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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: The world needs outlandish schools

A recent article in the Pioneer about MXC (Minnesota Experimental City) brought back lots of memories about education as it was occurring in Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s. Education was becoming outlandish, which was a good thing. Just like the sciences, education then and now needs some outlandish experimentation.

Minnesota Experimental City was to be a joint government and private capital venture. Ford, Boeing and Honeywell had all invested as well as the state Legislature. It was expected to cost $4 billion and it was to be the most experimental city in the world. It was designed for 250,000 people of all ages and was to be constructed on 60,000 acres right here in northern Minnesota.

Only 10,000 acres were to be cemented, with the other 50,000 available for open preserve, wildlife, agriculture, play and recreation. It was to be partially covered with one of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. No automobiles were allowed (they were parked outside in an area reached by an automated highway), being replaced by an extensive people mover system throughout the city boundaries.

There is a need for "outlandish" experimentation in our society. Without it there is no progress and no hope. MXC was an outlandish idea but why not? Outlandish ideas are especially important in education where we continue to have too many students leaving school early and too few students going on to some form of higher learning. Our local and global problems are complex now and the future promises they will become even more complex. We will need all the brainpower we can muster to solve them.

My mentor, Dr. Don Glines, at the time of MXC was director of the Wilson Campus School at Mankato State College. Wilson Campus School, like all of the laboratory schools at our state colleges, was designed to be "outlandish" experimentations in education. Wilson Campus School led them all in terms of innovation. It piloted many of the innovations, which were to be used at MXC. Futurist Dr. Ron Barnes (MXC Director for Educational Planning) along with Glines and Dr. Wayne Jennings (founding principal of the St. Paul Open School) were instrumental in envisioning the educational components of MXC.

The outlandish educational part of MXC was that the city was to be constructed with no schools or universities. The designers felt that more learning would be projected caringly, humanely, inexpensively and efficiently for more people than ever before. Everyone was to be a learner; everyone was to be a teacher. Perhaps this idea came about by studying the history and culture of indigenous people where there were no schools and everyone was a learner and everyone was a teacher.

Although there were to be no school buildings in MXC, the system did involve places for people to come together and share. Beginning Life Centers, for example, were to offer a creative environment for very young children. Stimulus Centers were to offer films, tapes, sounds, and smells. Project Centers were to provide persons with opportunities to work on experiential outcomes. Family Life Centers were to encourage the family to learn together, and to communicate openly. Learners would use these centers and others whenever they needed or desired. The learning and every other system in the MXC were to remain experimental, fluid, and open to change.

In the MXC system learning would never stop. Learning was to occur everywhere. Everyone was important regardless of how much he or she knew. Learning was a lifelong process tailored to individuals. People could make their own decisions regarding what and how to learn, and could form positive social networks on their own without schooling.

As John Denver would say, "Far out, man." Yes, MXC was to be a "far out" city. Who knows what we would have learned from it. Ironically it was a teacher who led the opposition and who helped kill the project.

In 1973, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency voted to abandon the project because of local opposition and concerns about cost and feasibility. Aren't we glad the opponents of our space program weren't listened to? Aren't we glad that the opponents of the telephone, television and laptop computers weren't listened to?

We learn a lot by experimentation in education. Alternative schools were kind of an outgrowth of the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear. Magnet schools were an outgrowth of the alternative schools and charter schools were an outgrowth of the magnet schools. Each in their own way contributed to making education better for learners.

It's a shame MXC folded. Minnesota has always been a leader in education. Although we still lead in many ways, the "schooling" system as designed for MXC, as outlandish as it was, would have resulted in helping more kids and that's why we need to continue to look for outlandish schools.

(Some of the above data came from a collection of articles about MXC written by Dr. Glines, Dr. Wayne Jennings and Dr. Ron Barnes.)

Riddle: Why was the dolphin so sad? (Because he had no PORPOISE in life!) Education needs a greater purpose and outlandish schools give us that purpose.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

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