A Peer Reviewed Journal - ISSN 1499-819X

Volume 12, Number 4

Winter 2008

© 2008 Cameron May and EGallery

EGallery grants reproduction rights for noncommercial educational purposes with the provision that full acknowledgment of the source is noted on each copy.


Towards a New Education: The Radtastic School of Inquiry and Awesomeness

A Semester 1, Independent Inquiry

By Cameron May

For Dr. Michele Jacobsen


Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.

~ Winston Churchill



We have inherited a beautiful thing from our foremothers: public education. While the education system may contain certain beauty, it also brings with it some nasty practices and false idols, manifestations of which can be traced to the monastic system and more recently to the efficiency movement. The result of a monastic and efficiency heritage is an education system that is nothing more than a relic of these dinosaurs, in spite of contemporary reformation movements (Cuban, 1984). While many teachers assume the charge of progressivism, its effects have yet to make a systemic impact. I maintain, that in order to create systemic change, the action must be deliberate, thoughtful, global (system wide) and, most importantly, democratic. To that end, I propose a hypothetical school: The Radtastic School of Inquiry and Awesomeness (RSIA).

History | pt. 1

Early Modern Era

The early Humanists engaged in active debate and critique of the world in which they lived. They spoke very vocally against religious dogmatism which plagued the Catholic church of the “Dark” (or Middle) Ages. The Dark Ages were so called due to Humanist romanticism. They believed that the Dark Age was a time between two great ages: the Classical Age and a great new age (which would become the Renaissance). [1]

The Catholic Church had a monopoly, not just over education, but also over the libraries. The Humanists found Catholic control particularly distasteful, as it was the oppressors who contained the very knowledge (Classical literature) that the Humanists believed would liberate them from this Dark Age. Therefore, Humanist antiquarians ransacked monasteries in search of classical literature and in so doing, created the modern library (Winks & Wandel, 2003). 

It is important to note that while the Humanists endeavoured to improve the situation in early modern Europe, they mostly improved their own situation and not the situation of the general public. The libraries the Humanists created were only accessible to the nobility. The noble's enterprise was not to create public education – no further than the creation of vernacular bibles, so that the word of God could reach the masses. Rather, public education, in the early modern period, was provided – albeit, in rather limited form – by the Catholic Church. In the early modern era, there was no state welfare. Rather, the Catholic Church [2] was obliged to look after the poor, the sick and the needy. The educational manifestation of this philanthropic duty was usually a rudimentary form of literacy. Despite this very basic form of public education, the Catholic Church has never-the-less left an imprint on our educational system.

Monastic Education

In order to supplement the rudimentary education provided by the church, the individual would have to join the clergy. [3] The monastic style of education was refined with Ignatius of Loyola’s Jesuit schools, the centerpiece of which being: Louis-le-Grand (Foucault, 1979). These schools were based on (pseudo) indentured servitude, wherein members took the traditional vow of, “poverty, celibacy and obedience” as well as a fourth: “to obey without hesitation or excuse every command given by the Pope for the salvation of souls and the spread of the faith” (Winks & Wandel, 2003; p.155-156). Furthermore, Jesuits were considered soldiers of God who were given the charge of fierce proselytization. Part of this mandate was fulfilled through the education of children (Winks & Wandel, 2003). The education system was therefore routed in student submissiveness and militaristic authoritarianism; of which we are the inheritors.

History | pt. 2

Industrial Age | False Idolatry

Just as the Dark Ages were plagued by “false idolatry”, so too was the industrial age. However, the religious iconography of the early modern period was replaced by the idolism of industry and the scientific method. This climate – at the dawn of the 20th century – proved to have particularly perilous effects on the education system. The circumstances for which are as follows: first, it was a time where the public was distrustful of all public institutions; second, Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s concept of “scientific management” captured the public’s imagination; third, the public was increasingly enamoured with the idea that government should be run like a business and lastly, the role of the school administrator was in its infancy (Callahan, 1962). The education system was, therefore, primed for reform, as it had to prove its efficiency at a time when it was creating more bureaucracy. These newly created administrators had to prove their accountability to the public; thus, they adopted the principles of scientific management and set about making the educational experience more efficient. It was their belief that by adopting the principles of scientific management they would liberate education from a system of guesswork and personal opinion and move towards more scientific accuracy (Callahan, 1962). School administrators then set about the work of quantifying the educational experience. Callahan (1962) found a checklist used by administrators to grade teachers in a manner similar to students on things ranging from "care of light, heat and ventillation" to "skill in motivating work" to "Discipline" to "Understanding of children". The problem with the system was the dubiousness of the science and the indiscriminate adoption of a system without assessing its educational value. If the efficiency movement had emphasised, “the finest product at the lowest cost” the results would have been far greater; sadly, the emphasis was strictly on, the lowest cost (Callahan, 1962).

