Archive for March, 2010

the right answer

“Your work is worth more than mere congruence to an answer key” – I stole that line from Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/).  What does it mean?

School teaches us to search for and value the ANSWER.  It’s all about right answers.

“How many did you get right?”….. “How many did you get wrong?”

School was always about right answers. Never about right questions.  No one ever asks what the right, or good, questions are.  No.  WE ask the questions – you find the right answers.  “No one asked you”.

Godin is saying that this is bunk – destructive nonsense.  That you work hard in school for the right answer all day long is insulting: your work, effort and soul are worth much more than “congruence to the answer key” .  Why isn’t THAT on the front of every classroom and school building.  Imagine encouraging students to REALLY THINK.  To ask questions, explore – turn on their brain.  Never mind the right answer – the world, reality, will make that clear.

But a culture, a style, of exploring questions, now that’s a thing of beauty.  You work to define yourself. You work to create.  You don’t work to get the right answer.

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There are so many things that traditional schools try to “teach” that simply can’t be taught.

You can’t “teach peace” or “tolerance”, for example.  You can develop a “curriculum unit” around these, have stories and talk about peace/tolerance, make cross-words and word-finds and other “fun tools” (yes, let’s never forget that it needs to be FUN or “the kids won’t be interested”!).

You can’t teach these things because they have to be lived, experienced – made real.  Otherwise all you have is some memorized pap that means nothing to a student.  A bunch of lines, empty slogans, etc that do not connect with them meaningfully and so are dropped the minute these students interact with the world beyond their classroom walls.

You CAN cultivate a culture that lives peacefully and with toleration – that can be passed on to children.  You can deal with students in a respectful/peaceable manner and show them how to create peace, live with peace and thus grow to pass that along.  This carries far more meaning for  a person.  We want people in the world who live this way because it’s who they are, not because it’s what they were told one day.

This is learning by doing, of course.  The only was we really learn anything.

Let’s drop the platitudes and forced niceties and start living in a way that helps students to see the value of having integrity, of keeping your word, of valuing and judging others based on who they are and not accidental physical traits. THIS will achieve the goal of creating people who care to live in a similar way, of creating tolerant, peaceful, respectful individuals.  You really can’t teach that.

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the working life

If you consider how complex modern society is it’s easy to see why people don’t understand the reality of work.  It’s easy to see why at first glance maybe dreaming of the day when “no one has to work”, or maybe just a little, isn’t so far fetched.  And who knows, maybe we’ll get there.  If we do it won’t be because the world changed, or the facts.  It will be because humanity managed to become so incredibly efficient that we can produce so much with so little effort.

We’re well beyond 10, 000 BC today.  We work a measly “40 hr work week” and do just fine.  That’s far better than maybe the 84-90 hour work week that folks used to put in.  AND we’ve got a lot more to show for it.

But back to WORK.  It’s not a four letter word. (“yes it is” – “no its not” – “you can’t count” – “quiet! I’m being figurative“)

Work is life.  We need to change our perception and our understanding.  We need to stop presenting to children and students that work is an unpleasant hardship.  How motivating is it to be presented with a view of life that tells you that you must do these things, they aren’t enjoyable, but that’s just the way it is.  Sign me up!?  I don’t think so.

We want to inspire.  Want to find pleasure in work?  satisfaction?  Be one of those people who “worked” real hard and long all their life and in the end claim to “never have worked a day in my life”?  Sign me up! You bet.  There’s one way.  Do what you love.  Done.  You’re on your way.  If you can work at what moves you, what you’re passionate about then it’s a great pleasure and you want to do more of it.  You do it in the evening, on the weekends… you chose to work very hard at it.  BECAUSE IT MOVES YOU. Your work becomes a great source of satisfaction.  LIMIT how much I can work?  How dare you!

The way to end up there is to have an experience in school that allows you to discover who you are and what moves you.  We are not all the same.  We are NOT all the same. We are not all the SAME.  What moves me may bore you to tears.  I can’t understand for the life of me why some people chose to listen to other people’s problems and troubles all day long and give them guidance on how to manage.  This has zero interest for me.  That they love it and are great at it is a wonderful thing.  It’s not my bag… by boat would be sunk by it, not floated.

Let’s make schools that allow each individual, unique,  wonderful person to find out what their gift/talent/exceptionality is. Let’s do THAT.  That’s what I’d call education. Imagine a world of people each contributing what they are best at because they were permitted to discover what that was.  Today we don’t do this.  We “standardize”.  We make widgits in schools. Mass produced. Steamlined.

“How old are you?”  room 304.  As if every eight year old was the same.

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There are very few “one size fits all” things in life.  And even the ones that kind-of work we all know only work so-so.  Certainly not as good as a tailored whatever. We accept it then because it doesn’t really matter in that instance or application.

How about humanity?  Children? Human development?  Yeah, I though so.  NOT “one size fits all” – not at all.  Not by a long shot!  So why do all eight year olds get sent to Room 304?  Just because they are eight.

Traditional schools draw a line in the sand (say, September 1st) and if you’re eight before that you go to Room 304.  If you’re not yet eight you go to Room 307, one grade below.  So, in Room 304 we have all the children who turned eight over the past 12 months: the ones who missed the cuttoff by one day one this side of the line and that side of the line.  This means that the oldest “eight year old” is 8 and 364 days, and the youngest just turned eight yesterday.  They are all  full year apart, in the same classroom.  They are supposed to learn the same stuff at the same pace all year long.  Not a chance.  Well, it’s actually much more complicated than that.  They COULD actually learn the same stuff at the same pace… and all the others in between, well, it’s just not likely.

