trenches.”
  9. SUMMERHILL, by A. S. Neill, who demonstrated and proved so conclusively the positive effects of freedom in human development.  
  11. NURTURED BY LOVE, by Shinichi Suzuki, who discovered the amazing way “super human” abilities are “caught” early in life.
  13. PEACE PILGRIM, by Peace Pilgrim, whose life demonstrates the power and influence of one totally dedicated woman without material resources.
  15. Marie Hamilton, my wise and witty mother, who not only loved me with a love as deep as the ocean, but who said to me, “if you think inside the box, it puts a lid on your thoughts.”
  17. My outstanding father, the late Samuel B. Hamilton, Jr., who taught me to seek adventure and believe I could do anything, just as he always did.
CHAPTER TWO _______________________________________________________          


The new model is a fresh design to change the world by changing the way we learn. The change will be from bondage to freedom, from fear to trust, from pretension to sincerity, from boredom to zest and from frustration to joy.  It is a sleek, beautiful and expansive "mall for the mind," open to all ages, and organized into 33 loggias (lô¢ je uhz).   It has been richly prepared to offer a comprehensive understanding of the world and beyond, so that all knowledge (and how it fits together) can be seen at once, and is easy to access. It allows for self-directed freedom to delightfully explore and discover, with caring mentors to guide the learners and brilliant masters to demonstrate the uses of knowledge.  Efficient assistants will insure proper use.            

Each loggia provides for 1. Curiosity stimulation, 2. Programmed interactive learning, 3. Hands-on Montessori experiences, 4. Personal on-going projects, 5. Self-testing by machines to determine mastery levels or knowledge gaps, 6. Geodesic glass laboratories where real work is being conducted (where one may be invited to become an apprentice if desired), 7. High levels of  proficiency in skills and key concepts.             

This learning center is a “vehicle” in the sense that it is packed tighter than the cockpit of a jet, with instruments and circuitry to get a learner to where he/she wants to go.  Like the cars we all love to drive, it allows one to choose the destination, go by any route, vary the speed, stop and go at will.            

This stimulating place will be a sensory banquet of knowledge, with no compulsion, failure, shame, or coercion. Like a health club, it will be open for memberships, and like a library, it will be for all ages. It fully supports the natural drive of human beings to simply absorb their environment. Learners, hardwired with a ravenous drive for freedom to explore, will naturally activate great amounts of their  inborn “software.” The learning center is a new invention, based on sound scientific principles. It will facilitate deep and permanent learning one remembers forever, born out of one’s own interests and concerns. Even though brimming with vast amounts of knowledge, and designed to seem expansive because of the great dome above, this mall will yet be friendly, inviting, unimposing, intimate and easily traversed.                

Made possible by a creative coalition of free enterprise and philanthropy, it will spread by franchise, and be quality controlled by The Hamilton Learning Foundation, a non-profit corporation formed in 2009.             

Two drawings provide clear visual images of this unique design and will be unveiled as soon as intellectual property issues are resolved.


1.  Q.  Who is going to pay for this?      
A.  The first prototype model, quite expensive, will be financed by a coalition of non-profit organizations, private philanthropy and free enterprise.  Using mass production and economies of scale, less expensive replicas will be franchised as for-profit businesses.  Families and individuals will purchase memberships.

2. Q. What will it cost me, or my family?    
A.   A typical family, attending during the hours of 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. (instead of public schools) would spend about $2000 a year for unlimited basic usage for two adults and three children.  An individual membership would cost $700 per year for unlimited usage.  A month-long membership would cost $100 for unlimited usage. 

3. Q. Will there be scholarships or “earn to learn” programs?     
A.  Yes, in profusion.  This is not to be for wealthy families only.  Every sincere learner is welcome, and ways will be found to help those with financial need.

4.  Q.  Will attendance here be a legal option?  Will it comply with compulsory attendance laws?
A. Yes.  It has been declared legal for parents to provide children with a learning environment as an alternative to publicly provided schools.  This is what makes home schooling legal.

5. Q. Must I take my children out of school?
A.  No more so than if you joined a health club. You may opt to take full responsibility and full membership, or use the center just for after- school enrichment.  

6. Q. How will I know my child is safe in such a large, unstructured place with all ages of people?       
A. A computerized system of turn-stiles and electronic lanyards will give parents instant access to their children at all times.  Each child will have an assigned mentor to act as caretaker and sponsor within each loggia he/she is authorized to visit. Proper adult vigilance will be the order of the day. Color-coded nametags and programmed lanyards will permit or restrict access to various areas in compliance with parents’ wishes.  