The Farcical Democratic Model | School

Teachers were handmaidens of corporate interest, hegemonic overlords who, as they taught students how to read and write, aimed to undermine the capacity of labouring families to control the terms by which children entered the labour force. Classroom practices were assumed to serve and mirror “relations of production.” The role of teachers was unvaryingly conservative and imperial (Finkelstein, 1989, p. 8) [4]

The Total Institution

“Because the oppressive use of power is antithetical to our democratic ideals it is difficult to discuss its normal occurrence in the classroom without arousing concern.” (Jackson, 1968). Much of the abuse of power, while implemented by the teacher, stems from institutional power. [5] Erving Goffman describes total institutions as follows (Goffman, 1961; p.6):

  1. All aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same single authority.
  2. Each phase of the member’s daily life is carried on in the immediate company of a large batch of others, all of whom are treated alike and required to do the same thing together.
  3. All phases of the day’s activities are tightly scheduled, with one activity leading at a prearranged time into the next, the whole sequence of activities being imposed from above by a system of explicit formal rulings and a body of officials.
  4. The various enforced activities are brought together into a single rational plan purportedly designed to fulfill the official aims of the institution

The characteristics, which define, total institutions very closely mimic characteristics of schools. Total institutions formed, “… a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behaviours (Foucault, 1979; 138). The result of which is the creation of, “docile bodies”. The institution creates docile bodies through dissociating power from the body and thereby turns it into a capacity, which it seeks to increase (Foucault, 1979). Increased aptitude has two “benefits”: one, economic utilitarianism – which will be discussed in the section titled, Social Control – and two, getting the desired results from your students (Jackson, 1968). The institution therefore, implements very deliberate tools to retrieve its desired results.

By the 20th century the legacy of monastic education had not faded; rather, it had perverted the very core of education. Perhaps the most apparent example of its insidiousness is the presence of the monastic cell. Discipline sometimes requires enclosure (Foucault, 1979). Individual solitude: the monastic cell; the walled in school; the walled in classrooms; the rows; the desk. Partitioning (Foucault, 1979):

Each individual has his own place; each place has its individual. Avoid distributions in groups; break up collective dispositions; analyse confused, massive or transient pluralities.

Isolation dissociates collective power from the body and breaks the human need for connection and love. Instead, the individual resigns his/her power and entrusts his/her needs in the hands of the authority, of the institution. By segregating the desks and aligning them into rows, it allows the authority to carry out supervision, which is both general and individual (Foucault, 1979). Supervision can be coupled with surveillance, ensuring that each individual is proceeding according to the goals of the institution (Goffman, 1961). 

Another monastic relic is the presence of the timetable, which was necessary to combat idleness – for, wasting time was a sin counted by God and paid for by men (Foucault, 1979). Time is strictly regulated in the school system by the presence of bells and aural cues. Beyond this global subdivision, the school day is further subdivided in accordance with subjects and tasks. The further time is divided the further you may accelerate an operation. David Jardine notes that this is a syndrome of a dysfunctional system – the system, rather than reinvent itself, merely increases its speed. [6] The subdivision of hierarchical levels is dealt with in this exact fashion. If a student finishes a compartment (or level) before the other students, the system merely increases the amount of work, or advances the student along a linear hierarchy. Thus, “… educational space function like a learning machine, but also as a machine for supervising, hierachizing, rewarding. (Foucault, 1979; p.146-7).

Social Control

The purpose of school is to inculcate in children the societal norms, values and behaviours necessary for them to participate in larger culture (Cuban, 1984). The question is: how are we preparing them and how are we allowing them to participate? As was aforementioned, schools are Total Institutions, which aim to create docile beings. So, if we are creating docile beings to participate in society, in what way are they able to participate? Are they likely to be active, independent thinking, societal leaders; or, are they more likely to conform to societal pressures and perpetuate the status quo? Furthermore, will they even participate and engage in society as a responsible citizen? If, as educators, we verbalize the merits of democracy and the democratic process, yet in practical terms, we model totalitarianism, do students truly learn about democracy? Do our actions speak louder than words?

