Are You Ready to Challenge the Status Quo?

Three Secrets You Didn’t Know about the US Educational System?

As I sat down to write this article, I didn’t anticipate how much information each secret would entail, but as I finished Secret #1, it became obvious that I needed to turn this into a Series.

This is Article 1 of 3, that will outline what the new Education Secretary should focus on and how we can upgrade our school system in 2021, if we all focus and pull in the same direction. The single biggest challenge facing changing our entire nation’s school system is avoiding mistakes.

This series will outline three secrets to our system — they are secrets because they lie right under the surface and so when people and elected officials debate the merits or failures of K-12 schools — these issues are simply overlooked. But they are the HEART of the problem.

These three secrets may not seem important, but if they aren’t addressed in the order that I am outlining them — every effort to change our system will be a total failure — just like the last two attempts were by Presidents Bush and Obama. I don’t want to waste another 10 years and under-prepare another generation of kids.

Secret #1: The 19th Century Curriculum

The most detrimental aspect of our educational system is the old, outdated and obsolete 19th Century Curriculum and its tag-along theories of learning. This all began in the late 1800s and since then, no one has thought to RETHINK these theories, they just add-on or modify them — in hopes that something magical will happen.

For a second, I want you to imagine a house. We all know that you need to have a strong foundation in order for that house to stand up. The curriculum is the foundation for our system. And we are using a curriculum that is 200 years old. Critics will try and argue that the standards were created in 2010, and that’s not 200 years old — but the standards are based off 200 year old theories. I don’t know what math teacher these people had — but 200 is always 200 no matter what fancy fonts you want to use to hide that fact.

I have spent 20 years in education, and I have tried “every which way but loose” to make the 19th Century theories work, but they simply don’t. So I got fed up and in 2012, I ended up developing my own new theory to try and help my students achieve better in school.

The results were amazing, and frankly shocked me.

What happened was that students “understanding” went way up, and “what” they knew stayed the same.

How is that possible? And this is why this is SECRET #1.

The cornerstone of the 19th Century Curriculum and theory of learning is something called K-W-L.

As you can see to the left, the K-W-L chart outlines what the teacher will do in the classroom.

Unfortunately, kids are smarter in 2021, than they were 200 years ago when this theory was invented. Thus, K-W-L does not work with 21st Century Kids.

If you are a teacher and a parent, and you were wondering why your kids are disengaged and bored with school — this is the REASON WHY!

It’s not the teacher, it’s not the learning environment, it’s not hybrid, or zoom, or in-person learning. It’s all K-W-L’s fault.

What K-W-L does is FORCE teachers and then kids to focus 100% attention on the “WHAT” of learning. Just look at the questions it forces teachers to ask — “What, what and what”

If you focus only on “WHAT” — 90% of kids tune out.

In contrast, take a look at what my 22nd Century thinking looks like:

In the graphic to the left, you will notice that we don’t care “what” the students know?

What is more important is if the kids understand.

The most frequently asked question in every classroom by students is: “Why do I need to know this?”

And for the last 200 years, teachers have rolled their eyes and dismissed and ignored this question. Want to know another secret?

Teachers have not been ignoring this question because they don’t care. Teachers ignore this question because answering it could get them into trouble or worse — fired!

If your child is asking, “Why do I need to study this?” they have stumbled upon the most sensitive question to the entire system — it’s the reason why schools underwhelm students, and under-prepare them for life.

Let me use the Broadway hit musical “HAMILTON” as an example.

What did playwright Lin Manuel Miranda do? Did he sprinkle pixie dust on us as we entered the theater? Because the last I checked, Americans hate social studies. And also, last I checked, there is a growing movement to stop teaching about the Founding Fathers in schools because the founding fathers owned slaves and (well that’s another topic).

So what happened? Why did “HAMILTON” become a hit?

Manuel-Miranda probably explains it best, with the one song he is most proud about — Aaron Burr’s soliloquy serenade “Wait For It.”

This song encapsulates why we love “HAMILTON” and why a nation became “interested” in social studies again. The song is all about “WHY” and focuses nothing on “WHAT.”

When teachers of social studies begin any unit in American History they start with the “WHAT” because the K-W-L “DEMANDS IT.”

This theory of “WHAT” is drilled into undergraduate teachers minds — professors in every college and university chant it like DOGMA. “What, what, what…”

What I didn’t know in 2012, was that I had instinctively figured out why teaching “what” doesn’t work and why what I was doing does. And I didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate it until in 2017, Simon Sinek published his book, “Know Your Why.”

And in a flash — I had my answer.

Why does my theory work better than K-W-L? Because it focuses on the WHY of learning and does not focus on the WHAT of learning.

In the 21st and 22nd Century people do not care what you do, they care WHY you do it?

Authenticity is the buzzword, and yet our entire educational system has ZERO authenticity. We have been sold, marketed and inundated with “what, what, what” that we forgot to sit back and ask “why?”

EXCEPT, that students ask this question every day. “Why do I need to know this?” and we have been ignoring kids for the last 200 years.

My theory works because when teachers plan out their lessons — they must start with answering that question. So next time a kid asks, “Why do I need to learn this?” the teacher has a good answer.

Let’s look at Burr’s song again, “why does hamilton take risks and burr not?”

As human beings, we want to know — why are these two men different?

If you want to dive deeper into the 22nd Century theory, I made a full tutorial for teachers and administrators. It’s designed to be a teaching video, so it can be used in professional development, or workshops. I have spent the last 10 years working with teachers and administrators in multiple school districts unlock the hidden potential of their staff and students.

It’s only 20 minutes long, but it’s the most powerful 20 minutes of your life.

If you are a parent or concerned citizen, and you want to transform your school and how your child learns — tell your teacher and school leaders about this video. It will completely change their perspective on teaching and how to help kids grow.

I fully admit the video is technical. Remember, it’s for educators to free themselves from the constraints of a 19th Century curriculum mindset.

This has to be the first point of attack for the Education Secretary. He has to tackle the 19th Century curriculum first. Every other effort or idea will fail if he does not upgrade the curriculum and theory of learning. This was the huge mistake President’s Bush and Obama made when they tried to fix the system.

We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past — so it’s imperative that we address the curriculum first. If you are a concerned citizen, email, call and write your local Congressional and Senate representatives and also let them watch this video if they are UNFAMILIAR with how schools work.

Together we can truly change the system and CHALLENGE the Status Quo.

(This is Article 1 of 3 in a Series)



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Professor Schwartz

Professor Schwartz

Former Superintendent | Ed Consultant | Speaker/Author — Go to my homepage at