7. Q. How will my child learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic?     
A.  Joyfully, excitedly naturally and eagerly!  By being in an environment totally saturated with the doing of these things, learners will feel very interested in having these skills.  They will see the need for them in all they do and will be with other learners for whom such mastery is second nature. Beautiful, very legible and interesting words will be literally everywhere in this environment because everything will be clearly labeled and annotated.  The reading of the labels alone will support a mastery of reading.  Likewise, children will want to make attractive, clear labels of their own for all of their projects and exhibits.  They will want to be empowered to think and to do for themselves using all the tools and skills they can obtain for their own purposes. There will be no shame or sense of failure to keep learners from revealing their need for help.  Instead, all sorts of non-invasive assistance and respectful encouragement will be at hand in the form of engaging hands-on, interactive learning objects and packets, computerized fast feedback learning games and personal one-on-one instruction. They’ll want to use fine penmanship and excellent grammar for all their correspondences, notations, quotes and compositions.  Penmanship and calligraphy will be considered art forms.            

Likewise, mathematics will be seen as a wonderful tool to help learners toward greater precision and perfection in all that they do.  It will always be found in concrete rather than abstract forms.  Accurate counting, measuring, calculating and estimating will be a part of everything they do. Keyboards and calculators will be allowed, too.  If the child has been in the Montessori Preschool located on the lower level, he/she will have already mastered most of the preparation skills needed, and be well on the way to having “the basics.”  If not, the center provides plenty of ways for learning all that is needed, including special rooms and highly-skilled teaching mentors in the Problem and Practice Rooms found in the math, physics, chemistry, engineering, electronics, economics, business, architecture and life skills loggias.  Learners will soon find that the interactive Mastery Machines make learning easy and fun. Learning “the basics” will simply not employ pressure, coercion, shame or threats.

8. Q. With so much freedom, won’t some children spend all their time in sports, or “going out to play?”    
A. One reason children think they like recreation more than learning is that schools have presented material in such tedious ways, and have created such a “lock down” situation that only recess seems a treat.  Once the child sees so many choices and is introduced to the thrill of learning by doing and discovering, this imbalance will change.  Parents may create contracts with their children and the mentors, so that children and parents agree to the time spent working, playing and learning.

9.  Q.  Will the center be accredited?  
A.  Yes, absolutely, however not in the traditional sense.  There is a system in place to validate the attainment of both normal and outstanding levels of achievement, thus serving as accreditation for the wider world.  These levels will be certified by the center, using the Mastery Machines, the records of apprenticeships, the learner’s completed projects and, in many cases, success as an excellent employee.  This sort of accreditation will be much more meaningful because it is individual rather than institution based.

10. Q. What about the chaos factor?  Won’t young children tend to create terrible messes and become noisy or disorderly?     
A.  All potential members must successfully complete a training program before being issued a temporary permit for a trial period. During the training they will master concepts of order, as well as practical skills and respectful behaviors.   Full membership will then be bestowed, but may still be suspended if there are problems.

11. Q.  Is there a way all communities, even small ones everywhere, can afford to have a center?      
A.  Yes. See the “Stone Soup Method,” described later. This community project is available in package form through the guidelines and support offered by Hamilton Learning Foundation. 

12. Q. Can there be an internet-based “virtual learning center?”
A.  Yes, such a center is already on the drawing board, with an intriguing name and original format.  It will make much of the learning available online.  However, Hamilton Learning Foundation believes there is no substitute for tangible, real life learning experiences. Although it’s fun to “build” a virtual structure out of virtual blocks, such an “engineer” would likely create buildings that collapse. Abstract concepts such as “a trillion” should have a tangible counterpart for true understanding, or economies may collapse.  



When I see children lined up in narrow desks in the cages called classrooms, I could cry.  I have the same sense of tragedy when I see men and women lined up in square niches in sterile office buildings, counting the hours and minutes until quitting time.  When I hear of teen suicide rates, school bombings, drug use and countless tragic situations all over the globe I groan with frustration, knowing that this simply need not be.     

These scenarios are all nonsense and we can change them, more easily than might be supposed.     

On a daily basis, we all continue to participate in a life- extinguishing, but extremely subtle “crime against humanity,” one that affects ourselves, our children, friends, relatives and people around the world.     

It is because mankind is in a state of cultural hypnosis, not even perceiving our dreadful self-inflicted torture and bondage; not even realizing that we are bound by heavy invisible chains, chains that we could so easily unlock.        

“How on earth did this writer come to such a view?” you may ask. The real question is “How on earth did this writer come out of the mass hypnosis and bondage?”      

Or “How did this writer ever become so absolutely optimistic and excited, literally beyond words, with an excitement that has lasted for decades?”       