I think the answer to many of these questions is, invariably, yes. The reason for this is: one, the medium is the message; and two, if the intent is control; it therefore makes sense that the product is control. Neil Postman, points to John Dewey’s, “we learn what we do” and Marshall McLuhan’s, “The medium is the message” as justification for classroom restructuring – primarily, in the form of inquiry. Simply put, institutional forces (as described above) often seek to break the individual through emotional and psychological means. Thus, the Total Institution is the medium and the message is docility. The second reason for failed democracy relates to the intent. The intent of early (North American) public education was not egalitarianism. Finkelstein explains:

Implicitly defining schools as structures of domination and control, they rooted the emergence of specialized institutions in the bedrock of economic structure, and viewed ideas and institutions as weapons used by elites in an unending struggle for power. The architects of public education were understood to be status-seeking middle-class manipulators, creating social spaces through which the socialization of working-class children would be controlled (1989; p.7).

The school system mirrored the norms of the economic system, right down to pedagogical technique. Pedagogy, which sought obedience, uniformity and productivity, endured because of its consistency with larger society (Cuban, 1984). Cuban (1984), claims that the increased presence of progressive, open classrooms in private and upper-middle class schools, is a possible reason for those students to become future leaders. Is the purpose of public education to propagate class – and even racial [7] – segregation? Should education be thought of in terms of economic utilitarianism? John Ralston Saul (2004) maintains that,  “Once you reduce your approach to public education to utilitarianism, you’re in deep trouble, because … that is not the essence of education.”

Towards a New Education

If it is irrelevant, as Marshall McLuhan says; if it shields children from reality, as Norbert Wiener says; if it educates for obsolescence, as John Gardner says; if it does not develop intelligence, as Jerome Bruner says; if it is based on fear, as John Holt says; if it avoids the promotion of significant learnings, as Carl Rogers says; if it induces alienation as Paul Goodman says; if it punishes creativity and independence, as Edgar Friedenberg says; if in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed. (Postman & Weingartner, 1969; p. xiv)

Despite our knowing that Neil Postman wrote these ideas in 1969, the sentiments remain the same today. So, the question becomes, how do we change the school system? Progressive educational practices would not be so elusive today had reformation been thoughtful, systematic and comprehensive (Cuban, 1984). Therefore, it seems to me that we have become pretty good at discussing our ends, but have failed to pay sufficient attention to the means – as the means are the vehicle we use to arrive at our ends.

There is a problem, however. The problem is that there is a disconnect between the ends we seek and the ends society (even the current education system) value. Efficiency has become an end. [8] Efficiency is our false idol. We praise the god of efficiency and at the same time we have become less adept at asking 'what we are becoming efficient at?' (Gross Stein, 2001). We are quickly losing sight of our true deity, education. We then have one of two options: one, we can make our ends so that they satiate the publics appetite for efficiency; or two, we can make our ends accountable and transparent – accountability lies at the heart of the cult of efficiency (Gross Stein, 2001). You may think that I am splitting hairs here, but I believe the differences are staggering. In the first we become derelict in our duty to educate the children – as efficiency, not education, remains the end. The latter is to make transparent the education of our children, by showing parents and society the beauty and power of learning. We must therefore, merge our means and our ends so that they become asymptotes to one another. If our end is to bring about truly profound and beautiful learning, then our means must show how beautifully profound learning can be. Simply put, our end is to provide education and our means to do so is through, educating the public about public education.

The Radtastic School of Inquiry and Awesomeness


Given that we are the inheritors of an education system that carries with it significant baggage, we must attempt to reinvent education in such a way that eliminates that baggage. To do so would mean that we restructure our schools to empower students through the use of the democratic model; we would also have to make education rich but also transparent; and lastly, we would have to involve the community. The school I have designed, RSIA, attempts to do just that. For it may take a whole village to raise a child, but it may only take one child to teach a village.

Physical structure

Text Box:  
Figure 3.
This figure shows how the school harnesses natural light for indoor lighting, via light tubes. 
The structure is a cylindrical, three story building with a basement. The school is R-2000 compliant, has heat-recovery ventilation and does its utmost to reduce its eco-footprint. Power for the school is generated through student initiatives and inventions [9] – the school hope is to feed back into the grid as a way of becoming self-sufficient (both environmentally and economically). The school exploits sunlight as much as possible. Above using sunlight to generate electricity, the presence of large bay windows and light tubes (see figure 3.) ensures that natural light is used almost exclusively throughout the school. [10] There is also a (partially man made) slope 50 meters behind the north side of the school with a rock garden, which utilises lightly coloured rocks and ground covers (wild sage etc.) – so as to reflect light back into the school. There are four sets of composting toilets (fe/male) on the first and second floors, the mechanics of which are stored in the basement and the fruits of which are utilized in the rooftop garden. [11] Recycling is collected in the basement via large recycling shoots, which are built into the walls.  

