Archive for July, 2010

San Francisco, again! This time it’s the “Where’s the Outrage?” conference on school choice, where top education policy experts and reformers will give updates on what is happening in their states and discuss how to maximize their efforts for change.

The conference theme is “LIGHTING A FIRE UNDER THE SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT“. Now that’s something we an all get behind, right?  Who would be AGAINST choice?  That’s like being against freedom.  The website (http://outrageconference.com) goes on to say “Our goal is to ignite our country’s DEMAND for school choice.”
It’s great to see this development, but sad that it should be necessary.

In January 2011 this group will organize the National School Choice Week, because “the alternative to the current unsustainable, underperforming system [of traditional education] is parental choice.”

Watch their space.  Talk it up.  If we can make “choice” available to all parents, then we can get somewhere with the education REvolution.  Parents will choose those schools where children do best, measured by their whole “becoming” and not simply test scores.

There’s a lot at stake here and it’s easy to loose sight of it.  But the reality is that far too many children are being lost and ill-served by the traditional schools they attend every day.  I think that Dr. Steve Hughes (www.goodatdoingthings.com)  said it so eloquently and passionately when he said ““Can we afford to waste this much humanity? Can we afford to squander a third or more of our young people? Who among us thinks that if we keep it up, push traditional education harder and harder, if we put more pressure on teachers and schools to improve academic test scores, to do better, to teach more, who, at this point, thinks that we’ll get 50% improvement? Nobody thinks this. Probably nobody really thinks we have 20% more to gain. I really wonder if anyone, anywhere really thinks we could realistically get 10% more by squeezing traditional education harder.”

Let’s get going.  Enough already – yes?!

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Let’s start with what it is.  Creativity in this context is the ability to see what has not been seen, to imagine what is possible but has not been imagined, to innovate.

This is why “creativity” is constantly coming up in the media with respect to industry, education and “job skills”.  As reported recently in a Newsweek story, ” The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.” ” Leadership competency.  You get that?  This is not about art classes, not that there’s anything wrong with those.  The point is that creativity is what we do as people and it’s being stifled out of us.

Creativity is not some luxury that has to be pushed out of our classrooms in favor of “math & science” and more computers.  It’s the very thing that allows us to be any good at applying math, science and any other discipline.  In fact, research shows that “The correlation [of a psychology creativity assessment] to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”  This means that we need to pay more attention to allowing childhood creativity to develop and blossom.

I must repeat that this does NOT mean breaking out more pasta and buttons to paste, and surely does not mean making more Thanksgiving hand-turkeys!

What it DOES mean is cultivating a culture where creativity is the norm of daily functioning.  This is so at odds with how traditional classrooms function, that it brings us back to prior posts on the need for REVOLUTION, not reform, in education.  We need more open-ended questions, more student-lead exploration, etc.

Yet, what we hear is: “Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class.”  A creativity class! This is why we;re so far from getting it right – we think it’s a special class!  Word is slowly getting around.  The Newsweek story reports that “Real improvement [in creativity training] doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.”

And we can also read there that “those who do better in both problem-finding and problem-solving have better relationships. They are more able to handle stress and overcome the bumps life throws in their way. A similar study of 1,500 middle schoolers found that those high in creative self-efficacy had more confidence about their future and ability to succeed. They were sure that their ability to come up with alternatives would aid them, no matter what problems would arise.”  This IS the point, yes?  Creativity is what we do as human beings, it’s our optimal mode of functioning.  Yet for years traditional schools have done everything to drive it out of students.

Once again…. it’s time to change the education conversation. It’s time to really shake up what goes on in traditional schools.  Grail, indeed.

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Is it really such a nuanced concept?

I fail to see why it remains so difficult for educated people to grasp not only the value of students, indeed people, being self-directed, but also of simply grasping what it even is.  A New York Times story from about a week or so ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/business/11digi.html?src=busln) reported on middle school students and their ability to waste time on a computer.  The story focused on research revealing that with the great push to put computers into homes of those who cannot afford them, and an internet connection, the academic performance of these students actually declined after the introduction of the computer.  The premise was to “level the paying field” by giving the “advantage” of a computer and the internet to children who otherwise would be missing out.  The experiment failed.

What was also noted, however, was that “when devising ways to beat school policing software, students showed an exemplary capacity for self-directed learning. Too bad that capacity didn’t expand in academic directions, too.”  This comment inadvertently reveals just what self-directed learning is all about: the interest and motivation of the learner.  The students act with self-direction when trying to subvert the school’s internet “protections” because they want to get around them with great interest.  Why don’t these students show the same ability with their academic work?  Really?  You have to ask that question?  The way the academic work is presented (disconnected and abstract) it has no hope of gaining the students’ interest.

Why is this so difficult to understand?

Yes, self-direction is the much sought after remedy for much of what is failing in traditional schools.  But you can’t get there without understanding that it rests on personal interest and motivation.

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That’s the question, isn’t it.  Researchers have been at this for a long time and it remains controversial in their circles too.

Multiple intelligences? We’ve heard a lot about that, or those.  Controversy or not, it seems more and more clear to more and more people that there really isn’t one thing that is “intelligence”.  That’s because there are all kinds of people in the world, all kinds of brains, all kinds of learners, and all kinds of talents.

The job of an education is to assist young people in finding their talent(s), their intelligence(s).

