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Does Education = Thinking?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Today I have a question for you, what is the real point of education?

Bill Gates emphasizes “work-related learning, arguing that education investment should be aimed at academic disciplines and departments that are “well-correlated to areas that actually produce jobs.””

Steve Jobs says, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing…”

So is the end goal of education to provide the knowledge, skills and tools to work or to teach critical thinking.

The choice is likely to be described as pragmatic and based on available funding.

Years ago a successful business executive I know commented that if people had full bellies, a job and a bit left over to see a movie now and then at the time of the election, then the party in power would be reelected, but if the reverse was happening they would “throw the bums out.”

There are more sinister reasons to find a positive way to avoid graduating legions of critical thinkers.

  • Non-thinkers don’t make waves.
  • Non-thinkers follow the pack.
  • Non-thinkers are easier to control.
  • Thinkers are more creative and innovative.
  • Thinkers are more likely to reject ideology.
  • Thinkers are more willing to take risks.

You have only to look at what is going on in the world to see the effects of an empty belly and education, formal or not, grounded in questions, not answers.

What do you think?

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeanlouis_zimmermann/3042615083/

Quotable Quotes: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

362318943_eab605f60b_mMartin Luther King, Jr. was born yesterday and has a holiday in his honor tomorrow, so today seems like a good time so share some of his thoughts. In the abundance of available quotes I looked for those that had broader applicability than the worlds of politics and religion.

Corporate training, mentoring programs and management coaching should have the same goals as King recommends for education.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

There is a reason that IBM’s slogan is “Think;” that’s right, just that one word encapsulates its culture and everything it asks of its employees. IBM knows that critical thinking at all levels of the company is its true edge on the competition, as do many others. Sadly, more and more people seem to prefer pursuing silver bullets.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

In a world where the various flavors of ideology encourage blind acceptance as opposed critical thinking, Kings words ring especially true.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

If you do choose to focus on building critical thinking within your organization it is to remember King’s belief regarding progress.

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

Finally, if you are responsible for another person’s growth, whether at work, at home or in the general world, print out this bit of wisdom and tape it where you will see it every day.

Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_mckeague/362318943/

Expand Your Mind: Education This and That

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

expand-your-mindI don’t have kids, but I have a great interest in education, because I will live out my life in a world run by Millennials and younger. To some extent that is a scary thought, but there are plenty of aMillennials out there, too.

Let’s take a look at the worst idea in higher education—for-profit colleges or perhaps I should say for-profit rip-offs. I first wrote about them April 1, without even noticing the irony of the date, and thought I would share a couple of up-dates today.

There is a perception that operators of for-profit education are devoid of real credibility, but unfortunately, that isn’t true. Kaplan isn’t the largest of the for-profit operators, but its high-profile owner gives it enormous credibility—it is owned by the Washington Post. And the Post is going all out to prevent any kind of regulation or accreditation. Kaplan and the Post and spent $350,000 on lobbying in the third quarter of this year and Chairman Donald Graham is personally lobbying lawmakers.

But over the last few months, Kaplan and other for-profit education companies have come under intense scrutiny from Congress, amid growing concerns that the industry leaves too many students mired in debt, and with credentials that provide little help in finding jobs.

College tuition is going up, student debt is going up and college presidents’ salaries are going up. What do you think? Are they worth their money? (The public survey is coming soon.)

Thirty presidents of private colleges each earned more than $1 million in total compensation in 2008, up from 23 the previous year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual salary report.

Last month I told you about a trend for teachers to run schools and the difference it is making.

Here is the story of another school turned around by its teachers.

Test scores are up 18 percent and enrollment has spiked more than 30 percent. The model works, teachers say, because everyone from the principal to the janitor is vested in the outcome. “Everybody has a stake,” said teacher Bruce Newborn. “We all suffer and we all win.”

If you are looking for a different TV show check out School Pride on NBC. Think Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, but for US schools. The schools will make you angry, ill or cry and then lift you up and amaze you. It’s on Friday night at 8 pm Pacific time.