First Floor | see appendix 1

The first floor is a doughnut divided in two parts: the centre and the outer. The outer part is open and is the space where most of the student work is undertaken. Computer workstations are built into the wall (see figure 4.) and are equipped with pull out writing tables. Students conduct their work independently (which will be discussed later). There are sound-absorbing dividers, which may be erected for student use, or for the lessons – which are delivered about 4-5 times daily. The centre is comprised of three parts: first, there is multi-disciplinary exhibition space on the north side of the centre; second, is a science lab; and third, there is a library.

Exhibition Space

Text Box:  Figure 4.
Computer wall station with retractable desk.
The exhibition space is a space where student work is displayed. This space is not exclusive to artwork; it may contain student projects of any kind or scale. This space is open to the public once a month for “openings” – which are apple juice and cheese-string parties, where the students may show off their work. In order to exhibit work, the students must submit a formal proposal outlining their project and how they intend to display their work. [12] This is complemented by an online gallery space, which may (but does not necessarily) include works from the exhibition space. There is also the opportunity for students to curate other work. The students work very closely with curators from the Glenbow Museum, the Epcor Centre, artist-run-centres (among others) and may co-curate exhibitions in the school: For example, if they were studying the fur trade, they may co-curate an exhibition about the lives of Voyagers with help from the Glenbow. [13]    

Science Lab

The science lab is another multi-use space, but it is not the only space in the school where science takes place. For instance, biology lesson/(labs) are often conducted in the rooftop garden, at the greenhouse and with the ecosystems of the composting toilets. However, within the lab itself there are lab benches (with Bunsen burner valves) as well as an open space where other projects may be undertaken. Physics lessons are usually conducted in this space (or in the gym) and are almost always related to the physical world. For example, students’ work very closely with physiotherapists and biomechanics experts to design and develop devices that will help other students rehabilitate from injury. [14]


The library is, in a lot of ways, the focal point of the first floor. Along with paper resources, it also contains many multimedia resources. Community partners are also invited to communicate with the students via video link, and updates from community members play on a close-circuit loop throughout the library.

Second Floor | see appendix 2

The centrepiece of the second floor is a huge theatre. This theatre is used for music, dance and drama performances, but is also used by guest lecturers and performers. Similar to the exhibition space, students may mount their own works and invite the public; but they may also curate musical, dance and theatre performances of other community groups. Behind the stage is a large multi-disciplinary workspace for visual arts, music, dance and drama. Like the first floor it has moveable sound baffles to deflect or diffuse sound. To the left of the stage is a recording suite where productions can be recorded – video feed can be taken from cameras placed throughout the room. There is also a photo studio, which is primarily for photography, but also has a green-screen for video production.

Third Floor | see appendix 3

The roof/third floor is partly open and partly covered. The covered area consists of a gymnasium, equipment lockup and greenhouse. The uncovered area consists of a rooftop garden and soccer field. The perimeter of the roof is an athletic track, which turns into a speed skating rink in the winter. The roof is also the intake for the light tubes.

Social/Administrative Structure

The administrators help set the tone of the school. It is, however, paramount that the tone be reflective of the students’ ideals. To that end, upon commencing the school year, students embark on a huge project: to create the “Code of Radness”. The Code of Radness is a code, which all students co-create and follow; inspiration for the code may come from bills of rights, charters, from aboriginal cultures, or religious and secular philosophy. The Code of Radness is administered by all of the schools citizens and violations of the code are dealt with through student discussion and, in some cases, arbitration. Arbitration is conducted by the students and is facilitated by a community partner of the students choosing – who can rage from politicians to lawyers to important community leaders.

Administrators lead teachers in quarterly “retreats” as well as daily meetings – which can range from 10 minutes to several hours. Administrators also facilitate programs such as, book clubs/article exchanges, drum circles among other types of career development. 

There are no staff rooms; therefore, lunch is taken among the students – either in the doughnut or on the rooftop garden. Administrative offices are downstairs as is the computer tech’s office, who is responsible for ensuring the computers and myRADness [15] are running properly.  

Student learning is self-directed, under the guidance of the teacher. There are no grades and no classrooms; however, lessons occur at certain times throughout the day. The same class happens at the same time of day, for example: All language arts lessons are delivered at the same time. The reason for this is that the school is multi-aged. Students are put in class based on where they need support. If a child excels at math and needs support at a higher level, then that student is put into a math class that will meet his needs. The same student, by contrast, may struggle in English and require support at a lower level. 

