Archive for May, 2010

Life that is.

What does it take to truly enjoy what you do and not merely endure it?  Too many settle with plodding, with getting by, getting through the days, waiting for the weekend… that’s not a full life, certainly not human flourishing.

Our life work should be engaged with doing what we are, not just what you do.  Make what you do who you are.  Not many find this.  Not many find what moves them: what they are both good at and passionate about.  Why is that?  Sadly, traditional education doesn’t help.  It buries our talents, hides them, makes us think that we don’t even have any.

We need to transform education.  TRANSFORM. Not repair, not adjust, not tweak.  The old model is just that, old.  It makes no sense today (if it ever did).  The world over people are looking to “fix” education.  It’s time for a seismic shift.

Not convinced?  See what one of our friends has to say here:

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Really? Is that the equation?  Is that what it’s for? Education?  That’s pretty narrow.

Today’s world, “they” tell us, is not a world of single-career lives.  We’ll all have many jobs, many careers.  How do you go to school for that?  Ask around at work what people studied in school and what their work is now and has been.  See how many are working in the field they “went to school for”.  If they are over the age of 30 they likely have already started on their second, third?, career.

What school needs to “teach” is adaptation, resourcefulness, creative thinking.  With this under your belt you can handle whatever, manage to find your way through and make something rewarding of your life.  Maybe even make a contribution along the way.

Find a school that does this.  Find an alternative approach that has ditched the tired and worn, and today insufficient, traditional model of education, because it is no longer serving life.  You need a better option.  You need an education that will equip you for the unknown, the “yet to be encountered or considered”.

Don’t go to school to get a job, go to school to get a life.

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John Locke was an English philosopher.  He was well regarded by America’s Founding Fathers.  Not generally remembered for his writings on education, he did apply his general realist philosophy to the question of education.

Locke said “…I think I may say, that, of all the [people] we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.”  What he is saying here is that people are not born a certain way, not destined to be one kind of person or another, but rather, BECOME.  And the education of people is what makes them.

Today our traditional schools are making people into something that does not serve them, or at least does not suitably prepare them in the best manner possible.

We need schools that understand the profound truth of Locke’s statement: that people are made or broken by what they experience, that education is what helps to make us and that anything short of the ideal is dangerous.

We need to move now.  We need to create awareness around this today.

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The NY Times, in it’s Magazine section (May 23), tackled one of the most challenging areas of education reform.  Bravo.  Even raising the issue is dangerous.  Teachers unions.  Only the brave teachers will come out in favor of changing the game here.  The biggest issue is quality control and job security – seniority.  Unions typically work with the approach that after just a few years of work a teacher has a job for life – barring EXTREME behaviors.  You practically have to commit a criminal act to lose a teaching job these days.

Yes, teachers have a tough job.  No one debates that.  Yes, all kinds of children show up at school not prepared to learn, ill-equipped.  There are innumerable challenges of every kind.  But, the fact remains that regardless of school district, state, socio-economic population, etc…. there remain teachers who get the job done nuder those circumstances and those that do not.  It’s not sufficient to argue that “I can’t teach these kids”…. you find a way, many have.

In most jobs, you either get the job done well or your employer will find someone else who can.  Nothing else makes sense.  Don’t rail against right-wingers and the market… you’d do the same thing if you were an employer, if you’re honest you’ll recognize this.  Nothing efficient ever got achieved by people whose jobs were guaranteed.

Let’s change this part of the education conversation too.


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From Birth

It is too critical to not have this idea become one of the foundations of “the new education” (what shall we call the conversation once it’s changed?)

The idea is this: that education starts at birth.  We need to broaden the concept of education from the restrictive traditional one of “passing along data/information”.  If this is all that we do with education and schools then we will not (are not, have not been) prepare people to live their lives in the world.  Isn’t this the goal of education?  How can it not be?

Once we’ve “got” the idea that education is much bigger, broader, and deeper than the simple and narrow understanding of education as “acquiring information about important stuff” , then we’ll grasp that education starts at birth.  Education is all that we do in our waking hours.  The child from birth is learning at  a phenomenal rate without any external guidance.  Nature wants to live and flourish, right?  You have to pick this up and run with it.