Finally, Bullying is on the upswing and, as everyone knows, empathy is sadly lacking in kids. Enter Roots of Empathy, an educational organization that uses babies to teach empathy to kids.

Since then, Roots has worked with more than 12,600 classes across Canada, and in recent years, the program has expanded to the Isle of Man, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States, where it currently operates in Seattle. Researchers have found that the program increases kindness and acceptance of others and decreases negative aggression.

Be sure to join me Monday to learn how entrepreneurs are taking bullying in the adult world and turning it into a business, much like they did with leadership.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Leadership’s Future: Innovation

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

creativity-in-progress

Education innovation is on everybody’s mind, because anyone who looks at the sorry state of American education knows that something needs to be done.

Business innovation is on everyone’s mind who holds or wants a job. Without considerable across-the-board innovation, not just products, but process as well, American business and, therefore the country, is in deep doodoo.

Parenting could use some innovation, especially in terms of curtailing the hovering and we’ll-fix-it mentality of too many of today’s parents. We need to find better ways of giving kids the chance to learn about initiative, responsibility, accountability and consequences, so their intangible side can grow to adulthood in conjunction with their physical side.

I’ve been writing about all of the above for years, sharing links to research and stories of what’s being tried, following innovation that does succeed and it got me to thinking.

What’s stopping us? We have the ideas and in many cases they have been tried and have worked.

Why aren’t more of them being implemented on a wider scale?

The same reasons that have always retarded or curtailed innovation.

  1. The frequency of the ubiquitous “prove it” typically spoken by the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd. To those looking for new approaches, answers and products, “prove it” are not only the most dreaded two words, but also the most stupid. Just think what would have happened if the Apple board had insisted that Steve Jobs prove that the world wanted an iPod.
  1. The not-invented-here syndrome has extended itself to schools, as can be seen in this comment with regards to teaching Singapore Math (although it’s been proven to work).
    “…there has also been skepticism from school board members and parents about importing a foreign math program.”

So the next time you find yourself chafing at the lack of innovation or the slowness of implementing it, first look in the mirror and if you don’t find the culprit there look for the person or group that is crying for proof or bemoaning the source.

Stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/640941

Leadership’s Future: The Good and the Par

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

What impact does a student’s graduation speech really have? 18 year old Justin Hudson’s had a giant impact on NYC Hunter College High School, Elena Kagan’s alma mater and the most prestigious high school in the country.

“More than anything else, I feel guilty,” Mr. Hudson, who is black and Hispanic, told his 183 fellow graduates. “I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you.”

They had been labeled “gifted,” he told them, based on a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance.”

As a result, the third principal in five years resigned and shortly after a committee of Hunter High teachers publicly announced a no confidence notice to the president of Hunter College, who is the ultimate boss of the high school.

At issue is the entrance exam for the high school.

Mr. Collins [director of the Hunter College Campus Schools] acknowledged that the notoriously difficult test, which has math, English and essay sections and is given in the sixth grade, “isn’t a good indicator of giftedness, it is a good indicator of whether you will be successful at Hunter.”

Those who pass the test are typically from upper class families heavily focused on education and can afford extra tutoring as needed.

Luck and circumstance, as Justin Hudson pointed out.

But a lot of good things are happening across the educational board.

  • Schools across the country are abolishing ‘D’ grades, leaving kids with the choice of earning a ‘C’ or flunking.
  • New research from economists has proved the value of “great teachers and early childhood programs” on adult earning power.
  • A new website lets kids bet on their future grades and pays off when they perform.
  • Non-profit Teach Plus helps schools field teams of teachers willing to spend extra time mentoring and acting as leaders in school turn-arounds.

sharkOf course, anytime Federal dollars are up for grabs the sharks circle and the money earmarked for education is no different— companies with no experience are touting their ability to change the course of education.

It would make a nice change if Washington wasn’t snookered by great presentations and white papers, but I’m not holding my breath.

Historically, Washington is  the place where rhetoric wins the game and smoke and mirrors gets you further than substance.

