Rewriting the Future of Education with Mimosa Jones Tunney and The School House

As the Founder and President of The School House, Mimosa Jones Tunney has applied her extensive background as a political speechwriter and Hollywood television writer to forge a new path in the realm of education.

Blending lessons from her storied career in television and policymaking, Mimosa perceived early on that the century-old educational mold was ripe for reformation. Her investigative dive into education for a television project evolved into a passionate commitment towards educational reform, ultimately leading to the creation of The School House.

This unique establishment is not just any school; it is a meticulously designed environment where cutting-edge pedagogical research meets the practical needs of child development. Here, students are not just taught; they are understood and cultivated.

Check out our interview with Mimosa Jones Tunney below.

What initially inspired you to transition from writing for television and politics to focusing on educational reform?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: Two things. I had my first son, and something ignited in me with regard to pedagogical science. As I watched this small human develop, my fascination with the things that interested him, that sparked learning, grew until it was a full-time job.

I started to use my skill set exclusively for unearthing more data and understanding of how humans learn. Second, we grew tired of being on the complaining side of things. Watching the country deteriorate seemed like constant fodder for conversation, but after a while, it seemed we needed to do something.

Fixing what was happening to children in school from 3-12 years of age seemed the most logical place to start since that’s when we lay our foundation as human beings.

Can you describe the key moment or insight during your research on American education that motivated you to found The School House?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: Yes! I remember them clearly. The first was researching Alexander Graham Bell – holding his original papers while wearing white gloves in the Library of Congress. He was an educator. And here he was writing about the downturn in American education back in the early 1900s.

I thought… it’s been going on for this long? This needs to change. I also did my due diligence in the most effective methodologies and found myself wondering daily – wouldn’t it be great if we just combined everything we knew worked into one place?

How have your experiences as a political speechwriter and TV scriptwriter influenced the educational philosophies you promote at The School House?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: I didn’t come from anything, so my success was often a result of problem-solving and figuring out how to get something done without much guidance.

Our national economy has changed so that being on this pre-ordained, factory path isn’t as useful as it was 50 years ago… We see it in the data, and children know it. They are doing all this mundane work for no positive outcome or fulfillment.

We are a creation and innovation economy now, not a manufacturing one. And my work has always reflected that. Being creative and thinking from the big picture view has propelled me into new opportunities. Schools should do the same.

The School House uses a unique approach labeled the “American Emergent Curriculum.” Could you explain the core principles of this curriculum?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: It would surprise you to know – as it did me – that no school I’ve encountered has a curriculum program. We have standards and workbooks but no curriculum.

So the idea is let’s build the new American curriculum program – one that uses all the best pedagogical science (a fancy term for how humans learn) and combine it with what we originally loved about American schools.

So first, the AEC is aligned to development stages – we are all learning the same great piece of academia, let’s say from 3-12 years old – but we are learning it the way a 4-year-old needs to learn it or a 12-year-old.

This year, there was a focus on the Judicial System. The 12-year-old is learning about the Cherokee Cases of the 1830s; the 3-year-old is learning about who should “own” land or if it can ever be really owned.

Next, the AEC covers a lot of ground from all 7 continents, to the three branches of U.S. government in detail, to advanced sciences in bacteriology and probability to the power of gratitude. And it’s all up to date, including building an Educator Culture and preparing the right environment for children in which to learn… fresh flowers, their work on walls instead of bulletin boards, tables not desks, personal responsibility instead of punishments.

What specific learning techniques from your curriculum do you believe help students retain information more effectively?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: Epic moments. We remember things because they are interesting and engaging. It’s a wonder we’ve gotten by using rote memorization as a benchmark in this country for so long. It’s not at all the way the human brain is wired.

There are some things you have to practice over and over, like math facts and spelling rules. But humans remember moments and stories. We also want to know the why. So, if you take all this together, the AEC is a curriculum that introduces things in a spectacular way… a memorable way.

If you are learning about Panama, for instance, wouldn’t you want to know that the formation of this isthmus might be responsible for human evolution? It created ocean currents that resulted in Europe being 10 degrees warmer. Or wouldn’t you want to grow bacteria to see how good bacteria operates in your gut or run a Farm Stand from seed to market so you could start a business at 8 or 10 years old?

We call this Smarting Up. Children are fully capable of understanding big ideas, and when they do, it becomes true understanding, not memorization.

The School House emphasizes a “Structured Work Cycle.” How does this model differ from traditional classroom time management and task allocation?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: In a traditional school, you are told what to do and when to do it. A classroom is all looking at the same thing at the same time, eyes up front, regardless of whether you’re interested or understand the subject matter.

What is that teaching the child? To be led and to obey. This was good in a factory setting 100 years ago. But a better way in the 21st century is to teach them how to manage their time and be personally responsible for work. We give lessons intermittently throughout the day, and children set their work plans of how and when they will complete the 5-paragraph essay or the difficult set of math problems, and then they ask colleagues for help or set a brief meeting with the Educator.

With any large lesson there are choices – usually 3 – and Learners select the project that most suits their learning style. All the choices get to the same end of understanding. From 8:30 until 11:30 (and then again from 1:30 until 3:30), a lot is accomplished because children come from a place of intrinsic motivation.

It’s kind of a magic trick when you first see it happening. It doesn’t seem like it will work. But logically, of course, it does.

Community engagement and parent involvement appear central to The School House’s ethos. Can you elaborate on how this helps enhance student learning?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: When we started this project, we knew we had to solve the curriculum problem and the lack of teacher culture problem, but a year later, we also saw that we had a parent problem.

Parents were so used to schools lying to them, and they had no access to what was happening in the classroom. I think that is simply crazy. You hand your child over for 8 hours.

So we began a series of workshops for parents to understand how children really learn, we partnered with a software company so parents received multiple updates a week and a longer update on Fridays. And we always took parent calls seriously.

We recently had a parent say to us… we’re good… we don’t need any more communication! When parents know more, they can carry what we do into their household, and this means the child is living his or her best possible life.

You incorporate a lot of hands-on, practical learning opportunities, like the “Farm Stand Seed-to-Market Program.” Why do you believe these experiences are crucial for students?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: It’s funny, but this science is all over the news right now. Funny because it’s been around for hundreds of years (or more). Our brain is not a one-way operator. What we do and how we move informs the brain as well. This is especially true for small children who are using all their senses from 0-6 to understand this new environment they’ve been born into.

If you were learning to fix a car, would you become proficient by reading a textbook and taking a test, or actually working with a mechanic and taking an engine apart?

If you could give one piece of advice to educators around the world trying to innovate within their schools, what would it be?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: Use the American Emergent Curriculum if you live in the U.S. – or create your own version if you live abroad. This is 12 years of work that is meant for our nation’s teachers and thought leaders to have an answer finally. We’re also the only non-profit in the space… and maybe the only altruistic entity.

Our only goal is to get this new American school – the American Emergent Curriculum – into every town, in front of every child. It would change the trajectory of the U.S. in a decade.

Lastly, is there a specific mantra, quote, or affirmation that you hold close to your heart?

Mimosa Jones Tunney: Make learning interesting, and you’ve solved the problem of education.

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Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.

Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site