As Jane Healy says in her new book, “It is not surprising that IQ tests alone are not always good predictors of how a child will fare in either the academic or the real world”.  The latter is of course the more important world for us to concern ourselves with because “if I can make it there….” (you know the rest).   The real world.  That’s all there is.  That’s where we are, where we end up and what an education should prepare us for.  Test only prepare you for tests, we know that.

Intelligence.  It’s a lovely word.  It’s got class, elegance, richness, and promise.  In its origins it means “understanding”.  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be after in our schools?  Not facts or data points or memorized content, but true understanding and meaning-making?

Okay, intelligence is….

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There are some signs that pockets of traditional education are catching on to the the need for REvolution in education.

At least there’s recognition that the model is broken, “”The current system of public education in this country is not working” said [Kansas City, MI] Superintendent John Covington. “It’s an outdated, industrial, agrarian kind of model that lends itself to still allowing students to progress through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair rather than whether or not they have truly mastered the competencies and skills.”

Okay, recognition is the first step.  This district then takes a small other step by trying to get away from a “grade level” perspective and moving to one that moves with children’s actual abilities- which do not correlate to their age.  Echoing a move in some Denver, CO schools, and similar explorations in Maine, the KC district will begin implementing reform where students — often of varying ages — work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it’s needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.

This surely makes sense, and early results confirm its value.  The risk here is that the idea of “learning at your own pace” is but one piece of a larger and deeper change that is needed.  It’s a risk because when you implement a broad concept in piecemeal form you loose the beauty of the integrated broad concept.  The idea of moving children along at their own pace is borrowed from a developmental approach, like Montessori schools use, but by implementing just one element of a developmental approach or style it is not likely to succeed. It is the integration of all the pieces that makes the developmental model work.  If you implement it piecemeal you loose the context and connective tissue that makes the WHOLE work.  If the approach fails, as it may very well, it will cause people to throw away the idea as flawed: “we tried it and it didn’t work”.  Then the whole model gets ditched and relegated to the trash heap of fad ideas.  Try pulling those back into circulation.

The tip-off that this wasn’t going to be the real deal is in the comment quoted above.  Mr. Covington eschews “time in chairs” but is only after “competencies and skills”.  Not that these are worthless, but they are not all that should be considered and they surely do not focus on what needs to be attended to if we are to have true REvolution in education.

So, it’s great to see that there”s identification of the problems inherent in traditional education, but not having a united and integrated program to implement may be the downfall of the whole thing.

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Check this out:

“We’re way past reform,” said Jeff Piontek, the head of school at the Hawaii Technology Academy, in his closing keynote speech at the just-wrapped-up ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Denver (http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/2010/). “It’s time for a revolution in education.”  He goes on to talk about “following your passion and infusing creativity and innovation” into schools, and “standardized tests are not a true gauge of student learning”…. and “it’s creativity and innovation that’s going to drive our economy”.

“Perfect” I thought.. word IS getting out.  But… wait… what’s the context?  Oh, this is a conference about technology as the savior of education.. technology is what’s been missing… ah, I see.  (cue anti-climactic music)  Piontek then goes on to suggest “Educators must give students the technological tools and resources they need to become competent global citizens”.  It turns out the emphasis was on “rethinking the way students are taught and assessed, using technology to support learning”.

Really?  Do we HAVE to go there?  More window dressing?!  If this guy really has been exposed to Ken Robinson’s ideas then he’s missed the boat and is bastardizing the ideas Robinson has presented.  “Way passed reform” and we need a “revolution” in education.. and THIS is it?!  Is he kidding?  Adding more technology or changing how it’s used in NOT fundamental innovation.  It is NOT a REvolution of traditional education.

We need to keep clear on what the target is, keep our “eyes on the prize”, otherwise we’ll hear plenty of Orwellian doublespeak like this and get the “same ol’ same ol’ ” out the other end.  More or different technology barely counts as REFORM, never mind Revolution.

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So, in giving a presentation recently about the need for fundamental innovation in traditional education, I asked the college student audience to pretend that they were parents of a young child.  I then asked them what I ask actual parents of young children: imagine it’s 15-18 years from now and your young child is now a young adult, ready to go off into the world.  Imagine that you are terribly pleased with who this young adult is.  You are confident that they will be successful in navigating their way through their life, whatever comes along.  Wonderful.  Now tell me who this young person is?  What is the basis for your confidence?

I get the usual answers of: self-motivated, responsible, caring, confident, independent…. THEN, someone says something that most parents don’t ever mention: “they should have a skill or developed ability in something”.  Oh, they should be able to “do something”!  This is new.  Makes sense though.

“Good idea!” I say.  Then we talk about what skills and who should decide.  I present the idea, not my own, that children should go through their school years having an experience that allows then to discover who they are.  This need not be an existential life-search to “find themselves”, but it should be an experience that has lead them to become “the best version of themselves possible”.  They should know what they are good at and what they are passionate about and find where those two intersect.  As Ken Robinson (http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/)  has pointed out, it’s not always the case that what you’re good at you’re also passionate about, and vice-versa.

Let’s make schools that allow for this.  Let’s have schools where students come out knowing who they are, what they’re good at, what “moves” them.. and have them go DO that.  This is a fabulous “outcome” for education.  As you know, there are too many adults  (I told this college student audience that “more than half”) are employed in jobs that do not fit this criteria.  They work at something that is “a job”.  We can do better.  We can have a better world if people do the work that they are best suited to.  But we need schools that help them find this out.  This is not today’s traditional schools.

Again – spread the word: change the education conversation.

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