If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s par for the course.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-lees/134610871/

Leadership’s Future: Ignorance is NOT Bliss

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

closed-schoolBudget woes are disrupting state and local governments and everything they fund. Cuts are being made and what better place to cut than those things that don’t show up immediately? Things that are either out of site, like infrastructure, or that can be pushed off to when times are flush(er), such as learning.

As most CEOs will tell you how better to reduce costs than to reduce headcount? And that means firing teachers—more than 100,000 come June and that’s not all.

As a result, the 2010-11 school term is shaping up as one of the most austere in the last half century. In addition to teacher layoffs, districts are planning to close schools, cut programs, enlarge classes and shorten the school day, week or year to save money.

Politicians, especially local pols, tend to focus on supplying instant gratification to their constituency in order be reelected, so even as the economy improves you can’t count on the money being replaced and teachers rehired—assuming they are still available.

It’s far easier to use smoke and mirrors to show that kids are doing just fine in the brave new reduced budget world—smoke being standardized tests as viewed through the mirror of lowered standards.

Education offers little in the way of instant gratification to voters, rather it offers whining kids complaining about homework, tests and tough teachers who have the nerve to expect them to stop texting, pay attention and learn. (What nerve.)

Not all kids are whining, some in New Jersey are protesting the cuts approved by voters .

The mass walkouts were inspired by Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year-old aspiring actress and a college freshman, and came a week after voters rejected 58 percent of school district budgets put to a vote across the state (not all districts have a direct budget vote).

The full damage of cuts now won’t be felt for years to come, but the voting public has both long and short-term memory loss and the pols who did it will be long gone—or moved to a higher level.

And America will be left wringing its hands and moaning about its loss of world leadership and the incredible difficulty of finding good talent to hire.

Image credit: 19melissa68 on flickr

Quotable Quotes: Learning

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

learn_2As someone once said, “Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.”

Daniel J. Boorstin’s comment enlarges on that with his definition of education, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know,” and C.S. Lewis believes in learning the hard way,

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

Douglas Adams tempers that idea, “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Sadly true, otherwise history wouldn’t keep repeating itself.

There are as many way to learn as things to learn. Most people think of learning as finding answers, but Lloyd Alexander says, “We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”

Book learning can never take the place of actually doing; an old Chinese proverb says it best, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Mortimer Adler reminds us, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.”

Very true, and Sarah Caldwell tells us how, “Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.”

I hope you’ll take today’s quotes to heart and remember that learning is impossible if you start with preconceived notions or a closed mind.

Finally, listen to Mahatma Gandhi; hold his advice close, share it with those you care about and with those you don’t and follow it for the rest of your days. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Image credit: srbichara on sxc.hu

Leadership’s Future: Wasting Talent

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

money-bag

Recessions such as the current one have always encouraged people to think about education, whether traditional or trade, and that always bring out the sharks—especially when federal money is involved.

“At institutions that train students for careers in areas like health care, computers and food service,… tuition that can exceed $30,000 a year.”

They borrow to pay it because they are sold the idea that there is a job at the end of the tunnel; too often the jobs don’t materialize, but the debt is all too real.

Even worse are the promises made by for-profit colleges to the tens of thousands of young Americans who serve in our armed forces.

The five largest provide classes online and charge $250 a credit (as opposed to $50 a credit at local colleges on bases), which allows them to receive the maximum reimbursed by U.S. taxpayers…

Taxpayers picked up $474 million for college tuition for 400,000 active-duty personnel in the year ended Sept. 30, 2008, more than triple the spending a decade earlier… degrees from any accredited college provide a boost toward military promotion, credentials from online, for-profit schools can be less helpful in getting civilian jobs, especially in a tight labor market.

But this is America, land of opportunity and if they are anything the for-profit colleges are focused on opportunity.

With Congress and the Defense Dept. making noises the colleges followed a tried and true path of other for profit companies—when you can’t do it in-house acquire it from outside. So they are buying smaller, weaker colleges and, presto, instant accreditation.

