17 in ’17: Voices on Learning That Matter

Personal Learning is essentially about ideas and thoughts that resonate deeply, that provoke a desire to discover more. I have been reflecting on some of the authors and thinkers who provoked or resonated with me and sometimes inspired me to write my own thoughts on learning this past year. These are not all necessarily ideas that were first published in 2017, but that is the year I read (or in some instances, re-read) them. The reader’s interpretation of these views may, as Leonard Cohen once observed in another context, depend largely on your politics.

“How different would school’s priorities look if they were judged by their student’s life prospects 10, 15 or even 20 years after they left, rather than last year’s exam results?” – David Price.

“We have to forgo “personalization. We must do this through collective action, through community. We do this through action oriented around social and racial justice. We do this through democracy. (And through art.)” – Audrey Watters.

“The solution isn’t to ban the laptop from the lecture. It’s time to ban the lecture from the classroom.” – Seth Godin.

“Our teens are not growing into brain-dead zombies or emotionally stunted sociopaths. After more than a decade of research by child psychologists… we have discovered that the kids are alright.” – Yalda Uhls.

“What questions does our education system seek to answer at the moment? … How do we help students get the best marks?” – Mark Stevenson.

“How do we teach our children to question not only the security and privacy implications but also the ethical and commercial intentions of a device designed by marketers?” – Rachel Botsman.

“Our inability to edit a morbidly obese curriculum results in our children working an unpaid second shift.” – Gary Stager.

“Education needs a different paradigm, one that minimizes the importance of standardized testing and punitive accountability. We need to respect and value those who choose teaching as their profession.” – Diane Ravitch.

“The purpose of life becomes the accumulation of gold stars. Hence the relentless extracurricular busyness, the neglect of learning as an end in itself, the inability to imagine doing something that you can’t put on your resume. Hence the constant sense of competition.” – William Deresiewicz.

“Too often, the fear of mistakes from our students leads us to shut everything down…. We often punish the majority of our students because the fear of what the few might do.” – George Couros.

“There is some awful stuff out there, but it frustrates me when a panic distracts us from the reality of what’s going on. One of my frustrations is that there are some massive mental health issues, and we want to blame the technology [that brings them to light] instead of actually dealing with mental health issues.” – danah boyd.

“Numerous technology vendors, blended learning advocates, adaptive learning software providers and policymakers will continue to put forth the idea that “personalized learning” simply means running students through individually-chunked digital content at their own pace … however, there’s not much “personal” about this process of computing machines putting students through their paces.” – Scott McLeod.

“Today’s … teenagers are the most sensitive, least violent, least bullying, least racist, least homophobic, most globally-minded, most compassionate, most environmentally-conscious, least dogmatic, and overall kindest group of young people … ever known.” - Elizabeth Gilbert.

“The combined weight of curriculum, assessment and general busyness, often mandated from ‘on high’ to the Lemming pedagogues on the ground, is stifling. The right of a teacher to get inspired, tap into their curiosity, turn on their creative mojo and find their ‘white space’ to think is squeezed to the extremity … because Leadership in schools is so busy problem-solving with their instruments of schooling that they’re not finding the real challenges teachers and students would love to get their teeth stuck into.” – Ewan McIntosh.

“We know that curriculum is just a guess. The way we talk about “The Curriculum” you would think that it was something delivered on a gold platter from on high.” – Will Richardson.

“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have special needs.” – Ken Robinson.

During a year that was all too often fraught with the rhetoric of ignorance from so-called global leaders, the promise and inspiration of working with learners, dealing with the business of hopes, dreams, and promises, remains a fulfilling and affirmative one. While some of the challenges facing education remain complex, the opportunity to continue learning, work with talented colleagues, and to read deeply brings great optimism for the year ahead.

Finally, the 17th resonant voice of 2017 featured in my favourite novel of the year, an understated throwback to troubled times in my native Ireland – Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty – in which the following, featured, poignant voice felt more vital than ever. It seems like a fitting note to conclude 2017, the 70th anniversary of its publication.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank.


Price, David, editor. Education Forward: Moving Schools into the Future. Crux Publishing, 2017.

Watters, Audrey. Education Technology as the ‘New Normal’. Hack Education, May 24, 2017.

Godin, Seth. “No Laptops in the Lecture Hall.” Medium, November 25, 2017.

Uhls, Yalda. Media Moms & Digital Dads: A Fact-Not-Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age. 2015.

Botsman, Rachel. “Co-Parenting With Alexa.” The New York Times, October 7, 2017.

Stager, Gary. Plenary session, “Moderated Disruption”, Learning by Design Conference. The International School of Brussels, Belgium, March 17, 2017.

Stevenson, Mark. Price, David, editor. Education Forward: Moving Schools into the Future. Crux Publishing, 2017.

Couros, George.  “If Schools Don’t Allow Mistakes, Where Are They Supposed to Happen?” The Principal of Change, October 7, 2017.

Deresiewicz, William. “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & the Way to a Meaningful Life”. Free Press, 2014.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Basic Books, 2016.

Boyd, Danah. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press, 2014.

McLeod, Scott.  What’s On the Horizon for K-12 Ed Tech in 2017? 2016.

Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Kids Are All Right.

McIntosh, Ewan. “What is the Hard Work of Innovation in School?” Medium, January 12, 2017.

Richardson, Will. Risky Business Redux. Modern Learners, August 12, 2016.

Robinson, Ken. Keynote address, BETT Convention, January, 2017, London.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Amsterdam, 1947.