I consider that it was a mighty healing of sorts.  I’ll tell you the story --  



One cold January, many years ago, I had a terrible, feverish case of the flu, two small babies, under age two, and no help.  (How many men have ever been in such a predicament? Maybe this is why this discovery had to be made by a woman.) It was on this day that I looked at something “everybody else had seen, and thought something that no one else had ever thought.”  (The essence of discovery, according to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi!)     

Trying to figure out some way to make it through the day with my two babies, ages 9 and 18 months (who were used to crawling all over the house) was no small matter. I  was truly sicker that I’d ever been in my entire life. My throat felt full of coarse sandpaper and razor blades, my head was pounding, and I was dizzy and nauseated every time I lifted my head from the pillow. Every muscle felt bound with iron cables. It was clear that I certainly couldn’t leave those babies in their beds all day and listen to them cry.  Neither could I give them the run of the house. They could easily choke on something or pull something over on top of themselves. Putting them in bed with me was not an option. I was one weak pup.

If children grew up
according to early indications,
we should have nothing but geniuses.


I finally hit on a scheme.  I would confine them to my carpeted bedroom, pile my bed full of every sort of article I could find that was new to them, put those babies on the floor, and see how long I could keep them entertained.   Dragging my weak, sick self from room to room with two large laundry baskets, I finally managed to round up all sorts of objects - - everything I could find with smooth edges, interesting shapes, colors, textures and safe moving parts or things that fit together. I searched cupboards, closets, and drawers -- everyplace.  I finally came up with scores of intriguing things, mostly just common, real, daily life objects and even a few toys (new to them since Christmas).     

As I lay on the bed, alternately sweating and chilling, I would select two items, toss one to each and hope for the best.   It worked like a magic trick! They quieted right down and went “to work.”   After a time, I became mesmerized with drowsy fascination watching them, and tried to predict which object would give me the most time. Things with moving parts won. They also liked taking things apart; then trying to put them back together.            

If they had worn glasses and lab coats, I could have been convinced that my babies had become little scientists.  Chubby fingers touched every square inch, as big wide eyes examined each object.  Sooner or later the thing would be tasted, gnawed, and sniffed.  Then it would be squeezed, punched, smacked, and scrunched. Next it would be shaken, listened to, rolled and banged against something else. After that it would be lifted, scrutinized, examined from every angle. If they discovered something interesting  along the way, such as a noise it could make, they would do it over and over again. At last, they would try to take it apart, tear it, or reconfigure it.  How hard they were working!  How thorough they were in their investigations! How quiet and busy they were! And if they discovered a moveable part, they might spend a long time trying to figure out how to use it. (Yea!)  And if they got it figured out, they would just sit there and do it over and over again. Then suddenly, one would be done with an object, throw it aside and start to act restless again.  Plop!  Down would go another object from my stash and the process would start over.             

By sheer coincidence (or divine providence?) the afternoon mail delivered the book Education and Ecstasy by George B. Leonard.  It was the book club selection of the month.            

Never in a thousand years would I have thought there might be a way to connect education (my own had been pretty dismal) with ecstasy.  But there, right in the bedroom floor was evidence that ecstasy connected with learning actually existed.  Never had my own babies spent such a totally joyous, fulfilling day! They were happy!  They were good!  They were calm! What a tip-off for future reference!  I now realized how many times before they had just been crying to signal mere boredom.            

By mid-afternoon, I was wishing I had about another thousand items to throw from the bed.  In my feverish state, I imagined my little ones crawling right through the walls and taking up the exploration of the whole world, so they could be happy forever!            

One thing I now knew for certain: my babies’ drive to learn was unstoppable, and the key to their deepest happiness. Did you get that?  THE DRIVE TO LEARN IS UNSTOPPABLE AND THE KEY TO THE DEEPEST HAPPINESS.  Hold that holy thought, for on it hangs the rest of my tale. I now saw them with new eyes.  I realized that their chief motivation, drive, fulfillment and happiness in life was to learn and discover.  It was natural, normal, totally built in and ready to propel them forward.  All they needed was freedom in an environment that supported such exploration to the ends of the earth (or universe). Was it just a thing in babies I wondered?  Did it apply to adults as well?  Meanwhile, reading Leonard’s book, between my “toss-overs,” I was becoming more convinced by the minute that true learning was indeed meant to be an experience of ecstasy. His words were falling on wide, alert eyes and a hungry heart. I deeply took in every word I read, agreeing with it passionately.  It stirred huge, fresh thoughts in me.  I felt like a new part of my brain had been activated.              
Around sunset, I stood looking out my bedroom window, thinking how grand it would be to have a perfect place for my children to keep on safely exploring everything on the planet. The thought of this incredible drive to learn ever being squelched now seemed Tragic with a capital ‘T.’ Knowing that within a few years they would be confined to desks in a classroom left me incredulous.  I had seen something so amazing, so precious, and so hard to believe that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.             