Surely you’ve planted something in your life.  Watched someone else’s garden grow?  Read a seed package?  If not – go to the store (or look online like I just did!) and see for yourself: french green beans germinate anywhere from 8-16 days.  What does this tell us?  That things don’t grow on a fixed schedule.  Your child wasn’t likely born “9 months” to the day, didn’t walk on his 1st birthday or likely do anything just because of her age.  So why are all the eight year olds in Room 304?  Their age tells us nothing about what they know or are capable of learning.  But it our traditional school we’re going to pretend that that’s not the case and move on.

And that is how you “learn” all the good stuff right out of people.  Traditional schools are terrible places to learn about living life.  They’re great places to learn to follow the rules, do what you’ re told, not ask too many questions (and certainly not challenging ones), put in just enough effort to get “the grade” and no more.

Yes, one size education does not fit all.  It doesn’t fit anyone, truth be told.

We need something very different to learn that work is life and that you can love every beautiful minute of it.

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Just another four letter word?  WORK.

When did work develop its negative connotation?  Most people I know view work as a necessary evil.  Work is to be avoided.  Work is to be gotten out of the way – quickly.  We work in order to be able to play.  No wonder there are so many dissatisfied, grumpy, unhappy,  miserable people.  It’s tough to get going when this is your emotional weight.

What is work anyway?  Is Utopia waiting somewhere where there is no work?  Is that the ideal?  For most folks the answer is clearly “yes” and “OH YEAH!”.

Not me.

I like work?  Well, let’s think about what work is.  I find it helpful in such situations to go back to a basic living situation.  Sort of like trying to understand politics: let’s go back to a simple life situation and see what makes sense.  Our highly advance, interconnected, fast, complex world makes it very difficult to see things for what they are.  Too many layers or something.  Too many degrees of separation.

Imagine it’s just you and the world.  Agrarian life circa 10,000 BC, around the time of the agricultural revolution.  What is your life?  Providing sustenance mostly.  You don’t count days of the week or hours worked. You don’t live for the weekend.  You do what you need to: build and maintain shelter, look for food and grow some.  Work is what you do to live.  No work, no life.  That’s what it comes down to.  If you thought of this as “unfortunate” or wishing it were different, you might as well think the same about gravity or seasonal change or weather in general.  These things just are.  They can’t be different – it’s just how reality is built.  Life’s the same.  Human life is NOT an automatically sustained thing.  It requires effort by its nature.  Effort is work.  Imagining life without work is a waste of time, ignores reality and makes as much sense as wishing ice cream weren’t so darn cold. If you want to define things counter to what they are you’ll be miserable.

…more tomorrow… when I’ll consider what it takes to embrace work!

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Good at school?

Who cares? Right?

“The essential thing measured by school is whether or not you are good at school.” Lovely.  That’s my man Seth Godin again (be sure to give him your time http://sethgodin.typepad.com/)

I like Seth, don’t get me wrong.  But he does get part of his schooling shtick wrong.  He says that schools are good at teaching students what they set out to teach them… the only problem, he says,  is that we’re teaching the wrong stuff. He’s not wrong about that last part… BUT he IS wrong to say that school’s are good at teaching anything.  Well, by that I mean they aren’t good at teaching what matters or even what they think they’re teaching.  They ARE good at teaching conformity.   Oh, and at teaching students to not think that they are creative or have much to contribute.  And that’s sad because (I can just write “b/c”, right?) most teachers would hate to know this.  Most teachers in traditional schools want nothing more than to empower students, enlighten them, enthuse them… they are simply stuck in a system that has little chance of doing that.  Not their fault.

Schools  are good at making you good at school.  Good at making you a good test-taker, maybe.

Seth gets this part right, (defending the good teachers) “The problem lies with the system that punishes artists and rewards bureaucrats.”

Back to one of my main ideas: we want, nay NEED, people who are good at life, not good at school.  Did you check out the link on the right about “neuropsych support”?  WHAT? NO?  Why do you think those links are there?  (Sure they’re pretty, but beyond that there’s OTHER value.)  Check it out, go on: it’s a link to www.goodatdoingthings.com.  That too is what we need.  Good at school? Not so much.

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“You learn what you do, and you can’t learn what you don’t do”.

That’s it.  Bye now.

No, really. You create meaning by doing.  It is that simple.  We, each of us, need to be our own meaning-maker.  You don’t create meaning by just listening.  Real learning requires you to be physiologically engaged.  (Wow, he’s using big words).  It’s simple: to be physiologically engaged means to have the whole of you body/being “on task” or engaged with what you’re learning.  This is not a memorization task, really.

Think of when you’re “in the moment” with learning something – you are engaged emotionally, you have to be.  You have great interest in whatever it is that you happen to be exploring/learning.  Why? Because you chose it, first of all.

Science has shown us the optimal conditions  for learning.  Key conditions are: control, choice, immediate feedback.  When these conditions exist you are primed to learn.  Traditional education turns its back to these, by its very nature.  This is why the typical student is not the least bit primed to learn.  They are not open to learning.  When you’re sitting in class, as a ten year old, taking out your social studies text because it’s 9:40 AM and “that’s what we’re doing right now” you’re NOT engaged or interested.  No choice, no engagement = no learning.  Learning can’t be forced.  Orwell told us that “you can’t force a human mind”.

Meaning-making, which is what real learning is, requires you to be in-sync with what you’re learning.  Then you’re receptive to it – primed.

So- to get out of this mess we need to provide an educational experience that does this – and  traditional education simply does not.

Keep visiting.  I’ll look at what model we need.  Let’s consider all the evidence from psychology, neurology and other related areas of science and see what an appropriate model might look like.

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