Baboons Spark Firestorm Over the Definition of Flipped Learning

Out of The Box June / Uncategorized / June 12, 2018

-by Fae k. Knuze-

San Antonio Texas – Flipped Learning advocates were drawn into a social media firestorm this week over a story about how four baboons collaborated to escape from a testing facility. According to the story originally reported in the Huffington Post, the baboons rolled a 55-gallon barrel over to the security wall, flipped it into an upright position, and then climbed on it to escape the compound.  The story started a ruckus online debate between advocates of Flipped Learning, problem-based learning, and traditional instruction.

The conflict began when a preschool furniture company that produces building blocks, cubes, and other manipulatives claimed that the baboons used one of their barrels to escape. The ABC Furniture Company cited the story as an example of how their barrels support Flipped Learning. Flipped Learning educators in Texas immediately bristled calling the claim “the most egregious misuse of the term Flipped Learning in history” and charged ABC Furniture with misleading the public. FLR interviewed one of the advocates who curtly commented, “The company is clearly prostituting the term. How could this possibly be an example of Flipped Learning when there were no videos involved?”

But the dust-up took another turn when other educators noted how the baboons “curiosity and inquiry” led them to discover how the barrel could be used to escape. “The Flipped Learning claim is ridiculous,” said a high school science teacher from Houston.  “But the baboon story is clearly an example of inquiry-based and problem-based learning. This is what student-centered learning looks like and it underscores the superiority of active learning.”

A San Antonio middle school geometry teacher agreed. “If  active learning can produce collaborative skills and higher order thinking in baboons; continuing to use passive learning with students in any school is clearly malpractice.”

Pedagogues who favor traditional instructions took to Facebook and fired back claiming that if the baboons had been given direct instruction by a skilled teacher they would have been taught to use the barrels as “a step” in a fraction of the time.

Separately, Glib Johnson, CEO of ABC Furniture, balked at the claim that the company was misleading the public by using the term Flipped Learning.  “The term Flipped Learning means many things to different people.”  Many of the educators we interviewed for this story agreed.

The Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences weighed in.  “This is exactly why we need global standards for terminology and Flipped Learning best practices,” said Caroline Kurban,  Co-chair of the Flipped Learning Global Standards Project. Words matter.

The baboons have become Internet celebrities since the story first broke. We invited all four baboons to share their side of the story with us, but their agents did not reply.


F. Ake Knuze
Fae K. Knuze
I'm an education news reporter based in my own imagination. I write about flipped learning, school culture, education policy and cough syrup. I live with my two cats, and enjoy listening to Led Zeppelin because it reminds me of my dad who is "away."

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