Not only that, but after observing them, I realized that all babies have the same miraculous and glorious potential, the same beautiful drive to learn.  Suddenly something seemed terribly wrong, like a Christmas tree with all its twinkle lights disabled. My babies were in a world that didn’t recognize or accommodate this glorious power. The realization of this piercing fact left me shaken to the core.              
“Oh dear God,” I prayed, as I stood looking out across the cold, grey landscape,  “what IS the answer?”              

Was it the sudden shaft of misty, golden light in a darkening winter sky, or was it an effect of my feverish brain (and thus my over-stimulated imagination) that made me think I was receiving a divine revelation?  I don’t know.  But at any rate, I saw, as clearly as I have ever seen anything, an amazing place, perfectly prepared, and open for all to learn about everything in the world. There, before my eyes, was the perfect learning environment. I stood transfixed at what I gazed upon, noticing every detail.  What a beautiful place it was! It was a bit like a shopping mall: there were people strolling, seeking, exploring, and learning as they went. They were not shopping for merchandise, but instead, they seemed to be seeking experiences that helped them discover and understand new things.  All ages were there, from babies to senior citizens.   Everything was very orderly.  It seemed both intricate and simple. It was a magnetic place, compelling to the senses. There were no teachers, no classrooms, and no textbooks and yet it was obvious that true and deep learning was going on everywhere. Everyone seemed totally free, extremely happy and intensely motivated.  I wanted to see more and more, even go there myself, but soon the vision faded, darkness came and the realities of my life came back with a thud.             

The vision left me dumbstruck.  It was so “beyond words” that I literally couldn’t talk about it for years.  There didn’t seem to be any adequate vocabulary pertaining to “education” that expressed how it made me feel in my heart to see people of all ages so happy, so absorbed, so transformed.            

Friends and relatives wondered why I wanted to talk about “education” all the time.  It was the only word I knew that seemed related to the visionary learning place. After all, hadn’t Mr. Leonard connected this word with ecstasy?  (Oh, if he had only known how he, by using the word “education,” was throwing me off the track and would cause me to wander in the wilderness for decades!) I felt propelled to do something so I decided to try to change “education.” For many years, I basically went about doing all manner of foolish and useless things.  I earned a masters’ degree in School Administration and Supervision, driving ninety-five miles round trip every day, until I finished with a 4.0 average.  I then undertook an extensive door-to-door canvas to assure myself, with documents and questionnaires, that the community heartily endorsed my plan.  Soon after, I became the first woman ever elected to public office in my small southern county.  I served on the school board and managed to convince the town to build a new “open space” learning facility.     

Working hand-in-hand with the supervisor of instruction, I proposed a hands-on learning scenario, which became tagged as “The Practical Arts Program.”  This actually won national awards, causing people from Washington D.C. and around the country to visit it.  I fervently worked in all sorts of capacities at the local, regional and state levels. Some people actually thought I was making progress and doing a good job. I received awards, accolades, publicity and congratulations.     

But I knew the truth
. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.  There was a monstrous gap between my vision and what was actually going on, and I couldn’t figure out how on earth to fix it.  I didn’t run for re-election to the school board after my six-year term, but instead turned away from trying to reform “the system.” I focused on enriching my own children’s learning, but I also began to go up all sorts of blind alleys looking for venture capitalists, “angels,” and philanthropists to help me make my dream come true.  Most of those people and organizations, however, were still thinking “inside the box.” But several of those who “got it” actually tried to “appropriate” the ideas you’re about to read, and so I was encouraged that perhaps I really was “onto something.”  I learned to keep most of it “under wraps.” Frankly, nothing I did truly advanced the cause. After my children were grown, I decided to explore my own learning potential and discovered that, just as I suspected, I actually had plenty of it  (just as we all do).  I taught myself to play a musical instrument, traveled and hiked all over Europe, learned to paint, researched human capabilities, studied ancient history and biophysics, read extensively and joined mind-stretching discussion groups.

Since then, countless brief incidents and divine glimpses into the learning power of children would cause my heart to skip a beat.  Again, I felt the keen sense of tragedy about how their potential would be ignored.  Finally, urged by friends and relatives to write a book, I decided to just throw it all “out there.”      

Strangely enough, it was only in doing so that the real truth finally became crystal clear to me:  Traditional education has a fatal flaw.  The harm it is doing is inestimable, and much to blame for most of the planet’s ills.   The bad news is that all efforts to fix it have been, and will continue to be, in vain.  The good news is that we can simply side- step it.  We no longer have to believe that it can reform itself, nor wait for this to happen.

Brenda Hamilton is founder and president
of the Hamilton Learning Foundation.