Conversations with a Founder: The Didactron

In writing Hats Off for the Skilled Land Force, I was still uncertain of just how far Rural System proposes to go in aiding employees. But once again, demonstrating values that go far beyond mere profit, Dr. Giles proposes to make Land Force personnel more employable by providing educational opportunities.

I was sitting across the table from him in Our Daily Bread, a nice cafe in Blacksburg, VA, lamenting at some of the problems with the education system in the U.S.

Me: You’d think that education would be about preparing students to become competent, skilled, critically thinking professionals in their field of interest. Instead people are forced to learn a smattering of gen. eds. in high school that only, well, generally prepare them for college and not much else. the_didactron

Dr. Giles: Yes and then some students, mostly from economically disadvantaged families, drop out of high school. They look at the irrelevant stuff they’re learning in school and say “I’m not learning that crap,” so that they can go get a job that pays them. This may not be the best choice in the long-run, but when you don’t have enough to eat or to pay bills every month… That’s why Rural System would provide education for its workers.

Me: So if they didn’t complete a high school education they could get a GED?

Dr. Giles: Yes, we call it the Didactron. It’s a reformed education program for people within Rural System.

Me: Ahh yes! The Didactron, you wrote a book on it. So that’s how it fits into Rural System!

Virginia is doing much better with retaining high school students than when Dr. Giles wrote The Didactron. The dropout rate for high school students in Virginia has been decreasing, and in 2013 it reached 5.9 as opposed to 8.7% in 2010. The national average rate is 7%, so Virginia has cleared that benchmark at least.

Even still, Virginia could benefit from a program like the Didactron, which would help Rural System workers attain a GED and so make them more appealing to future employers. Here are some highlights from the Didactron system:

  • Teachers are focused on lessons, rather than lectures. The goal is to create a group-focused atmosphere to foster discussions between students and between students and the teacher. Teachers talk to students rather than simply presenting material.
  • Lessons are all designed to enhance critical thinking, to engage students and to stimulate their creativity and curiosity.
  • Dr. Giles introduces the concept “neodidactics,” to refer to a novel approach to education taken in the Didactron. The secret to neodidactics is that the students come first. Not parents, or governmental and administrative agents. Students, as customers, deserve education specific to their interests and future actions. The main character of the book encourages students to revolt until the quality and utility of their education matches the cost of tuition. How refreshing!

Finally, education that focuses on students’ needs rather than the glorification of a university or administrative body. Finally, a system that cares about the well-being and personal development of its employees. Reformed education is critical to form a nation of capable, useful, healthy individuals. Not to mention the health of the land.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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