Role of the Teacher

Each teacher is in charge of 23 students. The teacher manages their students’ IPPs, [16] curriculum goals, myRADness accounts and lesson placements. Teachers work with their students on their inquiry projects and make suggestions and help guide their learning. Teachers are also responsible for preparing and delivering three lessons/lectures per day.

Role of the Student

As learning is the responsibility of the student, the student must work with the teacher and make documents of his or her learning. Through myRADness students have a page, which outlines their specific IPPs and curriculum goals, with check boxes beside each. Students are expected to monitor and check off goals as they are completed. Similarly, rubrics are the co-responsibility of teacher and student. myRADness also provides a list of rubric criteria, which the student may then drag and drop into his/her rubric, as it applies to his/her project. For each project then students are to supply a project proposal, project goals and a rubric for attaining those goals to the teacher. Furthermore, students are supposed to provide four daily updates on their pages to allow teachers to chart their progress. ­­Students are also responsible for creating an environment that supports his/her own learning that does not interfere with the learning of others. All students must also adhere to the tenets outlined in the Code of Radness.


When humanist thinker Thomas Moore postulated his utopic vision in the early 16th century, people were unsure if he actually advocated for such a system. It would be naïve of me to believe that my idyllic school would be utopic for all people. In fact, there undoubtedly manifold problems with my idea, which I have failed to recognize. However, the Radtastic School of Inquiry and Awesomeness is less about pragmatics and more about the idea of creating change. To create change we must embark on a journey of learning with our children, which is meaningful, profound and beautiful. And instead of sequestering that beauty inside the institution we must allow the public to see how beautiful learning and education is. We must re-educate the public about education. We must make education the means and the ends.

The Ends



Finkelstein, B. (1989). Governing the young: Teacher behaviour in popular primary schools in nineteenth-century united states. New York, NY: Falmer.

Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago University of Chicago Press 1962:

Cuban, L. (1984). How teachers taught: Constancy and change in American classrooms, 1890-1980. New York: Longman.

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison [Surveiller et punir.] (Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates (1st ed.). Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books.

Jackson, P. W. (1968). Life in classrooms (section iv). (pp. 28-33). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Gross Stein, J. (2001). The cult of efficiency. Massey Lectures,Public Lecture: November 7th, 8:00 pm Hart House, University of Toronto. Online: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/massey/massey2001.html

Postman, N., & Weingartner, C. (1969). Teaching as a subversive activity. New York: Delacorte Press.

Rubin, B., Noguera, P. (2004), Tracking Detracking: Sorting Through the Dilemmas and Possibilities of Detracking in Practice. Equity & Excellence in Education. 

Winks, R. W., & Wandel, L. P. (2003). Europe in a wider world, 1350-1650. New York: Oxford University Press.

1) First Floor


2) Second Floor






3) Third Floor






[1] Renaissance literally translates to rebirth.

[2] And to a lesser extent the nobility, which was their nobless oblige

[3] This is if he was not of the noble class.


[4] Wow! I wish I had written that; so seething, so awesome.

[5] This is not to absolve teacher misuse of power; rather, it is to speak generally and to attribute partial causality.

[6] Taken from lecture. Jardine refers to it as the Fredrick Winslow Taylor syndrome.

[7] Beth Rubin and Pedro Noguera postulate that “tracking” leads to class and racial segregation: (Rubin, B., Noguera, P., 2004) 

[8] “One way of representing the present condition of our educational system is as follows: It is as if we are driving a multimillion dollar sports car, screaming, “Faster! Faster!” while peering fixedly in the rear view mirror… we have paid almost exclusive attention to the car… but we seem to have forgotten where we wanted to go in it.” (Postman & Weingartner, 1969)  

[12] Note: Students are in-charge of the pragmatics of mounting and exhibiting their work. They must accompany their work with a small didactic panel, which describes their work and their process.

[13] It should also be noted that a project like this would most likely be undertaken by a group of students working on a similar topic and would require their own research in the exhibition.

[14] Physics lessons are also conducted within the context of the light tubes and windmills etc.

[15] myRADness is a program that functions like eDOL or facebook. There is an online community (of the entire student body) which the students may share resources, but also allows them to monitor their progress. The individual and his/her teacher have access to his/her private information: IPPs and curriculum/learning goals.

[16] Each child has his or her own learning plan, which is included in his/her myRADness profile. IPPs are only accessible by the student and the teacher.


These pages are maintained by Michele Jacobsen

©  2008 Cameron May and EGallery