EVERYTHING that this newborn does amounts to LEARNING, and it doesn’t stop – never.  Sounds easy, simple, yes.  Yet, there is no shortage of clever parents who would agree with this abstraction all the while doing things with their child that teach them something completely unhelpful, because learning happens all the time, from birth.  These clever parents have no idea, it seems, that their interactions with their children, their policies and practices all have an effect: their child is learning stuff that these parents would actually rather not have them learn.  They just have no awareness that they are teaching them this stuff.  Often it’s dependency-creating stuff: we’re getting ready to go somewhere and the child has forgotten something that they will need (clothing item, food, something).  Out of a desire to avoid a meltdown, avoid being inconvenienced themselves somehow, just feeling bad for the child.. or some other reason, the parent finds a way to “fix” the situation.  Doesn’t matter how clever the approach is, the result is that they have “saved” the child and what the child has learned is that “things will work out somehow. I don;t have to pay attention, think carefully, plan…..”.  Necessarily this is what they are learning. NOT a good life skill.

You can TALK about whatever you want with the child to try to still have them learn the right thing in this situation but they won’t.   You learn by doing, there’s no way around that, from day 1.

So- let’s find a way to get this info out there.  Let’s work to change part of the conversation so that people understand that learning starts at birth, and what that truly means.

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As we learn more about how learners are not all the same, about how there are not only styles of learners but also different forms of learning, it becomes very clear that we have to stop equating students who are “learning different” with having a disability that needs to be corrected.

We have to change the cultural attitude that students with learning differences need to be “fixed”.  What is becoming clear is that different is simply different, often.  Einstein was likely a very different learner, and would very likely have been “diagnosed” had he been a child in school today. But it is the very nature of his learning difference that made it possible for him to discover the things he did.

We need to begin appreciating and celebrating all styles and forms of learning if we are to solve the problems that are present and that will come our way.  We need the talents and skills of all people, and too often when we “fix” children’s learning style/form we curtail the very ability that would have allowed them to shine.

A great place to start is the newly published book Different Learners by Jane Healy.


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You know that our traditional system of education is truly messed when even the edu-pundits don’t know how to think.  Diane Ravitch has changed her mind.  Nothing wrong with that by itself  – we make mistakes, learn more, get better information… the right thing to do is revisit opinions and positions.  Ravitch, a one-time supporter of testing and school choice has decided that both are worthy of the trash heap now.  She just doesn’t know how to think about them, though.

She dumps school choice because vouchers and charter schools are not consistently proving to be better than regular public systems.  While the recent results here are true, it is partly because the choice model is not being implemented fairly and fully. It’s more that can be delved into here, but the whole charter system in many states is quite, shall we say, “unclean”.  The main point, though, isn’t whether they are showing better results, the main point about school choice is that IT’S THE MORAL THING TO DO.  Parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice because it is their tax dollars that are supporting the system. Don’t take away choice because some schools aren’t performing well… they will improve if there’s a need to.  Remember: NOT having choice didn’t give us quality schools in the first place.

Plus, how can Ravitch attack choice on practical grounds when the measure of quality is testing.  Reports tell us that the “scores” are inconsistent and at times no better, or worse, than some regular public schools.  But wait, Ravitch is against testing too.  She doesn’t think that it accurately tells us what we need to know about student knowledge and progress.  How can you use a measuring stick that you say doesn’t measure?  Is this very simple flaw in her thinking so difficult to see?  And SHE’S got a national voice in the education reform conversation?  Where’s the hope?

Sure testing is not the best approach.  We know that.  But Ravitch’s about-face isn’t based on a proper understanding of what learning is and how it happens, its’ just a backlash to the “teaching to the test”  result of a test-centric climate that has evolved after NCLB (which she supported, before).  Her criticism is that all this testing focus has taken us away from delivering a full and proper curriculum.  Oh?  Right?  Like the really good system that was in place before NCLB?  Look, Ms. Ravitch, it was the terribly poor system that you railed against in supporting NCLB that you are now saying we need to reinstate.

Such a muddle.  Is she really interested in what’s best for students?  Does she have a clue as to what that is?  It’s muddled thinking like hers that is the biggest problem with traditional education: too many people are NOT learning how to think, because traditional education is not, was never, focused on developing thinking.

All together now: this is why we need to change the education conversation!  It’s the conversation that is wrong, not the details of it (they are irrelevant).   Shades of Marshall McLuhan.

book review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/books/review/Wolfe-t.html?scp=2&sq=diane%20ravitch&st=cse

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