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Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track

reviewed by Dick Schutz - April 22, 2009

coverTitle: Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track
Author(s): Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg
Publisher: Wharton School Publishing, Philadelphia
ISBN: 0132346494, Pages: 224, Year: 2008
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Russell Ackoff (2007) sets forth a corollary in his Management F-Laws (No.  8): “The principal reason for reading what another thinks is to discover what the reader thinks” (p. 15). The corollary certainly applies to Turning Learning Right Side Up. Few readers will agree with everything that Ackoff and Greenberg have to say. And even fewer of those who fully agree will act on anything. But all readers will have greater understanding of their own views after reading the book and will be in better position to act more wisely in implementing their enlarged vision.

Ackoff and Greenberg make a useful distinction of five categories: data, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom:

An ounce of information is worth a pound of data.

An ounce of knowledge is worth a pound of information.

An ounce of understanding is worth a pound of knowledge.

An ounce of wisdom is worth a pound of understanding. (p. 19)

Both Ackoff and Greenberg are wise individuals. Ackoff is a distinguished professor emeritus at Wharton. Greenberg is a sustaining founder of the Smaller and Bolder Sudbury Valley School.

Ackoff’s (2007) F-Law 8 that precedes the corollary states:  “The best reason for recording what one thinks is to discover what one thinks and to organize it in transmittable form” (p. 15). Ackoff and Greenberg walk the talk of the Law. “The book began as an exchange of emails, . . Eventually, this book emerged.” (p. xi) [That makes it sound a lot easier than I’m sure it was.]

What you will see is the actual conversation we had. . .In each chapter, our separate views have been set off by icons [concentric circles for Ackoff, concentric squares for Greenberg] to distinguish our “voices.” However, in the final section of the book, which is about our vision of ideal education, we found that we could speak with one voice, undifferentiated.  (p. xi)

The joint thinking is organized in very “transmittable form.” You will have no difficulty understanding either what the authors think or the logic underlying their views.

The book consists of 16 chapters organized into 4 parts:

Part 1   Where Today’s Educational System Fails


Learning and Teaching


The Classroom Environment


Subjects and Disciplines


The New World


Antidemocratic Schooling


Factors That Resist Change

Part 2    Factors That Contribute to Education


The Environment a Developed Society Provides for Individual Realization


The Special Demands The Environment of a Liberal Democracy Places on Individual Realization


What Individuals Contribute to Their Own Education


The Place of Arts

Part 3   Envisioning Ideal Lifelong Education


Why, and How, We should Be Envisioning an Ideal Educational Environment


The Preschool Years


A New Look at Schools K-12


The College and University Experience


Education and the Working Life


Taking “Retire” out of Retirement

Part 4   Excursus:  Funding Ideal Schools

Appendix:  Sudbury Valley School




Ackoff and Greenberg do not waste words. They take Strunk and White’s maxim to heart: “Brevity consistent with clarity.” The margins of my copy of the book are filled with “Attaboys,” comments, question marks, exclamation marks, and a few “No Ways.” But your reactions will be different than mine, and my reactions are not relevant to the review.

Ackoff and Greenberg’s design for an “ideal school” is modeled on the Sudbury Valley School. Sudbury has thrived for 40 years. That says something for the design. Some 40 other schools around the world embody the Sudbury design. That indicates the design is replicable, but it also suggests the design is unlikely to scale. The road to “educational change we can believe in” will not lie in replicating the Sudbury design, and the authors make no such suggestion. “Putting education back on track” will, however, involve attention to operational design, and Ackoff and Greenberg’s dialogue illuminates what design entails.

The thing is, design creation and testing involves synthesis/development, and education is permeated with analysis/research. “. . .a system cannot be understood by analyzing it [italics in original]. Its behavior and properties cannot be explained by analyzing it. . . (A)nalysis begins by taking things apart and yields knowledge. Synthesis begins by putting things together and yields understanding” (p. 61).  The wisdom that Ackoff and Greenberg impart in this important book can help bring about understanding.  More design is needed.


Ackoff, R. (2007). Management F laws. Devon, UK: Triarchy Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 22, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15625, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 3:14:44 PM

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About the Author
  • Dick Schutz
    3RsPlus, Inc.
    E-mail Author
    DICK SCHUTZ is President of 3RsPlus, Inc. a firm conducting R&D and constructing educational products.He was formerly Professor of Educational Psychology at Arizona State University and Executive Director of the Southwest Regional Laboratory for Educational Research and Development. He has served as the founding editor of the Journal of Educational Measurement, the founding journal editor of the Educational Researcher, and editor of the American Educational Research Journal.
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