ITT Educational Services didn’t pay $20.8 million for debt-ridden Daniel Webster College in June just to acquire its red-brick campus, 1,200 students, or computer science and aviation training programs. …the Nashua (N.H.) college’s “most attractive” feature was its regional accreditation… Regional accreditation, the same gold standard of academic quality enjoyed by Harvard, is a way to increase enrollment and tap into the more than $100 billion the federal government pays out annually in financial aid.

Make no mistake, this is our problem, yours and mine, and it doesn’t matter what your politics are.

These are the people who will form the bedrock of the US workforce in the coming decades; who are struggling to improve their lives or who have given up years building their own career and spent those years protecting yours.

They deserve better than an apathetic public or lobbied Congress that turn a blind eye or timid efforts as education funds are plundered so a few can gain wealth on the backs of America’s talent.

Next week we’ll take a look at another source of lost talent. Please join me.

Image credit: Alan Cordova on flickr

Leadership’s Future: Teaching Teachers

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

teacher-awardsToday’s post will be relatively short, because I want you to take time to read a NY Times article called Building a Better Teacher.

Education is an industry and from any viewpoint, it’s obvious that American education is in trouble—poor quality, low productivity, enormous turnover and bad press.

There is a raging argument about who are responsible—politicos (who hold the purse strings), administrators or frontline workers, i.e., teachers.

There is a move to shutdown underperforming plants and fire those frontline workers en masse.

Out with the old ad in with the new; the assumption being that “new” always means “better.”

In education as in any industry there are innovators and traditionalists—think Steve Jobs and the executives of the music industry.

Innovators: Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Michigan State’s school of education assistant professor, part time math teacher and originator of Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching, and Doug Lemov, teacher, principal, charter-school founder and author of Lemov’s Taxonomy. (The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.”)

Traditionalist: Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia University, who favors policies like rewarding teachers whose students perform well and removing those who don’t but looks skeptically upon teacher training. [because]… no research he can think of has shown a teacher-training program to boost student achievement. So why invest in training when, as he told me recently, “you could be throwing your money away”?

Hmmm, there was no market research to show that a personal music player would sell before the iPod changed history.

Read the article, it points the way to changes that will affect you no matter your age or if you have kids.

Changes that will determine America’s future.

Image credit: St Boniface’s Catholic College on flickr

Leadership’s Future: Common Core State Standards Initiative

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

spreading-knowledgeLast week I shared the information that Texas pretty much dictates what goes in K-12 textbooks—scary thought.

But change is in the wind—an amazing change that’s been a long time coming.

Math and English instruction in the United States moved a step closer to uniform – and more rigorous – standards Wednesday as draft new national guidelines were released.

The effort is expected to lead to standardization of textbooks and testing and make learning easier for students who move from state to state.

The support includes the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers so it may actually happen.

Unlike typical efforts that are diluted by politics and ideology, the new standards are fact savvy.

According to Chris Minnich, director of standards and assessment for the Council of Chief State School Officers, the foundation of the standards is hard research, instead of negotiation.

Unlike most efforts to revise standards at a state level, this document was not built on consensus, “We really used evidence in an unprecedented fashion.”

48 states are participating; three guesses which states opted out and the first two don’t count.

Right, Texas and Alaska. (Why am I not surprised?)

“Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools,” Scott wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “It is clear that the first step toward nationalization of our schools has been put into place.”

Happily, this should break Texas’ de facto control of textbook content as well as those dreams of taking control of the government via a brainwashed next generation.

These standards were created with an eye to having kids ready for work or college, which is very different than just having them graduate.

The draft report also addresses the debate over how much should be expected from immigrants who are just learning English. An introduction to the standards explains that English language learners should be held to the same standards but should be given more time and instructional support to meet the requirements.

Students with disabilities should also be challenged to master as many of the standards as they can, the document argues.

It’s also different because Federal funding is involved, not just an edict.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) has the entire draft up; read it and then add your thoughts.

These standards are now open for public comment until Friday, April 2.

Get involved. Have a say in the future. Do it now.

Image credit: HikingArtist on flickr

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